Electric Boiler vs. Propane Boiler: What Are the Pros and Cons?
Heating a commercial building is a tricky prospect, partially due to its large size and partially due to the increased emphasis many businesses are placing on cost savings and energy efficiency. There are plenty of heating technologies available, with propane and electricity being among the most popular and widely used.
Choosing between the two, however, isn’t always easy. Both have advantages and disadvantages, which should be taken into account carefully and considered against the needs of your specific business and specific building. When comparing an electric vs. propane boiler, you should always start with a list of the pros and cons.
Pros of Propane Heating
Propane is a hydrocarbon-based fuel that is normally a gas at room temperature. When used for heating applications, however, it is compressed into a liquid. This allows large amounts of propane to be easily transported from place to place, which is why propane remains so popular as a portable fuel source for items such as portable stoves and barbecues.
Generally, propane is pumped into a building in liquid form from a large outdoor propane tank and then vaporizes when it is released into the boiler. A pilot light ignites the gas, and it very quickly achieves high temperatures, heating a tank of water. This heated water is then transferred into radiators and similar systems around the building, eventually transferring the heat energy into the room until the desired temperature is achieved.
Propane burns very cleanly, producing far fewer dangerous byproducts than other types of combustible fuels. A propane spill will not lead to an environmental hazard in the way that, for example, an oil spill would. Its ability to achieve high temperatures very quickly also renders it extremely efficient, meaning that comparatively less propane is necessary compared to other heating methods. It is one of the most inexpensive fuel sources there is.
Cons of Propane
Propane can be an excellent heat source, but only if you already have easy access to it. In some areas, propane is not so easily accessible, meaning that much of the cost savings associated with it are lost having it transported in. It can also be expensive to set up a large commercial building for propane heating. Attaching propane pipes and a propane boiler can cost many thousands of dollars in a commercial building and be a somewhat invasive installation process if the infrastructure isn’t already in place.
Pros of an Electric Boiler
Most electric boilers work by utilizing a principle called resistance heating. This means that, when the unit is turned on, an electric current is transported through a medium that resists it. This resistance causes that medium to heat up, eventually creating enough heat to warm the water in the boiler. Much like with propane and other heating methods, this heated water can then be transferred into radiators, where they can heat each room in the building, controlled by a central thermostat.
Electricity definitely has a few advantages over other methods of generating heat. While propane has minimal emissions, electricity has none whatsoever. It also doesn’t require the installation of a complex system of pipes and tanks. Instead, it simply needs a power source such as an outlet. Since no harmful waste products are generated when using an electric vs. propane boiler, it’s not necessary to create a ventilation system to divert the toxic gases out of the building.
The up-front installation costs of an electric boiler are often significantly cheaper than those of alternative heating methods. Partially, this is because most buildings already have easy access to electricity; they may not be set up for propane, natural gas, or other fuel sources until those have been installed.
Cons of Electric
Electric heating is not without its downsides. It tends to be significantly less efficient than propane heating. This means that it takes much more electricity—and more dollars spent—to achieve the same temperature in a commercial building as a comparatively smaller amount of propane.
In addition, just because electricity is free of emissions, does not mean that it was necessarily produced in a clean fashion. Propane is a direct energy source, meaning that you are generating the heat energy yourself inside your boiler, but electricity is a secondary energy source. This means that, in order for it to be useable to you, electricity needs to be generated in some fashion first. The method of generating electricity will not necessarily be an environmentally friendly one.
Another potential downside of utilizing electrical heating: a power failure could mean that your building is entirely without a heat source on a particularly cold day.
So, Which Do I Choose?
Making the final decision with regard to an electric boiler vs. propane boiler ultimately comes down to your building’s specific needs and the heating elements it already has access to. At the end of the day, propane is a much cheaper source of fuel than electricity, but obtaining that propane will not necessarily be an inexpensive prospect.
Installation costs should always be taken into consideration as well. It is often less expensive to install an electric heating system, but the cost savings from a propane boiler may well outweigh that up-front price after a few years of savings.
Your local climate plays a role, as well. How often do you think you’ll need your boiler to warm your building? How cold do you expect it to be? Propane’s ability to achieve very high temperatures quickly may make it the better option in extremely cold areas. This is because the heating element will resist freezing over better than other energy sources.
Ultimately, you should discuss your building’s needs with a heating and cooling professional from a trusted company, such as Entek. Skilled HVAC experts bring their years of experience and professional training to bear to help you decide what system is the most cost-effective choice for your needs. Then they can perform the installation process for you. Finally, the same team of professionals can provide maintenance for your HVAC system so that you’ll be able to take advantage of it for years to come.