Propane Appliances, or Electric?

Laurie: "likes warm towels"
Laurie: "likes warm towels"
The Department of Energy reported in 2007 that natural gas or propane is still the cheaper form of energy compared with electric. Comparing previous years indicates that the cost of using electricity to power and heat our homes will continue to rise. Using alternative forms of power to generate electricity such as solar panels and wind turbines enables us to get out from under the electric companies high bills, unreliable service, and help protect the environment.

That being said however there are some limitations to the types of appliances that we as off-gridders’ are able to use with just solar or wind power.

If you choose to live with just solar and/or wind power a clothes dryer will most likely be out of the question. From what I can gather, any appliance that uses a heating element must be powered by sources other than solar or wind such as gas or propane (I know, the dryer you have now is powered by electric so why can’t solar electric power your dryer? It is not enough power).

I personally do not like crisp, cold clothes that have come off the outdoor clothes line in the middle of winter and so I will have a natural gas dryer and if I am going to pay the money to have natural gas pumped into my home I will also be using a natural gas stove for cooking. Stand alone freezers will also use up a lot of your solar converted power but they too can be run off natural gas or propane. These three appliances are the only ones that you should have to run on natural gas or propane. Every other appliance in your home can be powered using solar or wind converted energy.

Natural gas appliances can be a little more costly upfront but down the road you will be saving more than the person that owns a regular electric stove or dryer. My suggestion is to shop around to find natural gas or propane appliances that are on sale. Make sure that they have the natural gas or propane adapters if you are switching from one to the other and try to shop local to where you live to save big bucks on delivery costs by picking it up yourself.

As the new construction market appears to be in slump you may be able to work a deal with the company/person you hire to have them pick your appliances up as a bonus for hiring them as they are also more likely to own a truck. The days for paying full price are over and for goodness sakes haggle with contractors, plumbers etc. You may be pleasantly surprised what kind of deal you can get.

Living off-grid does not mean you have to give up the luxuries of having warm, out of the dryer towels on that cold day. It means use what you need and be conscientious of your wants.

15 Responses

  1. I agree with Mark in Arizona ,it’s about community. We’re up here in Canada where the temps range from 30 C (90F) in the summer to -30(-20) in the winter. We are trying to do the best we can cutting off from the nuclear and coal grid with our solar and wind. It’s not perfect because we still drain the oil fields with the propane we get trucked in once a year. We are using less power now and growing more food for ourselves and the community around us. That is the key, to my way of thinking. Keeping the community we live in upper most in our thoughts. We’re a fairly messed up species and most of us may not last the century, so let’s concentrate on loving our neighbours and the species around us and not fixate too much on what’s wrong with the other. I’ll keep listening to the critics because they may something that impresses me once in awhile. I just might not invite them over as much for glass of wine or some of our homemade beer.

  2. i live in southern Illinois and am experiencing being forced into “off-grid living because of the piece of land i bought. The options are all there. Electric-$12,000 Propane generator$9000 Solar/Wind-$12000 Outside wood stove-$10,000
    So i would like to know who uses these and what are my best options when i start to build.

  3. My opinion, for what it’s worth is that the term “off-grid” gets over used. People seem to want to “compete” as to who is, and what is “off-grid” – and the benefits and drawbacks of the same – and as long as people are different so will be the definitions or perceptions of those definitions be different – look at the constitution, over 200 yrs old and we are STILL debating as to its real meaning.

    That being said everyone here has had merit – what are your goals? Total independence is different from easing your electric bill – some wish to help the “eco” movement without cutting into luxury they have come to know and love, while others strive to get back to the basics of life. It’s all in the perspective and nobody has a right to say one way is right or wrong…just different.

    I consider myself off-grid, for the simple reason that no “power” exists here – i buy propane to cook once a year – Living in the high desert of Arizona we get plenty of sun and generate about 60amps on a good day with PV and a 500 watt windgen for stormy times and 1200hr of battery reserves. Solar hot water, water haul (delivered for now ) ect, and i feel i want for nothing but to continue the same way – that however is me.

