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Pros and Cons of Propane Generators: Are They Worth it

Written by Jamie Masterson

Propane generators are great for your home and work areas. They burn clean, are easily available, have a long shelf life, and can be used with both small cylinders and large tanks.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. We’ll weigh in both the advantages and disadvantages of propane generators so you can easily make an informed buying decision.

Pros and Cons of Propane Generators

Pros

1. Quiet operation

Quiet operation

The noise that 20 kw to 40 kw propane generators make is similar to a pickup truck idling.

They are quiet when you are 15 feet away with windows open and won’t bother your neighbors when you’re living in a neighborhood with decent house spacing.

They are actually quieter than a lawnmower, so you have to open the window to hear they are running.

2. Long run time

The gas weight for portable propane tanks ranges from one pound to 420 pounds.

There are vertical residential tanks with a 500-pound gas weight capacity while the horizontal residential tanks can carry upto 4,200 pounds of propane.

With a standard tank installed, these generators operate uninterrupted for days depending on the load.

3. Safe to use

Propane has a higher ignition temperature than gasoline but a narrower range of flammability. This makes this fuel a good option when your locality is prone to wildfires.

Propane tanks have safety valves unlike diesel or gasoline storage containers, so they are less likely to spill and there is no possibility of gas escaping.

4. Least emission

Propane generators emit way less carbon dioxide and NO2 gas emissions than their diesel counterparts.

They are the best option when you can’t place a generator far enough to avoid the exhaust fume reaching your house.

Diesel emits 161 pounds of CO2 for one million BTU while propane emits 139 pounds for the same amount. Another benefit is that it doesn’t produce ash like diesel does.

5. Easily available

Easily available

Propane canisters and tanks are always available at your local gas station and other stores. The demand is low and you don’t have to stay in line to buy.

It gets easier when you have a large tank to store propane. There are trucks that deliver propane straight to your home container.

You don’t need to wait for disasters to use the generator when you have enough back-up energy.

6. Never goes bad

Propane doesn’t deteriorate over time like natural gas, so it has a much longer shelf life.

Natural gas becomes less efficient and may damage your generator when the hydrocarbons start evaporating from the fuel. However, propane doesn’t have these issues so it lasts indefinitely when safely stored.

Another great advantage is their trouble-free operation; i.e., they run clean without any carbon buildup. You don’t have to think about special care or winter additives.

Cons

1. Expensive

Stationary propane generators can power up a whole house. They can even power an HVAC system so you have to spend big initially.

It actually costs twice to rent tanks or buy propane canisters. One way to lower the cost is to pay the upfront price for your own propane tank. This allows a dedicated provider to deliver propane to your home, so the cost goes down.

2. Challenging to use in extreme weather conditions

Challenging to use in extreme weather conditions

Propane works great in the cold but the regulator on the generator may struggle in freezing temperatures. The regulator allows the fuel to turn into gas from its liquid form. The generator remains unstable if the regulator freezes somehow.

3. Require a tank for the fuel

Require a tank for the fuel

Propane comes in tanks and you need to install plumbing between the fuel tank and the generator.

You may need to call an expert for the job to ensure things are done right and there’s no risk involved.

4. You need to exercise the machine

Regular exercise is a must to make these generators heat up. Mold and mildew may develop on the different electrical parts if you fail to do this.

5. Complex repair job

Complicated mechanics is the greatest downside of propane generators. The chances of failure are high and the broken parts are difficult to fix in emergencies.

Professional maintenance services are the key to get the best performance out of these machines but they do cost a lot.

6. Shorter life expectancy

Propane generators need quicker replacement than the diesel units even if you keep them in the tip-top condition.

Well-maintained diesel generators provide thousands of hours more operating time compared to equally maintained propane units.

7. Need a bigger area to set up

There’s no embedded fuel tank for propane generators, so the space requirement is a serious concern.

The fuel line between the tank and the generator is exposed. This is something you don’t want when the location of these machines are accessible by unauthorized people or kids by accident.

8. Few people can fix these generators

The complex mechanics of these units makes them hard to fix as a DIYer in urgent times. What makes the situation worse is that very few mechanics are trained to work on these machines, so you may have a hard time finding the right person.

9. Can’t refuel by yourself

Natural gas has a steady supply while the story is different for propane. You have to track tank levels and call up the nearest propane delivery service to fill them up.

10. Not so high fuel efficiency level

Compared to natural gas, propane has almost twice the energy density while being more expensive. But it has less energy density than gasoline or diesel.

11. Lack of portability

The fuel tank attached makes these generators difficult to move and your best option is to keep them in one place.

FAQs:

1. Do propane generators need oil?

Ans. The fuel source that propane generators use is a clean-burning type that doesn’t degrade over time. So these units never need maintenance or lubrication.

2. How long will a generator run on a 20lb tank of propane?

Ans. It will operate from five to 10 hours but that depends on the size of the generator.

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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