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Deciding between a high-efficiency propane heating system and a ground source heat pump (GSHP) can be a tough choice for pros and their customers. While geothermal heating can provide exceptionally low energy costs by utilizing thermal energy from the earth, the more comfortable heat and lower upfront installation costs of propane heating make it the best choice for most projects. Plus, using propane heating can make your project eligible for rebates and incentives.

First: Is geothermal viable?

Before choosing between a propane furnace and a ground source heat pump, construction pros must first decide if a GSHP is feasible for the project. GSHP systems require wells, or “loop fields,” to utilize the ground as a heat source. Space constraints are a significant issue in existing properties and urban areas. Higher heating or cooling loads may require deeper wells, more wells, or more trenches in limited spaces.

By comparison, propane furnaces are easily installed in basements, attics, equipment closets, and other locations.

Propane vs. geothermal comfort

Energy savings are great, but your customers won’t be satisfied with their heating system if they’re uncomfortable. And that’s geothermal’s dirty secret: It just can’t deliver the same warm, comfortable heat as a modern propane furnace.

A typical standalone geothermal system delivers heat in the 90–120 degrees Fahrenheit range. The lower the temperature of heated air, the more likely occupants are to be uncomfortable — particularly when the air temperature falls below body temperature (98.6 degrees). Propane heating systems consistently deliver heat in the 120–140 degrees Fahrenheit range, well above the cold threshold even when the outdoor temperature drops.

Propane vs. geothermal costs

According to research by Newport Partners, LLC, geothermal does have the lowest annual energy costs of any type of heating system studied. But a deeper study of the research shows that geothermal isn’t the money saver it’s made out to be.

  • The upfront costs of geothermal are significant, the highest installation cost of any heating system studied.
  • Costs include the ground source heat pump, plus digging, installing, and burying the ground loops.
  • This leads to the longest payback period of any heating system — up to 15 years in some cases.

In contrast, the research showed that a high-efficiency propane furnace was the most affordable to purchase and install of all the heating systems studied. Because propane is a clean, efficient energy source, you can count on affordable annual energy costs, as well.