Converting to Natural Gas

We are new homeowners in SE virginia. The house was built in 1986, and all of the appliances are reaching the end of their usable life. In addition, there seem to be more than the usual number of tax credits and deals being offered.

Right now we have:

  • Electric heat pump heat that did just fine in the fall, but during the coldest days of the winter (which in this area is when it is consistently below freezing but not much below) it hasn’t been keeping up. However, a small space heater has taken the edge off and I can live with it a while longer now.
  • Electric water heater that may or may not already be deceased.
  • Electric air conditioner that absolutely needs replacing anyway before next summer. I’m pretty sure it is connected to the heat pump unit in some way so we could replace both at the same time.
  • A glasstop electric stove that I, a cooking geek, hate with a fiery passion that well exceeds the fireability of the stove itself. Natural gas to cook with is capital-A-Awesome.

The house currently has no natural gas and never has as far as we know. In addition, the house is set back quite a ways from the road, so we’d have higher than normal costs to run a line from the main. Our local natural gas company offers line installation discounts when you upgrade multiple appliances at once, presumably because you use more gas that way in the long run. I can get specific numbers on that from my husband if the math hangs in the balance. The house is between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet but I don’t know if that includes the garage or not (it’s an elongated ranch layout). For now it is just the two of us but kids are on the way sometime in the next decade or so.

My husband is from an area where natural gas is relatively cheap and electricity is relatively expensive. He’s convinced that converting now will save us soooo much money but hasn’t been able to show me numbers to that effect (or of any kind).

I’m hesitant to put such a big investment into fossil fuels. My understanding is that the local source for electricity is also deriived from fossil fuels, but my thinking is that electrical appliances will keep running no matter what the source changes to, but natural gas will just keep dminishing in supply and going up in price. We’ll have a big investment to cover, with the possibility that the differential in price will continue to diminish.

My husband thinks none of this will make a difference for the life of the appliances, and we can go back to electric in 20 years if we need to.

So, **worth it **or not worth it?

Contact the gas company for an estimate for the line up to your house, meter, etc, then contact a plumber/HVAC guy for an estimate on the piping inside the house and the new furnace/AC/water heater units.

You can probably do your own legwork on the range, but make sure the plumber knows it’s going in so he can estimate pipe to it.

If the natural gas numbers come in high, consider a propane range and a small tank outside. I’ve used both gas and electric cooktops, and like you, much prefer gas.

The problem isn’t figuring out how much it’ll cost to install everything. The problem is figuring out whether it’s really going to be worth it in the long run, setting aside the capital-A-Awesomeness of cooking with natural gas.

I think you’re going to find the conversion cost to be $10-15K. If that sticker doesn’t kill the idea outright, then the question is time to payback if any.

So you’re looking at [cost of gas appliances] + [cost of gas conversion] + [cost of gas over N years] versus [cost of electric appliances] + [cost of electric upgrades (if any)] + [cost of electricity over N years]. Then factor in timevalue of money (NPV), plus any financing cost of borrowed capital or opportunity cost on invested capital.

To actually do a financial analysis requires you to estimate interest rates and the retail price of both gas & electricity over a (WAG) 20 year span. Lots of people in Wall Street make serious loot trying (and mostly failiing) to estimate this stuff.

In some areas of the country, eletricity is traditionally much more expensive than gas. In others, the opposite is traditionally true. And today the prices almost everywhere depart from tradition, and will do that all the moreso as we drive into the new world of carbon pricing, cap and trade, as well as plain old relative shortage.

Bottom line there is you’re going to have to run a worst-case analysis for the case where electicity gets expensive while gas stays cheap. and also the opposite. Using guesstimate numbers.

If any scenario is one you can’t afford, then it might be prudent to go the other way.

Keeping the heat pump and installing either electric or gas stage-II (booster) heat is going to be the most cost-effective and efficient way to go. On mild days (above 32°F), heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat your house.

