A Look At Propane For HVAC Systems

This energy source offers facilities efficient, low-cost equipment operation that can help to lower overall carbon footprint.

By Bryan Cordill
From the October 2020 Issue

Saving energy, money, natural resources, and reducing their impact on climate change are at the top of the list for many facility management leaders. This focus is driven, in part, by the fact that commercial buildings consume a significant portion of the world’s total energy supply. In fact, the buildings sector accounts for roughly 40% of all U.S. primary energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions, according to an assessment of energy technologies by the U.S. Department of Energy.

propane HVAC
This YMCA facility in Maine (above and below) made the switch to propane for its space and water heating needs. (Photos: Propane Education & Research Council (PERC))

propane HVACA major energy consumer in commercial buildings is HVAC equipment, which consumes approximately 35% of a building’s total energy consumption. Many organizations are incorporating alternative energy sources in an effort to lower utility costs and meet green building standards. Incorporating high-efficiency, low-emissions propane systems can play a key role in achieving these goals. Propane is a reliable energy source that can power many vital building systems, including power generation, space heating, and water heating. Also, propane can be used for commercial building gas applications where there is not easy or affordable access to natural gas mains; these include new construction, interior construction for new tenants, major renovations, and building efficiency upgrades.

Propane systems and appliances are typically more efficient than their electric counterparts. Propane tankless water heaters, for example, can save facilities up to 50% on water heating costs when compared with the costs of operating a standard electric storage tank water heater, according to data from the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). That’s because propane commercial tankless systems have thermal efficiency ratings as high as 95%. And because of their long service life and low annual energy costs, propane-fueled tankless water heaters have the lowest annual cost of ownership in almost all climates, whether installed in new buildings or as replacements. Propane tankless water heaters also make it cheaper and easier to plan an efficiency upgrade because of their reduced footprint compared with tank type units and older boilers.

Propane furnaces can provide energy and cost savings in both new and existing buildings, too. Lower capacity propane furnaces can qualify for ENERGY STAR Most Efficient label, which translates to energy savings of 20% or more on energy costs over a standard furnace. Properly-sized furnaces can also help to optimize efficiency by reducing energy costs and increasing equipment lifespan.

Combined heat and power (CHP) systems can be an efficient option for facilities that have high demand for hot water and a concurrent need for electricity—laundromats, hotels, and restaurants, for example.

A growing number of states and municipalities are adopting more demanding emissions standards. And, external and internal mandates to achieve ENERGY STAR and green building certifications, like LEED, are increasingly common. Propane is one option to consider for working toward these goals.

Propane heating systems can offer a smaller carbon footprint than other commercial heating options. According to data from PERC, propane furnaces produce 68% fewer SOx emissions, 19% fewer NOx emissions, and 34% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared with electric models. When compared with heating oil, these systems reduce NOx by 75% and greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

In the state of Maine, a YMCA facility switched from heating oil to propane for space and water heating, which resulted in a carbon emissions reduction of 183,000 pounds per year—the equivalent of taking 17 cars off the road each year.

Buildings with high energy usage have an opportunity to reduce emissions with propane water heating, too. Propane can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 50% compared with electricity in applications like water heating, because much of the nation’s electric power is generated by coal- and oil-fired power plants. According to data from PERC, propane tankless water heaters emit 57% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared with electric tankless models in both residential and commercial applications.

propane HVACCordill is director of residential and commercial business development for PERC. To learn more about commercial propane HVAC systems, visit the PERC website.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at acosgrove@groupc.com.

Want to read more about facility management and HVAC?

Check out all the recent HVAC Factor columns from Facility Executive magazine.


  1. You will get clear detail on the propane for HVAC systems. I really loved it and thank you very much for sharing this article with us. You have a great visualization and you have really presented this content in a really good manner.

  2. My mother would like to have propane gas installed in her home because she heard that this is more eco-friendly. Well, I also agree with you that this is more efficient compared to gas. Thank you for clarifying here as well that it will provide more energy.

  3. Hey, I read your article and your information are great and amazing. it is so much helpful for me. Thank you so much:)

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