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Gasoline vs Propane Generator: What’s Best for You?

Gasoline vs Propane Generator
Written by Jamie Masterson

If you’re an individual renovating your home, a small business owner putting together a construction site or makeshift workspace, or a multinational corporation setting up a new location that needs some quick lighting – you’ll need power.

Generators come in different shapes and sizes. Here we’ll cover two of the most common generator types: Gasoline and propane.

Read on for a better idea of where to put your money when you need to turn the lights on.

Gasoline Generators – Pros and Cons

Gasoline Generators

Pros

  • Relatively quiet
  • Small and compact
  • Cheap and readily available
  • Ideal for small businesses and enterprising individuals
  • Petrol usually is cheap
  • Light and easily transportable
  • Easy to connect to the grid

Cons

  • Less fuel efficiency compared to nat-gas or diesel
  • More energy lost to heat generation
  • Higher emissions
  • Hotter operation and more moving parts make gasoline generators more dangerous
  • Fuel degrades over time. Can’t be stored over long periods

Propane Generators – Pros and Cons

Propane Generators – Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Cleaner, more efficient burn
  • Less pollution
  • Easily accessible
  • Never goes bad
  • Cheaper upfront
  • Less maintenance
  • Independent of pumps or gas lines
  • Quiet

Cons

  • Complicated to fix
  • Regulator prone to freezing temperatures, heat from wildfires is an explosion risk
  • Expensive to keep buying new propane tanks
  • Mediocre efficiency
  • Shorter operational lifespan

Gasoline vs Propane Generator – What’s the Difference?

Shelf Life

A critical difference between gasoline and propane is storage lifetime. Gasoline slowly degrades and evaporates making long-term storage impossible. Propane can be stocked up and stored indefinitely. This is especially useful for emergency fuel supplies in disaster-prone areas.

Winner

When it comes to long-term storage, propane is the best option.

Generator Start-up

Backup generators that will need to sit idle for long periods of time until an outage occurs will have to be propane. Propane generators start easily while gas generators tend to get “choked” after sitting unused for a long time.

Gas also evaporates and degrades, so they won’t be ideal unless you want to spend more topping them up when disaster strikes.

Winner

Propane generators are much better if you need to leave a backup power system alone for extended periods of time.

Energy Output

Propane has 91,500 BTUs per gallon, meaning a gallon releases about 96.5MJ of energy. Gas generators using gasoline or diesel have between 120,000 and 137,000 BTUs per gallon.

Winner

While gas generators release more heat and therefore energy per gallon burnt, they will burn more fuel over time than propane. In this sense, propane is the more efficient fuel.

Finding Fuel and Refilling

Gasoline is readily available and normally quite cheap. You can stock up on fuel with a trip to your local gas station. However, gas pumps need electricity to operate. If your area sees natural disasters often, pumps might not be a reliable source of gasoline. You can usually resort to siphoning fuel from the vehicles you own.

Propane is more reliably sourced but to keep buying new tanks is expensive. If you need to power a home in the event of an emergency, you’ll have to install a bulk tank with the capacity to supply a household. If a bulk tank is something you need, call suppliers, and find out what kind of storage is appropriate.

Winner

If you’re an individual or small business owner, gasoline generators might be the best option in terms of fuel accessibility. On the other hand, if you’re looking for stable backup power in the event of a crisis, proper propane infrastructure would be the better choice.

Applications

Gas generators are useful in environments where gas is readily available. Homes, schools, hospitals and other places where gas lines can be found are appropriate areas to use gas generators.

Considering the portability of small propane tanks, propane generators are especially useful for road trips, camping and hunting trips, and most other outdoor activities.

Winner

A tie since they both have their own use in different needs.

Sound output

Propane generators are much less noisy than gas generators; they operate at about the noise level of a busy restaurant.

Gas generators are much louder. This can be important if generators are being used in residential areas.

Winner

Since they’re much quieter, propane generators are the better option for built-up areas.

Keeping Them Online

Gas generators are old and simple technology. Maintenance experience is abundant and easy to learn, so you’ll have no problem finding someone to fix your generators.

Propane generators, on the other hand, are notoriously complicated. If yours breaks down, you’ll have a much harder time finding the right person to get your system back online.

Winner

Gasoline generators are the preferred option for budget-restricted buyers given their ease to maintain.

Handling Safety and Storage

Both gasoline and propane are highly flammable and prone to combustion if exposed to heat. Gasoline is more likely to leak given its storage methods and needs to be cleaned up. Propane, stored in tanks, will rarely leak. If it does, it immediately evaporates so clean up isn’t an issue.

