Are Propane Generators Better Than Gas Generators?

When looking to buy a generator, you can get very confused by the variety out there. Since you’ll be shelling out a fair bit of coin, you must carefully consider the purpose for which you want it.

Choosing between a propane and gas generator depends on your needs. Propane generators are less efficient than gas, but they require less maintenance, and tank size is not a concern. You can store propane in bulk, unlike gas, which degrades quickly. Gas generators are perfect for freezing climates.

A critical question when buying a generator is the type of fuel it uses. Fuel cost, efficiency, accessibility, storage implications, safety, and degradability are serious considerations. You should also think about the impact of the generator on the environment.

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Which is Better: Propane or Gas Generators?

Gas GeneratorsPropane Generators
Gas generators typically have small fuel tanks that you need to refill oftenYou don’t need to refuel as often because you can buy larger tanks
They are typically easier to repair if you don’t have a lot of experience or toolsTypically have fewer maintenance issues
Great as a portable generator or as a backupThey are often large and powerful enough to power a whole house for a short amount of time

Gas generators need to be topped up with fuel often, sometimes three or four times a day, depending on the generator’s tank size. You can safely store loads of fuel with propane generators and simply buy larger tanks if you need them.

Propane generators are more complex to repair than gas generators and more difficult for the average person to fix. A gas generator may be a good choice if you don’t have access to tools and aren’t very mechanically minded.

Propane generators come in sizes large enough to supply all of a home’s electricity needs indefinitely, as long as propane is available. All gas generators tend to be useful only as backups because they are noisy and generate fumes aplenty.

Overall, propane generators seem to have fewer maintenance issues than gas generators, although you do have to do general maintenance on them. If you need a generator to power your entire home or small business for extended periods, stationary propane generators are the way to go.

What You’ll Use the Generator For

If you are a prepper envisaging a situation where the electrical grid is down for weeks, remember that gas pumps need electricity and may not be working. A propane generator would be your best bet because propane may be available when gas isn’t.

If you are a contractor needing a readily available electricity supply to power your tools out in the field, a small portable gas generator may be the answer. Remember that propane is not as flammable, so if you work with open flames or generate sparks, it would be safer to use a propane generator.

If you want a generator purely as a backup for the odd power cut and don’t anticipate using it regularly, a propane generator may be the option for you. While gas generators may be easier to install, propane can be stored for much longer and more safely than gasoline and will not degrade.

Your Power Situation

If the power grid in your area is unreliable and power cuts are frequent, you will be using your generator more often. In this case, you should probably install a propane generator. These generators require more complicated plumbing than a gas generator, and the installation of a permanent propane tank is recommended, but the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

If you are not on a power grid, you need your generator to supply all your daily electricity needs. While the initial cost to install a propane generator may be higher than that for a gas generator, a propane generator would be your best choice because you need to store large quantities of fuel for long periods.

The Cost of Propane Vs. Gas

Propane costs less than gasoline and has a higher-octane rating. Because it is low in carbon and has low oil-contamination properties, propane delivers improved engine life for your generator. Gasoline gums up engine parts, and you may have trouble getting the generator started in frigid weather. Propane, by contrast, is clean burning.

Even if a propane generator costs a bit more than a gas generator, the propane’s lower cost will quickly make up for the price difference. You must also factor in the costs of maintaining your generator.

Gasoline is a dirtier fuel than propane and leaves residue in fuel lines and system parts, necessitating additional gas generator maintenance. If you are not the type of person who can do the necessary tasks yourself, you will have to pay a contractor to do it for you.

Accessibility and Efficiency of Propane Vs. Gasoline

Gasoline is more efficient than propane, but fuel pumps are inoperative during a power crisis, whereas you can still purchase propane from many stockists. A gallon of propane has 27% less energy than a gallon of gasoline, but its availability is greater when power lines are down.

Propane is ideal for remote sites because the fuel does not age like gasoline. If you intend to operate your generator for long periods, propane is superior to gasoline. The latter releases more toxins and residues into the engine.

Gasoline supply can be especially problematic during extreme weather events when roads, ports, and terminals are inoperable and fuel shipments redirected.

When gas pumps are down, you can still have propane delivered to your door. An on-site propane storage tank can ensure year-round access to a safe, clean-burning fuel.

Propane generators start quickly, unlike those using gasoline, which can develop gummy deposits over time.

Safety and Storage of Propane Vs. Gas

Gas degrades more quickly than propane, so it is not feasible to build up a large gas supply for your generator in the event of a blackout. You can store gas for around a year before it starts to break down. Using degraded gasoline in your generator can clog up filters and stall the engine.

The propane’s shelf life depends on the quality of its storage tank, but propane itself has a virtually limitless storage life.

Gas is highly flammable, so propane may be the better choice if you live in an area where forest or other wildfires are typical, or there are many sparks in your working environment where you use the generator. It is hazardous to store large quantities of gas.

Gas spills are more common than propane leaks, and gas also evaporates fast because it is highly volatile. Spilled gas is a much more significant fire hazard than a propane leak. Safety valves in propane tanks trap the fumes, while storage containers for gasoline often don’t have any valves. Fumes are more likely to escape from gas containers.

Gas generators usually have to be filled more often than propane generators because they contain fuel tanks of a predetermined size built into them. Filling the tank of such a generator without spillage is awkward and difficult.

With propane generators, you can simply replace the gas bottle with another, and the chances of leakage are slight. Also, if your needs change, you can buy a much larger propane storage cylinder or tank. Propane tank sizes range from five gallons to over one hundred gallons.  

Low ambient temperatures can affect the ease of use.  A propane tank’s regulator can be susceptible to freezing in icy areas if the temperature falls below zero degrees.  Until the regulator defrosts, the fuel supply is shut off.

Gas flows more slowly in colder climates. It becomes more viscous, resulting in difficulty starting the generator. A gas generator may be preferable to a propane generator in freezing temperatures unless you can keep the propane tank’s regulator warm enough.

Propane itself does not have difficulty flowing or burning in cold environments and can be a sound choice for the inhabitants.

Environmental Concerns: Propane vs. Gas

Propane is a clean-burning fuel that releases far fewer toxins into the environment than gas. Propane has a lower energy density than gas, so you may need more of it, but it produces fewer fumes and air pollution.

Propane generators are quieter than gas generators, so noise pollution is also lower. The fumes from gas generator exhausts can be heavy, pungent, and smoky, unlike propane exhaust fumes, which are colorless and almost odorless.

If the environment is a significant concern, and it should be to all of us, then propane generators win hands down.

Conclusions

Gas generators are the most widely available portable generators, and if you only want a backup generator for short periods, they are fine. They are more efficient fuel-wise than propane generators. If you need a generator to run for days on end and be environmentally friendly, a propane generator is the better option.

Sources

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and an FHA 203k Consultant. I started PickGenerators.com to help people better understand whole-house and portable generators.

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