Environmental propane myths — busted
Sign Up for News Updates
New homebuyers generally rely on their homebuilder’s expertise when it comes to energy sources. And that’s doubly true when your homebuilders are Erik and Jaime Perkins, the stars of the Perkins Builder Brothers YouTube channel.
The brothers record their adventures and advice as homebuilders in the mountainous Bryson City, North Carolina, area, where they construct high-quality, custom vacation homes. But their knowledge and dedication to the craft of building shine through on their channel as they highlight construction techniques and business management tips to help fellow builders learn the tricks of the trade.
In our latest video series, the Perkins brothers addressed four common misconceptions about propane and the environment to help builders and their clients make smart energy choices that accomplish their environmental goals.
Myth 1: Electricity has lower emissions than propane
Although electrification is frequently portrayed as the solution to reducing carbon emissions, it’s not the cleanest option in every market. Electricity in many parts of the country still comes from power plants fueled by coal, which creates much higher carbon dioxide emissions than propane or natural gas. That’s the case for Erik, who likes to remind his family of that fact when they forget to conserve energy around the house.
“My power comes from a coal plant in Asheville (North Carolina),” he says. “So when my kids leave the light on, it doesn’t bother them, but I know they’re just throwing coal in a furnace so we can leave our lights on for no reason.”
The Perkins brothers frequently combine energy-saving construction techniques with a mixed-fuel approach, taking advantage of high-efficiency gas systems such as propane tankless water heaters and furnaces for big energy uses around the home. “The more efficient you are with whatever kind of energy you’re using, the less overall carbon footprint you’re going to have in the long run,” Erik says.
Myth 2: Renewable energy and propane don’t mix
The mountainous Bryson City market isn’t the best location for solar power, with homesites in the woods or valleys often too shady for consistent power production. So when the brothers do build with solar, they frequently pair it with propane.
The dual-fuel approach offers comfort, resilience, and upfront cost benefits. From a comfort perspective, Erik prefers the warmer heat of propane furnaces to the lukewarm heat of heat pumps, and he recently installed an on-demand propane tankless water heater to meet his family’s domestic hot-water needs.
“I moved into a new house that has, for one, a very large soaking tub. And two, I had three kids and three or four showers,” Erik says. “We went with basically the biggest on-demand propane water heater you could get so that we could have unlimited hot water and not really be wasting any energy because it doesn’t run unless you’re using it.”
Resilience is also a consideration in a market where much of the housing is built on private and secondary roads crisscrossed with trees, where the power grid can easily go out and stay out for extended periods. “A lot more of our clients do the propane generators than do solar because of our environment,” Erik says. Jaime adds, “Even if they don’t, they’ll go ahead and put in the electrical and gas parts that are required so later they can add it with no problems at all.”
And when it comes to sizing the generator, the solar array, or even the electrical infrastructure, having an all-electric home can create unreasonable upfront costs. Rather than spending several thousand dollars to upgrade to a 400-amp electrical service, the brothers see more benefits in sticking with 200-amp service and installing a propane water heater that offers better performance and, often, energy costs.
Myth 3: Propane has a negative environmental image
The Perkins brothers don’t get pushback from their clients when they recommend propane, which correlates with public opinion surveys that have found 80 percent of consumers have a neutral or positive opinion of propane’s environmental impact. Erik recalls speaking with a client recently after his electrician suggested moving some of his large electrical loads to propane.
“I suggested: ‘Let’s do a propane water heater, let’s do propane backup on your furnace, and a propane cooktop,’” Erik says. “And the client was like, ‘Sounds great, let’s do it.’ If it was my house, that’s what I would do, so that’s what I tell them.”
With a fixed-price business model, the brothers don’t earn more revenue when clients select additional propane options such as fireplaces or outdoor kitchens, although that may be a consideration for other builders. But the brothers have confidence knowing the gas systems in the home are going to operate well and that the client can easily add gas systems such as a grill or water heater later.
“Propane does give us options to make it easier to satisfy their demands for whatever they want,” Jaime says, “and we have easy ways for them to achieve that.”