How about converting to propane instead of natural gas? That way you avoid the cost of the natural gas line to the house, but you get the advantage of gas appliances.

I was under the impression there wasn’t any charge from the utility to hook up gas or electric. Unless you’re in rural areas that don’t have it close to the property. For urban areas the gas is already running along the streets and the hookup only requires a short run to the house.

Maybe different areas have different policies. I know my mom & dad built a house 20 years ago, and there was no hookup charge for any of the utilities. They did put down deposits, but those were returned after faithfully paying bills on time for a couple years.

The biggest cost is paying the plumber to run black pipe throughout the house. Then, it has to be pressure tested for 24 hours to prove there’s no leaks before the inspector says it’s ok.

You don’t necessarily have to switch all the appliances at once. It depends on your budget.

This may or may not be applicable but a former co-worker had natural gas heat, and electric everything else. The gas company had a minimum monthly usage, she had to pay something like $10 during the summer months when her family wasn’t even using any gas.

I have propane gas heat and water heater. I like it, even thought the cost per BTU is a higher than Natural Gas.

The very best investment (short of a Geothermal system) is a “duel fuel” system, where a heat pump (outside) is coupled with a high efficiency gas furnace, (inside)

Historically NG has been cheaper than electric in most places. Even then, however, a heat pump will produce a Btu cheaper than NG. A combination HP/Gas furnace is the best of both worlds.

With a heat pump/ NG gas furnace combination, including running gas to a couple appliances, $10-15K doesn’t seem too far out of line.

The hook up is not necessarly free. You recieve a credit depending on the antisipated usage. The home owner pays the differance. In my brothers case the cost to get power to three homes was in the $12,000 range.

Also in Calif the pressure test is 15 pounds for 20 minutes.

If you do convert I would do all the plumming at one time. But do the change over as you can afford it. Also a heat pump is a good way to heat a house, check with a local HVAC company about the proper conversion to a new unit.

I don’t know any numbers for your place. However, generally speaking, you’ve got the completely wrong dichotomy here.

  • Using electricity for heating is physically a complete waste: you convert some form of primary energy to electricity, and then convert this electricity to heat. Two steps of waste (no method of energy is 100%).

  • I don’t understand at all why so many Americans use electricity for heating in the winter, when snow storms make it likely that lines will be knocked down, which results in houses being without power, and thus heat for a long time (so each winter people freeze to death even inside during storms).

  • Therefore, the choice for heating is between primal energy carriers. Those are commonly:

  1. natural gas
  2. heating oil
  3. wood in different forms
  4. solar thermal

1 and 2 have the disadvantage of the carbon emission and being a shortening ressource. 2 has the advantage over 1 that you can store your heat for the whole winter in a tank at home, so no worries no matter what happens to the lines.
3 is not the old-fashioned wood stove or the better tile stove, but a high-end efficient modern stove coupled with a heat tank - that is, a container of water in the basement, with 90 or120 l. The stove heats the water in the tank, which runs around the house in a normal central heating system. It takes far less energy to keep the water in the tank at a constant temp. than to heat the whole house from start, and central heating is quicker at getting warm than the old-fashioned wood stove (which takes some hours to heat up). If you use a pellet-stove (german), you can use wood leftovers which are pressed into little pellets (look remotly like rabbit droppings), and burn very well. Less waste of woods than full logs on the stove. You can even get a full computerized model where the stove is automatically refilled with pellets and fired up if the water in the storage tank gets too cold.
Wood is the cheap option in the long running if you have easy access to wood from a nearby forest, which depends on the logging rights and labour supply in your area, and if you have place to store (I assume a basement).

Similar, 4, solar, requires an initial investement into the solar pipes and the water storage tank (see above), but then you don’t have to pay another heating bill for the future. (Well running inspections, but that applies to any kind of installation, to have it checked regularly, maybe cleaned.)

