Propane vs. Gas Generators – Which is Best?
Figuring out the best generator for your personal needs can be downright mind-boggling, especially if you’re not mechanically inclined. The truth is, however, that it’s usually the fuel source that’s the deciding factor because it determines efficiency, burn time, and preparedness options.
Gas and propane generators are the two most popular generators in today’s market, but they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. While one is not necessarily better than the other, there are times when one is more suitable.
We’ll evaluate the pros and cons of each one so you can choose the best generator to meet your specific needs.
Gasoline generators are much more cost effective than propane ones. They are cheaper to purchase, as well as to maintain and repair. Their mechanics are also much simpler than propane generators.
- More affordable
- Better efficiency
- Easier maintenance
- More reliable in colder climates
- Simple to use
- Fuel degrades over time
- Gasoline is often scarce during emergencies
- Emits toxic carbon dioxide
- Can’t store fuel source long term
Maintenance and Storage
In many cases, the average person can maintain and repair gasoline generators without professional help, which makes them more convenient to own. Even though the maintenance is easier, the trade-off is more frequent maintenance.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to store gasoline because of its short shelf life. Gas degrades over time and therefore needs replacing periodically to maintain quality. However, storing it in the short term is a great option for unexpected emergencies.
Many people often add fuel stabilizers to help extend the shelf life of their gas generators. Even so, stabilizers aren’t sufficient enough to extend the life of gasoline for long-term storage. Because of this, a gasoline generator is a bit riskier during certain situations.
Gasoline generators also don’t burn as clean as propane. Not only do they emit more toxins, but carbon deposits build up over time. Therefore, it’s important to drain the gas tank when storing your generator for extended periods.
This prevents the fuel lines from getting clogged and damaging the engine. Otherwise, you may find yourself troubleshooting start failure issues.
One of the greatest advantages of a gas generator is its ability to operate during colder temperatures. Because gasoline generators produce more BTUs than propane, they subsequently produce more energy and can function better in freezing weather.
In fact, in most cases, a 3,000-watt generator is sufficient enough to power your whole house during a short-term power outage. Although you likely won’t be able to run all your appliances simultaneously, for a small investment, you’ll have enough power to see you through most outages.
It’s not unusual for gas prices to skyrocket during emergencies. Additionally, high demand or even pump failures secondary to power outages may decrease its availability.
Another thing to consider with gasoline generators is their limited fuel tank capacity. Whereas propane generators use an external tank, gasoline generators have a small built-in tank. This means having to manually refill the gas tank throughout the duration of your electrical needs, which could be several times a day.
In most cases, a tank of gas lasts 6–12 hours before requiring a fill-up, but you’ll also have to let the generator cool before you’re able to do so. This forces you to interrupt your power supply, which could prove problematic.
Even so, gasoline generators are considered much more fuel efficient than propane, which is why many people prefer them. Because they produce more BTUs, they can generate more electricity from the same amount of fuel.
On the other hand, gasoline generators are also noisier than propane generators. Although there are several things you can do to reduce the noise, the easiest thing to do is simply buy a noise barrier.
First and foremost, there’s really no such thing as a stand-alone propane generator unless you’re installing a permanent standby generator. Portable propane generators are either dual-fuel or tri-fuel.
This means you automatically get all the benefits and disadvantages mentioned above, plus all the benefits and disadvantages of propane.
- Dual fuel
- Long-term fuel storage
- Less-expensive fuel
- More readily available during an emergency
- More expensive purchase
- Less efficient during colder temperatures
- Fewer BTUs per gallon
- Burns fuel faster
- Heavier unit with less maneuverability
- Prone to freezing
- Higher maintenance and repair costs
- Emits toxic ammonia gas
Maintenance and Storage
Propane generators burn cleaner and are more environmentally friendly than gasoline generators, but they still require routine maintenance. Even though they’re cleaner, they still produce a harmful ammonia gas, which is why you should never use them indoors.
When considering what type of generator to buy, you should also consider the cost of repairs. The maintenance for propane generators is more costly and usually requires professional service.
The good news is that propane is very easy to store.
The biggest advantage of portable propane generators is the ability to store fuel long-term because propane has a super-long shelf life. From 30-pound bottles to 1,000-pound tanks, options for propane storage are plentiful.
Propane is less efficient than gasoline and produces fewer BTUs per gallon. Because they have fewer BTUs, they consequently have a few disadvantages:
- Less energy density
- Faster fuel burn
- Struggle in cold weather
If you’re trying to run your whole house on a propane generator, you can expect to consume a generous amount of fuel. For example, a 22kw generator can provide all your electrical needs and run your major appliances simultaneously (oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, etc.) but you’ll consume roughly 200 gallons of propane every few days.
One of the biggest disadvantages of propane generators is their inefficiency in colder temperatures. As temperatures drop, propane struggles to maintain its gaseous form and therefore, tanks lose their pressure. Additionally, when propane becomes liquid, the tank regulators are prone to freezing.
Propane generators are also bigger and bulkier than gasoline generators, so they have less maneuverability.
When compared to others, propane generators are also quieter. This helps reduce noise pollution, which has many adverse effects:
- Grates on your nerves
- Contributes to hearing loss
- Increases stress levels
- Decreases sleep quality
- Disturbs neighbors
- Read our guide to the best quiet generator
Propane is less expensive than gas and more readily available during a state of emergency. For example, I live along a hurricane evacuation route. In my area, gasoline is one of the first things to disappear when you need it the most.
By the time any storm reaches us and we’re faced with a power outage, the fuel supply has already been long depleted. Having a propane generator allows us to offset the scarcity of fuel within the community.
Because your portable propane generator automatically comes with a gasoline option, you really can’t go wrong with owning one. It allows you to reap the advantages of both gas and propane while avoiding most of the disadvantages.
Both gasoline and propane generators are viable options depending on your needs, but I sure like the idea of having two fuel options. It allows you the best of both worlds while minimizing the negative impacts of a power outage.