    Out here, neighbor helps neighbor – i’ll cut an extra cord of wood for someone less than able to do so themselves or ask around before i go to the store, but also know that when i get stuck in the mud during a storm or need help that 1 call will bring everyone for 3 miles around to help me out….community is what it’s all about, the rest is just amps, volts and BTU’s…

  4. Good point regarding the definition of OFF-GRID Thanks to the internet we have participants and commentators from all over the world. Someone mentioned electricity was expensive at 15 cents per kilowatt. I have corresponded with people paying as much as 25 cents (American) per kilowatt but I only pay 7.5 cents so who is expensive? We recently moved into a trailer equipped with a gas heater but on the advice of friends chose not to connect the gas going instead with electric heat. I did plug in the heater to my Kill-R-watt meter to check on consumption and confirmed the cost was reasonable. Now reasonable cost is relative. If you are unemployed everything is expensive. If you have a steady job you can manage, if you budget carefully.
    Think heating with wood is cheap? Try factoring in the cost of buying a chainsaw ($300) fuel burned in saw and maybe the truck used to haul the wood. then come back and tell us just how cheap it is. Been there done that and seen the crushed hands or cut open legs to prove it. Fortunately not my hand or leg but a friends. I crushed my hand unloading some heavy machinery from a truck. Hospital was an hour’s drive away at high speed. Its all relative.
    When its -30 C outside doing without heat is NOT an option. Nor is solar when the sun is barely above the horizon 8 hours of the day and only 3 of the daylight hours make a solar panel produce anything useful.
    The original definition of grid was the electrical system. Gas piping came next and most water systems are not designed as a grid but more like a linear pipeline with branch distribution spurs or stubs.
    The definition I like for off-grid is living outside the confines of community distributed energy in whatever form.
    You could be off-grid while living downtown provided you obtained your own water, took care of your own sewage, and provided your own heat, light and electrical power for the computer you use to post comments on forums like this.
    A more liberal definition would more accurately be described as “partially off-grid” in that you chose self sufficiency for one or more common utility services instead of using our society’s communal civil infrastructure .
    Is a native living in the jungle off-grid ? Yes! but this not a realistic definition or solution for the majority of our society. And defining OFF-GRID when no grid is available is rather silly.
    The term only has meaning when we have a choice of how and where to live.

  5. Thank you, north of 60 girl for this information. I am contemplating the transition and have found this helpful. We don’t have to go back to the stone ages to lead a more natural, eco-friendly life.

    It is easy for a single man to be critical. Let HIM wash diapers by hand and hang them outside in below-freezing weather before he criticizes you.

    Or, on the other hand, let HIM give up his DVDs and surround sound.

    Labor-saving devices have freed people, and mostly women, from mind-numbing and back-breaking drudgery. Keep our washing machines, dishwashers, and dryers but find a better way to power them.


  6. To me off-grid simply means not connected to the electric company. Period. And those who are off-grid and transfer electrical loads such as their refrigerator to a propane powered refrigerator are deluding themselves, IMO. That is simply substituting one payment for another. Makes little difference if you haul the cylinders in yourself or have a big truck deliver a couple hundred gallons or more at a time. Considering the number of trips hauling small cylinders that is likely at least as expensive as having a truck haul in a big load once in a while.

    Now, if you do build an efficient home with PV panels, and connect to the grid, and sell power back to the power company, you can run everything on electricity. Not everyone has the option of selling back at a good price, but more and more places are doing that. In NM there are homes setup like that. With enough panels and an energy efficient home it is possible to achieve zero energy use. At times when you need a mass amount of power to cook or sry clothes you draw from the power company. At other times they are drawing from you.

    Best of all worlds.

  7. Off-grid is something that it’s not very clearly defined. So everone has a different perspective.

    Try to find what’s suitable for you. I’m on the same path, although still living on-grid. For me, the transition is slow, and step by step. At the moment, I stopped using electricity for cooking, and I use a rocket stove. It’s fun to cook outside, and I feel confident that no power outage can stop me.

    So take your time, and share what you learn, that’s the fun part of it.

