Propane vs Diesel Generator – What Is Better?

huge propane generator

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Generators are emerging as a partial remedy to power outages. However, the numerous fuel options make it hard to choose between fuel generators. According to a Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) report, propane has more resilience and emission benefits than diesel. 

The report also suggests replacing a diesel generator with a propane generator to improve air quality and aid decarbonization. Does this make sense, or should you just stick to the conventional diesel generators? 

Ideally, diesel generators are a preferred choice for many people because of their availability. But apparently, diesel is a fossil fuel, so it brings about environmental pollution issues. On the flip side, propane generators are a clean fuel source; the gas can be stored for a decade and is readily available. 

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From the above insights, it’s clear that there are two sides to this debate. So, to help you decide which of the two serves you best, let’s delve deeper into the propane vs. diesel generator discussion.

Discover the ultimate power source: Propane vs Diesel Generator – a comprehensive guide to make the best choice.

Advantages Of A Propane Generator

Here are some reasons why you might choose propane over diesel generators.

Propane Is Readily Available

While diesel and gasoline rely on electric pumps for distribution, propane is widely available when ice storms, hurricanes, high winds, and other weather disturbances cut off your power supply. 

If your area is prone to power outages, you can get a propane storage tank for round-the-clock fuel access. And because most vendors deliver propane to your doorstep, you don’t have to queue at the pump.

Remember, the United States produces nearly 90% of the propane it needs locally, minimizing overdependence on other countries. What’s more, propane has numerous applications, increasing its demand and availability. 

Besides powering your propane generator, you can use this fuel on different appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, and clothes dryers. This is in addition to industrial applications such as melting metals and powering agricultural equipment, locomotives, and forklifts.                       

Propane Generators Can Easily Start In Any Condition

Most propane generators come with an electric starter, making them easier to operate. And since propane doesn’t expire, your propane generator will run smoothly after years of no use, unlike diesel generator that collects carbon when it sits for too long. 

Diesel generators are more prone to wet-stacking– this is when carbon particles, unused diesel, and moisture collect on the generator’s exhaust to form a muddy liquid. Wet stacking causes your generator to smoke and splutter, affecting its performance and lifespan.

In the event of a power outage, propane generators only take seconds to start, unlike diesel options that might require fuel additives. The propane generator also runs in cold weather because propane maintains its gaseous state regardless of the temperature. 

On the other hand, diesel can thicken into jelly, resulting in starting difficulties after power outage.

Reliability

Several factors confirm the reliability of propane generators. The first one is fuel stability. Unless you use additives, it’s not uncommon for “gum” deposits to block the fuel lines of your diesel generator. Conversely, propane generators run on vaporous fumes, reducing the risk of clogged systems.

Propane is also ideal for emergency situations because of the ease of storage. As long as you have enough space for your tank, you can store some fuel for frequent power outages. 

However, it’s harder to store diesel because of its susceptibility to contamination and degradation. You could buy diesel whenever there’s a blackout, but these trips can be frustrating, especially when the filling station is far away. 

Diesel generators require extra maintenance to check for leaks and clean the clogged fuel system. 

Environmentally Friendly

As one of the alternative alternative type of fuel recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), propane is a clean energy source for various reasons. For starters, it produces almost zero greenhouse gases. 

And because of its gaseous state, propane won’t spill into the soil or water in the event of a leak.

In contrast, the EPA has historically regulated diesel generators to manage emissions. Besides polluting the environment with particulate matter, nitrous oxide, and volatile organic compounds, diesel fuel also emits greenhouse gases.  

Disadvantages Of Diesel Generators

Although they reduce overreliance on the grid, here’s why you should reconsider diesel generators. 

Noise

guy holding his ear because of loud noise

Diesel units are generally noisier because of their combustion process–fuel goes into the cylinders for ignition before being converted to motive power and, ultimately, electricity. 

The noise and vibration result from combustion, ignition, and movement inside the cylinders. Diesel generators also require more air for combustion, increasing noise from the exhaust systems and intake. That’s not to mention the noisy cooling fans that regulate the diesel engine temperature. Needless to say, propane generator requires way less air.

Whether the diesel generator serves your home, office building, campsite, or construction site, the last thing you want is a noisy environment. 

Besides being annoying, noisy diesel generator can affect your focus, sleep patterns, and everyday routines. Some jurisdictions also have noise limits, inviting fines and legal consequences in case of violation.

Additionally, the noise hinders communication and exposes you to danger when you cannot hear sirens, alarms, and other warning signals. The noise may even affect your mental health over time. Studies suggest that the brain recognizes warning sounds in your sleep, increasing your sensitivity to stress. 

The inability to control the noise around you makes you even more helpless. According to a past conference paper, sustained noise exposure increases the risk of emotional instability, nausea, argumentativeness, headaches, and sexual impotence. The effects are even worse for children, seniors, and people with preexisting depression.

Conversely, propane units can go as low as 60 decibels, which is equivalent to a normal conversation. Besides having smaller propane engines, propane is a cleaner-burning fuel, hence, less engine noise. 

