Propane vs Gas Generator (Which One Is Better)
A portable generator is an excellent source of emergency backup power for power outages; for instance, when natural disaster strikes. You can also use portable generators for camping, other recreational activities, or any projects where you need them but do not have access to electricity. The traditional fuel choices for generators are gasoline and diesel, but propane has made its way onto the scene.
Propane combustion is very similar to that of gasoline, and both fuels can use the same carburetor. Increasingly, you will find engines that can accommodate gasoline or propane, which has only fueled (excuse the pun) the propane vs. gas generator debate.
Despite commonalities, these fuels have distinct advantages and a few drawbacks. The best fuel option will depend on how you want to use it and how much power you’ll need.
- Fuel Availability: Gasoline is more readily available at gas stations, while propane might be harder to find depending on your location.
- Environmental Impact: Propane is a cleaner-burning fuel compared to gasoline. It releases fewer harmful emissions and leaves no residue in your generator’s carburetor or spark plugs. This makes it a more eco-friendly option.
- Shelf Life: Propane has an indefinite shelf life, making it a reliable fuel source for long-term storage. Gasoline, on the other hand, deteriorates over time and can gum up your generator’s engine if not used within a year.
- Cold Weather Performance: Propane generators can face challenges in extremely cold temperatures, as the regulator can freeze up, and the tank may not dispense fuel effectively.
- Emergency Preparedness: Propane’s indefinite shelf life and the option to use large tanks make it a more reliable choice for extended emergencies, where the gasoline supply might be disrupted.
- Cost-Effectiveness: The cost of running a generator can fluctuate based on fuel prices. Calculating cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) can help determine which fuel is more economical at any given time.
- Dual-Fuel Option: If you’re undecided, dual-fuel generators offer the flexibility to run on either propane or gasoline, mitigating some disadvantages of each fuel type.
The information below compares the differences between propane and gas generators. It will help you determine which one is right for you.
Gas vs. Propane Generators
Gasoline is a liquid produced from refined petroleum used to fuel combustion engines. It is the most used fuel in the world.
Propane is a liquefied petroleum gas stored inside a compressed tank. It converts to a gas as it is released from pressure.
Are There Differences in Gas and Propane Supply?
You can find gas stations almost anywhere. Propane is also widely available, but you may not be able to find it near where you live.
Also, while you can buy propane containers at various stores, having them refilled is more cost-effective than replacing the entire tank. Depending on how much propane you use, this may be less or more of an issue. If you are a business that relies on generators daily, the ability to refill tanks may be a significant consideration.
Which Fuel Is Better for the Environment?
Environmental impact is an essential factor when comparing propane generators vs. gas generators. Propane is much more clean-burning than gasoline. According to the National Propane Gas Association, propane releases much less carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons than any other fossil fuel.
Because it burns cleaner, propane will not leave residue in your carburetor or spark plugs. It is less toxic for human beings as well. Unlike gasoline, propane tanks emit no toxic fumes when in storage.
How Long Can You Store Each Fuel?
Backup generators are not much use without having a fuel source on hand. So you’ll need to store either gas cans or propane tanks.
One issue where propane generators are the clear winner — and can offset availability issues — is shelf life. Unlike gasoline, you can store it as long as you want, and it will not expire or diminish in energy concentration over time.
Gasoline only lasts between three months and about a year (if you add stabilizers to your gas tank) before it begins to deteriorate. As it does so, it becomes denser and can clog lines, gum up the generator engine, and damage components. For this reason, you should occasionally drain gas generators or run them until the tank is empty. So using propane makes generator maintenance a bit simpler.
Since it attracts water molecules in the air, ethanol can further shorten the gas’s life.
One other storage issue is volatility near flames. Gasoline is highly flammable. Propane gas is as well, but, stored in its liquid form, it will not combust.
One downside to propane storage is that a propane tank leak can be difficult to detect since the gas is invisible and has no smell. Manufacturers must add a scent to the propane, but propane in gas form is denser than air. It will sink to the lowest point in a space so that it may go undetected by someone walking through a room.
Speaking of safety, you may want to learn how to ground a generator.
What About Ease of Use?
Unlike propane engines, where the storage tank connects directly to the machine, you must transfer gasoline to the integrated tank of a gas-powered generator. But this means there is an extra external propane tank for propane generators that don’t exist with gas generators.
For larger generators on wheeled carts, this distinction may be negligible. It will be more of an issue if, for instance, you work on projects that require you to move a portable generator around a lot. In these instances, gas-powered generators may be preferable over propane generators.