Additionally, the following steps will reduce your heating bill drastically despite the initial investement (Again, I can’t give you numbers for govt. help, but if you contact your local Sierra club or similar enviroment group, they will probably help you with funds and similar)

  • isolate all your walls. The easiest way to do this is to add special stryofoam layers.
  • Swap your windows against double-glass isolated windows. coordinate this with the walls, making sure to leave no cold gaps.
  • Look at your roof and add isolation if necessary. Look very carefully at the connection between roof and walls - there are often cold gaps there.
    Make sure you have experts doing this and get information. If you use the wrong order of materials, the dew point will be inside the wall, instead of outside, which leads to mold. You want to make your house wind-tight to keep warmth in, but allow condensation to go out through the walls, so you need sheeting that’s wind-proof but vapor-open.

Again, all this is initial investment, but pays off long-term, and the energy prices, whether for electricity itself or primary power like gas and oil, will continue to rise.

They also said in a recent report that a lot of enviroment groups are helping people with getting funds for conversions like this, which come not only from the green programs of the govt., but also from the stimulus packages, if you employ local craftspeople to do the conversion.

If you use either the wood or the solar option from my suggestion with a heat tank, you combine water and room heating and can get rid of both appliances.

Actually, I would recommend proper isolation here first. If you choose the correct isolation - that is, with the correct time delay factor of about 12 hrs (there are lists comparing the materials) - your house will stay cold in summer during day, and then you open the windows during night to let cold air in. The same isolation will keep the warmth inside during winter, when you only air the house for 10 mins. during the day.
Then your house will stay cooler to begin with and need less power to run the fan.

Depending on how your house is situatied, solar (photoelectric) panels would be a good solution: they produce energy when the sun is highest, and the need for cooling is biggest, so running the AC of solar panels make emminent sense.

If you want gas only for cooking despite the explosion danger, then you can still use butan bottles of course, without having to lay a line, and heat your house with wood or solar.

Explosion danger? :dubious:

Some places, electricity is cheaper than gas. Some people prefer electric heat over gas heat. Some people prefer radiant heat over forced-air heat, which is easier to do with electric that with a boiler and circulated water.

I’d venture to guess that most gas heat is with a forced air furnace, at least it is in my area. In which case, even with a gas furnace, you have no heat without electricity.

A gas fireplace makes a nice emergency backup to keep a room warm if the power goes out, but is inefficient, especially trying to heat a whole house.

This is going to sound snarky, but I don’t mean it to be… I ask because I thought you might know. How well do solar panels work if they’re covered in snow? Is there any sort of system available to warm the panels to melt the snow?

We’ve got great exposure to as much sun as Central Ohio gets. I’d love to put up some solar panels, put in a two-way meter, and pump as much electricity as possible back into the grid, but the numbers just never work out.

Happens with some gas installations… or even in cases where no gas runs to the home, but does run in the street parallel to the water lines. It’s not common, but it does happen.

When I was a kid, gas leaked along the water connection to the main pipes on the street, into the basement of a neighbor’s home. In the middle of the night, one of the residents woke up, turned on a light, and BOOM. He was propelled through the wall, and into a tree 10 or so yards away from where he stood. The older parents in the home escaped unharmed, amazingly enough.

The boom was enough to wake most folks within a mile or so, but we were only a hundred or so yards away. We most certainly woke up.

Gas is dangerous, but it also makes for the best heating system to cook on. IMO.

I have 2 propane bottles attached to my home for the dryer, and the stove. I use oil for my heat/hot water.

The price doesn’t change either the physics problem of the inefficiency, or the dependency on power lines in bad weather.

Huh? Theoretically, you can make heat any way. Some small mobile electric heaters (for places where laying lines for central heating is too expensive, like weekend houses, or not allowed by the landlord) use infrared radiation coils, others heat air and blow it around. The common system for central heating over here is a line for warm water connected to radiators, which heat the air in the room indirectly. The warm water is heated in the basement in a boiler fired either with gas or oil (or wood).