Also, as has been mentioned, propane can be stored indefinitely while gasoline will evaporate and degrade over time.

Winner

Propane wins when it comes to handling and storage given these factors.

Environmental Footprint

Gasoline generators burn more efficiently compared to propane generators, but they produce twice the amount of carbon monoxide – a colourless, odorless gas that’s incredibly dangerous to humans.

Winner

Propane tanks have a far more favorable environmental footprint.

Price

Propane generators are more complicated and expensive. Expect to pay more upfront compared to traditional gasoline generators. However, in the long-term, you might find yourself repairing your gasoline generator more often. Additionally, in times of crisis gas prices tend to skyrocket, making gas generators much more expensive.

Winner

Propane generators might be a winner when it comes to long-term savings even though they’re more expensive upfront.

Gasoline Generators vs Propane Generators – Which Should You Choose?

1. What You’re Using It For

Emergency Situations

Propane is likely the better option if you need backup power infrastructure for a disaster-prone area. In times of crisis, gasoline is often inaccessible and prohibitively expensive. Plus, propane generators can be kept fuelled and on standby indefinitely given that propane does not degrade or evaporate.

Contractors

Gas generators are often the preferred choice when powering worksites. They are small, cheap, and simple to maintain and so very readily deployed to any site. If your worksite sees a lot of sparks and open flames, propane may be the better option since it’s less flammable and stored more securely than gasoline.

Backup Power

Whether for emergencies or the infrequent blackout, a propane generator is the best option for backup home power. Even if it isn’t often, an automatic backup generator that can be kept on standby for any outage is a useful system to have.

2. What’s Your Power Situation?

If you’re power grid is unreliable, subject to natural disasters, or you’re off the grid entirely, propane is likely the option for you. Installation and repairs are more complicated and costly but being able to store large quantities of fuel that will outlast the container itself is incredibly useful and makes propane the preferred option over gasoline.

3. Is Dual-Fuel for You?

Dual fuel generators can be powered with either gasoline or propane, giving you the benefits and drawbacks of both. If you’re willing to pay more upfront, you can store propane for as long as you need but also enjoy the accessibility of gasoline for the same generator.

Additionally, operate your generator with propane for a cleaner and more efficient burn but switch to gasoline when the situation demands it.

A Note on the Storm Season

For buyers that are looking for backup power infrastructure, more should be taken into consideration. Food is incredibly important. Stock up on non-perishable goods like dried and canned foods; enough to feed a family for a week or more.

Boredom is also an overlooked aspect of extended power outages and is especially important for families with younger children. Board games, road trip games, and other entertainment that doesn’t need electricity should be considered.

Finally, invest in first aid and sanitation. First aid kits and hygiene products like wipes and sanitizers will help minimize the effects of injuries and dirty environments.

FAQs

1. How long will my gas generator run?

Ans. Nat-gas generators connected to gas lines will run as long as they need to, provided they aren’t damaged. Even in crises, gas lines should remain pressurized, which will provide your generator with the fuel it needs.

2. How long will a propane generator continuously run?

Ans. Until your tank is empty. Propane burns at about 2.5 gallons per hour so a 500-gallon tank should last you around 10 days.

3. What size propane generator should I buy?

Ans. You can expect a 22KW generator to power a 3,000-square-foot house, but you’ll have to prioritize specific appliances. Larger generators will be able to power more at the same time.

4. Should I be concerned about weather conditions?

Ans. Moisture is a hazard to machinery but most generators will fare fine in light to heavy rain. Air-cooled generators should be kept out of areas prone to flooding to avoid it being choked.

5. Is my generator covered by homeowner’s insurance?

Ans. To find out if your generator is covered, check your relevant insurance provider’s website.

6. How long will a generator last?

Ans. A properly maintained generator can last up to 40 years. How often you’ll need to maintain it and how much it will cost depends on which you choose.

7. When should I buy a generator?

Ans. Sooner rather than later. If your area is subject to recurring natural disasters, a generator is a critical piece of infrastructure to keep you, your family, or your town online in whatever situation.

About the author

Jamie Masterson

With decade-long experience as a generator technician, Jamie has worked with USA’s top generator manufacturers and suppliers as an independent contractor.

The long years of service to the industry has taught Jamie the ins and outs of troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining all kinds of generators in home, industrial and outdoor settings.

Jamie thinks this platform is a great opportunity to share his tips and tricks with you so you can make the most of such power equipment for better living.

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