    1. Does that mean if we use water, we aren’t off-grid, it’s just one less grid, if we consume food, we aren’t off-grid, if we use or consume anything we aren’t off-grid? There are varying opinions of what “off-grid” is, I assure you that by my definition I live 100% off-grid, I am not connected to any utility, electricity, gas (natural or propane), water, phone… I haul in water, I also haul in propane in bottles. If a person were to go by your definition, no one would be able to state they live off-grid.

  8. Len,
    While I understand the true meaning of off-grid perhaps I should change it to mainly off-grid. As natural gas can not be pumped into a remote location, propane can and as I stated in my earlier response there are some items that I would prefer not to be without. Our only source of heat will be wood stoves with inserts. What I failed to mention in response to Patricks post is that I am new to this type of living and am writing articles based on what I am finding out along my journey. Should you like to see more people living this type of lifestyle it has been my experience that constructive criticism is much more helpful and makes a person think, over the critical attack method. Just a thought!

  9. Hi Patrick
    First, let me say congratulations on living an off-grid life that many others could not or would not choose to do.
    Going back to basics sounds great however it requires a major lifestyle change that most are just not willing to try. My quest to to contribute to the saving of our planet in a way that does not alienate my friends or family. What I mean by that is this-who is going to visit me if I make them use an outhouse, or can’t offer them a decent temperature shower. How about house insurance to cover the costs when they sue me because they have fallen over my clothes line running through the living room? Yes, I am being sarcastic because this “woman’s” notion of living off-grid is using solar power (does not hurt the environment and if I am paying for the system to be set up then who cares), will hang clothes in the summertime outside, will have a garden, can and compost, all doing “her” part to help our planet. It also happens to be a lifestyle that I am looking forward to living.
    Extremists that say “all or nothing” fail to see the little things that people are trying to do to be better humans. Making us feel guilty by pointing out the few things we may keep in our transition to an off-grid lifestyle is not helpful and it is certainly not “living in true harmony” with your fellow humans!

  10. After saying “well said” to Patrick who wrote the first comment, I would also like to point out that while N. Gas is cheaper per energy unit… at least where I live, the difference is about the same as the difference in the related efficiency of using either one. Not too many gas water heaters are better than 60% as there still has to be draft to pull the exhaust out of the house. With electric it all stays inside. Compare a gas stove at 40% to an induction cook top at as high as 90%. Also, remember that extra $10 per month that the gas company charges for billing etc. Electric is half that and I am already paying it. Gas is no solution, I converted all my heating to electric and saved money last winter. Gas is not cheap. You may also want to read up on how dirty most natural gas is and what toxins a gas stove adds to your house (propane is not better). so now you use some of that electric power to ventilate the heat from your home outside. Better would be a masonry wood heater with a built in “white oven” and an extra wood cook top as well. If you are in the right place you already have wood to cut down, if not start a coppice for a few years down the road. If you are off-grid you are more likely to have enough land to do so. Off-Grid really does mean without any utilities… that includes gas.


  11. Where is the Hot Water coming from (in this person’s “off-grid” luxury)??

    This is the kind of “Robert Redford style off-grid” mindset that is holding us all back, IMO. We need to be thinking BASIC, not “luxury”.

    I built an entire apartment in the top of a BARN, wood stove heat, and only ONE 15-amp circuit for the whole place. With that power I could watch movies on DVD with a 5:1 surround sound system, have several lights on, a standard 12-14 cu. ft. refrigerator, and still operate any 2 appliances (electric teapot, convection oven, or toaster), without blowing the breaker!

    The washer and electric dryer were my only “luxuries”, and I hung up a clothes line across the apartment to do away with the dryer! Every evening, my apartment was between 80 and 85 degrees! Solar/wind/micro-hydro could have easily replaced that 15 amp circuit for around $2500. (plus or minus a few hundred, depending on the technology used.)

    A simple hot water system can be incorporated into the wood stove, or utilize a separate, smaller wood burning unit (for Summer) in a cylindrical heat exchanger.

    This woman’s notion of “off-grid” is nothing better than (the concept of) hybrid automobiles – it’s a band-aid, and a compromise, at best! We (all!) need to STOP being spoiled, immature children who (continue to) refuse to make practical, environmental, and economic sacrifices in order to live in true harmony with Nature and our immediate environment. Let go of the “entitlements”.

    — P

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