You mean infrared radiant? Because circulated water is also radiant, because it’s indirect.

I’m sorry, I don’t follow you here. Why does a gas furnace need electricity to run??

I wasn’t thinking of an open fireplace, but of a central heating in the basement with a storage tank for warm water, and a boiler where the water is heated. The water is distributed in a central heating system, the boiler is run off gas or other means. Of course that’s very efficient! When I turn up the radiator, my room quickly becomes very warm, far quicker than using a fireplace.

Huh? Okay, I will try my best to take this serious, because nobody would ever ask the question here.
First, if you live in a place with lots of snowfall, your roof will be steeply angled so that the snow slides off, right? Because only idiots build flat roofs in areas with lots of snow, because of the danger of the weight of the snow collapsing the roof. So the angle of the roof is between 30 and 80 degrees, depending on local codes, the average amount of snowfall etc.
Even if your roof is not very steep, the panels themselves are often at an angle of 40 to 45 degrees for maximum efficiency. An expert who already has experience with solar panels will use local weather data and simulation software to determine the exact angle.
Second, you point the solar panels either south-east, south-west or directly south, depending on which way your roof runs (if it looks like A, the line runs either east-west or north-south). So the sun shines on the snow, whether on the panels or not, and melts it, and then continues heating the panels.

What, are you talking about photoelectric panels or solar thermic ones now? If you want to heat your house and stay independent, solar thermic panels are sufficient, and, because easier built - basically, they are black tubes filled with the special fluid, plus the heat transfer in the basement; the heat tank in the basement, I would advise anyway), cheaper and sturdier.
If you want to put in a two-way meter and pump electricity back, you need photovoltaic panels, which are a bit more expensive, and the financial payback calculation is affected by how much your power provider has to pay you for it. Here in Germany, because of the renewable energy law, the return rate is guaranteed and a bit higher than normal, so the initial investment is returned quicker.

I don’t understand what you mean that the numbers don’t work out if you have enough sun. Do you want a return on your initial investment in 5 years? That won’t be possible, of course. But even in the US, without federal assistance, I would be surprised if return in 20 years would not be possible. Or are solar panels of either kind so expensive in the US? I know that development of solar panels has lagged behind in the US (with Japan and Germany currently leading), but they also announced that places like California were trying to catch up.
Like I said, did you try to contact environmental agencies? (Do you have special solar clubs, where people assist each other with the forms for federal grants and loans, and information?)
If all else fails, you could try to contact german clubs for technical information, though they can’t advise you on legal issues. :wink:

Theoretically, any gas line or butane tank can leak gas, and any amount of gas in the air, esp. in a cloud, can be ignited by any spark. If you read older news articles from the 50s and 60s in Europe, when more houses where connected to gas, explosions did happen. Same with butane bottles often used in camping vehicles, every so often, a bend in the line causes a leak, or somebody is careless when attaching the new bottle, and boom! (Or the gas leaks into the closed vehicle and the occupants suffocate).

For most people, esp. those that love the better cooking qualities of gas vs. normal electric, the risk is so small compared to the millions of people using gas, that it’s negligible.
For other people, the very thought of the possibility of an explosion, no matter how small, is a deal-braker, they don’t want the danger vs. the advantage.

The incidence of this is exceptionally rare.

Gas delivery in this country is very predictable, and very safe, by and large.

I don’t think I agree with much of your post, and the parts of I do agree with I think lack some context.

NG delivery in this country is very safe. There is always a danger with any/all heating/ cooking systems. All of them. this includes gas, propane, electric, wood, corn or other forms of heat.

So comments like, “If you want gas only for cooking despite the explosion danger,…” are a little misleading. I’d be hard pressed to believe that gas is anything more than infinitesimally more dangerous than electric.

Any furnace made in the last 50 years would require electric to run, as would boilers, pumps etc.