However, that doesn’t mean propane generators are entirely silent–noise may come from the alternator, exhaust system, and fan. You can reduce the noise some more by:

  • Moving the propane generator away from your living space
  • Installing anti-vibration pads
  • Building sound enclosures and deflectors
  • Regular maintenance to fix loose components

Costs

Whether you’re using diesel or propane generators for your home or business, you need a power solution that is both efficient and affordable. Diesel units tend to cost more because of Tier 4 guidelines. This is the most stringent regulatory standard requiring a 90% decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions and Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM). 

What’s more, diesel engines comprise heavier components for fuel consumption, increasing the cost of repairs and installation. Therefore propane generators cost less in total.

When it comes to fuel costs, diesel systems are relatively more expensive because they require additional processing. Diesel can cost up to 66% more than propane for the same energy output. Although both diesel and propane generators need fuel and oil service after 500 hours, diesel units require tank polishing and coolant and fan belt replacement every 2,000 hours.

Fuel Accessibility

Propane offers numerous household applications, making it a common fuel source among homeowners. This extensive home usage has contributed to the expansion of distribution networks, increasing fuel accessibility.

On the flip side, diesel fuel is primarily used for heavy machinery and industrial equipment run on diesel engines. As such, the normal consumer needs to find a gas station whenever they need to power their generator. Even if a distribution system is established, the fuel can only go to locations with the highest demand. 

What’s more, you need specialized containers to transport diesel to minimize the risk of contamination and spills. Propane is much easier to transport since you can carry the cylinder and portable generators in your car.

However, observe the following guidelines for safe handling.

  • Transport the tank upright—leaving it on its side may cause gas leaks
  • Don’t smoke near the cylinder
  • Ensure the safety valve is in place before transportation
  • Don’t leave the cylinders unattended in a hot vehicle—always roll down the windows to prevent heat buildup and explosions
  • Store your cylinder away from your grill, open flame, and other appliances that produce heat or sparks
  • Check the cylinder for dents, rust, peeling paint, or any other damages that can ruin its integrity
  • Store the tank on a level surface
  • Check the cylinder’s expiry date before refilling
  • Keep the cylinder in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight
  • Keep the cylinder away from heat and air conditioner vents to prevent the gas from entering your house in case of a leak  

Emissions

Diesel emissions affect the environment and human health in the following ways.

Particulate Pollution

Otherwise called soot, particulate matter forms when diesel doesn’t complete combustion. Depending on the size, particulates can either be coarse, fine, or ultrafine. 

Ultrafine matter accounts for 80-95% of particulate pollution and is small enough to enter the lung cells, increasing the risk of respiratory conditions. 

Particulates also irritate the nose, throat, and eyes. According to a past study, exposure to fine particulates was associated with higher lung cancer rates, cardiovascular disease, and other fatal conditions. Although everyone is at risk of particulate pollution, children, seniors, and those with underlying respiratory conditions are more predisposed. 

Nitrous Oxides (NOx)

Besides being a pollutant, NOx is also a precursor chemical responsible for ground-level ozone. NOx pollution poses both long-term and short-term risks, including inflammation and impaired lung function.

Ground-Level Ozone

Ground-level ozone forms when NOx diesel emissions combine with hydrocarbons with the help of sunlight. Breathing ozone can trigger coughing, chest pain, congestion, and throat irritation while worsening the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. 

Continuous exposure also inflames the lung lining and might even cause permanent scarring of the lung tissue. When it comes to environmental effects, ozone reduces crop yields by interfering with photosynthesis and a plant’s ability to breathe.

Over time, diesel emissions affect water and air quality, sea levels, weather patterns, and ecosystems, disrupting the global climate.

Safety Tips for Your Generator

a red helmet signaling safety in using propane

Observing generator safety, even if it’s natural gas, keeps your unit in perfect condition while minimizing the risk of fire hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning, and electrocution. Diesel and propane generators produce emissions and you should stay cognizant of it.

  • Adhere to the maintenance schedule
  • Set up the generator according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Learn how to shut down the generator in case of emergency
  • Inspect the connections for wear
  • Keep the generator away from the rain to prevent electrocution
  • Avoid overloading – this is when your appliances exceed the generator’s wattage
  • Keep your propane generators in a well-ventilated area to prevent overheating and carbon monoxide build-up
  • Shut down your diesel generator and leave it to cool before refueling
  • Keep diesel containers and propane tanks away from your living space  

Read more safety tips for handling propane.

Conclusion

You can count on both generators to supply your power needs in the event of a power blackout. However, choosing a diesel or propane generator depends on your situation. If you need a long-term solution for your industrial applications, you’re better off with diesel-powered generators thanks to their efficiency and steady power output. 

But if you want a reliable backup for your home, a propane unit is just what you need to support your household operations in case of power failure. This option is also ideal for environmentally-conscious individuals who want to reduce harmful emissions.

Ryan McCabe

Ryan McCabe

Ryan is a home and small business energy expert, having overseen retail propane, heating oil, and HVAC services companies. On ComparePropane, Ryan writes about things that people should know when shopping for or using propane in their homes and businesses. 

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