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In the planning phase of a new community, energy source is just one of a litany of considerations builders and developers must take into account. But with the availability of gas playing such a significant role in the comfort, performance, and reliability of new homes, it’s worthwhile to consider all of your energy options before you resort to building an all-electric community.

Community propane systems are one of those energy options. These systems deliver propane gas through a network of underground pipes that connect to the homes with individual gas meters. In essence, they operate just like natural gas systems — except they can be easily installed anywhere in the United States. As you’re performing your due diligence for your next development, consider these eight questions. Depending on the answer, it may be time to speak with a propane retailer about a community propane system.

1. Is natural gas unavailable?

One of the simplest yet most important energy considerations for a new community is the availability of natural gas. Unlike propane, which is delivered by truck, natural gas is distributed through pipelines or mains, so it’s simply inaccessible in some parts of the country. Propane storage systems can be installed almost anywhere, either with individual tanks for each home or with larger community systems that distribute propane to each home from a central tank.

2. Is extending a natural gas line to the area too expensive?

Even in circumstances where the natural gas main is nearby, it may not be cost-effective to run a line to a new development, according to Harris Baker, vice president of business development for Pinnacle Propane and Alliant Gas. “There can be scads of impediments,” he says. The natural gas main could be just over a brook or stream, making it too environmentally sensitive to run the line. Or the gas company may need to acquire easements that would delay a project. Propane retailers can provide timely, personalized service, so you can get your projects started without the bureaucracy of the gas utility.

This video provides a quick overview of community systems and how a central tank system can benefit your next development.

3. Are you building multiple residences?

For a one-off home away from the natural gas grid, a single propane tank is a quick, low-impact energy solution that can be installed just in time for your project. But for multiple homes, a central propane storage system may offer advantages for both builders and homeowners. In a high-density, production home environment, installing many individual tanks is both inconvenient and impractical — not to mention the need for delivery trucks to visit every home. Community systems are often less expensive to install, and for most of the development, they require only plastic gas piping running underground alongside the water and electric utilities. Community propane can also fuel other communal amenities like backup generators, pools, clubhouses, and gas lamps.

4. Do you want to bring additional value to the property?

For developers, the availability of gas through a central propane system can make your land more appealing to builders, who recognize that most of their customers prefer the comfort and efficiency of gas over an all-electric home. Furthermore, community propane systems can function as a temporary energy solution to hold the place for future natural gas accessibility. When the natural gas main eventually reaches the development, the propane network can be converted for natural gas.

In most parts of the country, homebuyers expect to have gas appliances available even if they’re buying away from the natural gas main.

5. Are aesthetics important to the development?

Community propane storage is generally placed underground or aboveground in a low visibility area, often at the edge of a development, so it won’t have an impact on the beauty of your landscape design. Keeping individual tanks hidden may require burying each tank, involving higher costs and/or more extensive landscaping.

6. Do residents prefer gas appliances?

In most parts of the country, homebuyers expect to have gas appliances available even if they’re buying away from the natural gas main. High-efficiency propane space heating, for example, offers a superior level of comfort compared with electric heat pumps. The same goes for other desirable propane amenities such as tankless water heaters, cooktops, fireplaces, clothes dryers, and outdoor systems like grills or fire pits, all of which perform better and more efficiently with gas than electricity. Not offering these gas systems may put builders at a marketing disadvantage.

7. Will convenience be important to residents?

With a community system, each home is separately metered, so homeowners only pay for the propane they use after they use it (rather than having to pay for a large delivery of propane upfront). Plus, they never need to worry about running out of gas because the propane retailer monitors the propane storage level and keeps the supply reliably replenished.

8. Is it important that you meet green building standards?

High-efficiency propane heating and appliances can be critical in builders’ efforts to qualify for green building certifications and programs like Energy Star. Propane gives off less than half as many greenhouse gas emissions as using an equivalent amount of electricity generated from the U.S. grid. And homes built with propane systems often have lower HERS ratings than all-electric alternatives.

If you answered yes to any of these eight questions, it may be worthwhile to research the energy options for your next development. Our new builder toolkit, Propane in Residential Developments: A Guide for Builders is a one-stop resource for information about community-wide propane. See if these versatile systems are the right choice for your project.

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Jeffrey Lee