Propane vs. Gas (Are There Other Factors to Consider?)
Yes, there are various factors when choosing between a propane generator and a gas-powered generator. One is the external temperature during usage.
A propane tank uses a regulator to control the pressure inside the tank. In frigid temperatures, this component can freeze up, in which case the tank cannot release the gas.
There is another challenge with operating a propane generator in extremely cold weather. In normal conditions, as the tank converts liquid propane to a gas, it relies on heat from the surrounding air. The tank may not dispense the fuel if the air is too cold.
Also, consider that during a natural disaster, there could be a widespread power outage or other conditions that affect the availability of generator fuel. For instance, there may not be an open gas station near you due to a lack of electricity to run the gas pumps and other equipment. Or impassable roads may prevent the shipping of both propane and gasoline. Petroleum refining facilities may even be inoperable.
In this case, you’re limited to how much fuel you already have. Because propane can be stored indefinitely, it may be easier for you to keep an ample supply on hand for this type of extended emergency.
And, if the power outage lasts for a long time, gasoline generators are at a disadvantage because none of them can go more than several hours without a refill. You could find yourself repeatedly going out in foul weather to put more gas in your backup generator or just to check the fuel gauge.
But propane generators give you the option of running them off large propane tanks capable of providing days of power, depending on your power load.
Is It Cheaper To Run A Generator On Propane Or Gas?
There are instances where gasoline generators can be cheaper to run than propane generators and vice versa. That is because the price of each fuel source can fluctuate. Which is more affordable at any given time depends on where you live, the vendor, and the current market.
One way to compare the cost-effectiveness of the two fuel types is with kilowatt-hours (kWh) as the common denominator. If you know the number of pounds of propane and gallons of gasoline it takes to create the same output, then multiply those values with the cost of each and then divide them by kWh. These ratios tell you which fuel is cheaper, even at different price points.
If you are conflicted about choosing between propane vs. gas generators, a third option is available. You can get a dual fuel generator that runs off propane or gas.
A duel fuel generator tends to be larger than some compact, single-fuel generators. However, the option to run either fuel can eliminate some disadvantages of generators that run off one fuel or the other.
Personal note: I bought the dual fuel Duromax XP13000EH to run my house.
Learn More About Portable Power Solutions
Now that you have a handle on propane vs. gas generator basics, you can make an informed decision about which fuel type is suitable for your business or personal backup power needs. Weigh all the pros and cons with how often and for what purposes you use these power sources, then decide whether a propane or gas generator is the best fit for you.
Did our information on choosing between a propane generator and a gas generator help you? Please take a look at our other posts on all things portable power.
What are the primary fuel options for portable generators?
The primary fuel choices for portable generators are gasoline, diesel, and propane. These fuels have distinct advantages and drawbacks, making the best option dependent on your specific needs and how you intend to use the generator.
How do propane and gasoline generators differ in terms of fuel availability?
Gasoline is widely available and can be found at almost any gas station. Propane, while also widely available, may not be as easily accessible depending on your location. However, propane tanks can be refilled, offering a more cost-effective solution for those who use generators frequently.
What is the environmental impact of using propane versus gasoline generators?
Propane is a cleaner-burning fuel compared to gasoline. It releases fewer carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons. Because it burns cleaner, propane also leaves no residue in your generator’s carburetor or spark plugs, making it less toxic for humans and the environment.
How does the shelf life of propane compare to that of gasoline?
Propane has an indefinite shelf life and can be stored for long periods without losing its energy concentration. Gasoline, on the other hand, deteriorates over time and can become denser, leading to clogs and potential damage to your generator’s engine.
Are there any safety concerns associated with storing propane and gasoline?
Both fuels are flammable, but propane, when stored in its liquid form, will not combust. Gasoline is highly flammable and poses a greater risk. Additionally, propane tanks are designed to be leak-resistant.
Are there any weather-related challenges with propane generators?
In extremely cold temperatures, the regulator in a propane tank can freeze up, preventing the tank from releasing gas. Additionally, propane relies on heat from the surrounding air to convert from liquid to gas, which may be problematic in cold conditions.
What should I consider in terms of emergency preparedness when choosing a fuel type?
Propane’s indefinite shelf life and the option to use large tanks make it a more reliable choice for extended emergencies. Gasoline generators are at a disadvantage in long-term power outages due to their limited fuel storage and shorter shelf life.
Is there an option to use both propane and gasoline in a single generator?
Yes, dual-fuel generators are available that can run on either propane or gasoline. These generators offer the flexibility to mitigate some of the disadvantages associated with each fuel type.
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