warm thoughts


Written on: January 16, 2024

Converting from heating oil to propane improves efficiency and allows for backup power at this scenic property.

From the Propane Education & Research Council

Surrounded by grassy dunes and fronted by a tranquil bay, a Cape Cod vacation home offered a serene escape, minus one nagging issue.

The property’s fuel source, heating oil, presented several concerns. For one, the 275-gallon oil tank was a potential environmental hazard. For another, oil isn’t compatible with a residential generator sorely needed in a region where electric outages are common. Add outdated heating equipment to the situation, and the owners were compelled to explore alternatives.

Enter propane.

Thanks to an energy upgrade, the owners can now relax in a place very much intended for relaxation.

Paul Gallagher

See how Paul Gallagher of Gallagher Custom Builders and Eastern Propane & Oil resolved these issues with clean-burning propane.

A YouTube Video regarding this project is here.

A Better Boiler

The 3,000-square foot home uses hydronic radiant heat — hands down, the most efficient heating system available. But even this type of heat leaves room for improvement if it’s using oil as a fuel source. Switching to propane allowed the owners to change out an oil-fired boiler with an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) of 84 percent to a high-performance 199,000 Btu modulating unit with a 94 percent AFUE.

Not only will the owners save on operating costs but fuel expenses, as well: Gallon for gallon, propane tends to be cheaper. The boiler also heats a 115-gallon storage tank, replacing an electric water heater for further cost savings.

“Propane tends to be about 20 percent cheaper than electricity to give you heat and hot water,” says Mark Berry, key accounts manager with Eastern Propane & Oil.

The house also has a fireplace and baseboard heating as supplemental heat sources, both fueled by propane.

A Need For Backup Power

“In the wintertime, we could lose power for as long as a week here,” Gallagher says. That’s a problem when your primary heat source is hot water circulating through tubes beneath the foundation. While glycol would prevent freezing during an outage, the homeowners didn’t want to take any chances. “If that ever froze or leaked through, it’s all under concrete. That would be a complete gut on the floor to change that out,” he adds. Hence the need for a backup generator.

Residential generators don’t run on oil, which was another factor in the owners’ decision to switch to propane. With a 1,000-gallon propane tank, the Generac generator can maintain uninterrupted power for a week or longer.

A More Environmentally Friendly Fuel

Propane is nontoxic, colorless, and virtually odorless, making it a versatile fuel that can be used for a variety of indoor and outdoor applications. As a safety precaution, an identifying odor is added to propane so it can be readily detected in case of leaks. Heating oil leaks, on the other hand, pose a direct risk to the soil, water and wildlife when they occur. Here, the fuel is stored in a 1,000-gallon underground tank anchored and secured from damage during storms or soil movement.

Removing the 275-gallon oil tank required working with local authorities who helped ensure the process wouldn’t compromise the fragile environment.

“Because this is a coastal dune, we had to go through the conservation department, so we worked diligently with them,” Gallagher says. “They recognized that putting this propane tank underground and not having an aboveground oil tank was significantly better for the environment.”

A Versatile Fuel

With oil out of the equation, the owners were able to take advantage of propane’s versatility. Now they have a single source that fuels the boiler, baseboard heating, fireplace, and gas cooktop. Even the grill on the patio is tied into the tank, eliminating the need for individual cylinders.

“The benefits for a builder to switch from oil to propane is that it’s a very universal product,” Berry says. “You can tap into propane for a cooking range. You can add a fireplace. If you want to do outdoor patio heat and a grill, you can’t do any of that with heating oil.”

Propane is Gallagher’s preferred fuel. Just around the corner from the vacation home is another project he’s working on, an expansive addition to a coastal getaway. This one, too, is equipped with propane appliances such as a high-efficiency boiler, cooking range, and outdoor grill.

“Propane has been a great source and a great transformation for the customer, and I believe it as a builder,” Gallagher says.