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A High-Performance Energy Source

NO MATTER WHAT ROLE YOU HAVE IN THE COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION process, you share a set of common goals for your building: top-notch performance and efficient, low-cost operation. And propane is a smart, flexible, and reliable gas energy choice that will help you meet those goals.

If you’re new to propane, consider this guide a warm introduction. You’ll learn about the basic properties and attributes of propane, how it’s delivered and used in commercial construction projects, and the typical applications that are fueled by propane. If you’re already building with propane, this guide will help you learn more about propane’s versatility in commercial construction. You’ll discover innovative technologies and energy and environmental advantages that will help you construct a building that meets even the highest performance goals.

Over the last several years, the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has invested millions of dollars in research, videos, training courses, and guides such as this that focus on propane applications, including new technologies, installation, maintenance, servicing, and safety. We’ve found that propane is versatile enough to fuel projects ranging from a remote park cabin to a sprawling luxury resort. With the information in this guide, you’ll have the awareness and resources you need to incorporate clean, efficient propane into your projects.

Today’s Propane

American Energy

Propane is a nontoxic gas produced from natural gas processing and crude oil refining. Propane is made here in America. In fact, the United States is a net exporter of propane, which means we make more than enough to meet demand. In the wake of the shale revolution, domestic propane supply has greatly increased, and this fuel can now do even more to advance America’s energy security and protect the environment. Propane fuels our vehicles, forklifts, and commercial mowers; heats our homes and commercial spaces; and fuels American farming and manufacturing.


In commercial construction, propane is used much like natural gas. It provides fuel for energy-efficient gas space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying, though it can also fuel a variety of other building needs. The primary difference is that propane is stored on site in tanks that are regularly filled by bobtail truck or highway transport vehicle. Propane brings all of the advantages of gas to buildings at an affordable energy cost.

Propane is versatile, and it’s easy to incorporate in a construction project. With propane, you’re not at the mercy of a public utility. And with the option of aboveground or underground storage tanks, propane professionals can install and connect building systems and other applications on your schedule. Propane also provides jobsite flexibility by providing gas energy for portable generators and temporary construction heaters.

Propane Systems

Propane is quickly expanding into commercial construction markets through innovations in commercial tank manufacturing and commercial distribution networks. Propane can now be used for any gas commercial building application that does not have easy access to natural gas, including new construction, interior construction for new tenants, major renovations, and building efficiency upgrades.

There are three components to a commercial building’s propane infrastructure:

  • Storage (tank).
  • Distribution system (piping network).
  • Optional components.

Storage (Tank)

Propane tanks can provide on-site propane storage for commercial building projects of any size, from the smallest commercial building to a sprawling resort or retail complex. Sizes range from 125-gallon tanks for spot energy needs to 120,000-gallon storage tanks. One tank can be sized to serve all of a building’s gas energy needs based on its total maximum load, measured in British thermal units (Btu), or multiple smaller tanks can be manifolded together.

Propane storage can be underground or aboveground. Tanks can be placed at multiple sites throughout a project, or one central tank can be used with gas piping running throughout the complex of commercial buildings.

Placement of the propane storage is easily addressed, even in complicated efficiency upgrade scenarios. Your propane supplier will work with you and your client to determine the proper size and number of tanks to meet the building’s propane needs and site plan. Tanks can be fenced, buried, or landscaped to enhance security, safety, and aesthetics.

Distribution System (Piping Network)

Propane distribution systems are designed to be similar to natural gas systems. Underground gas mains deliver the propane to individual service points on buildings. Outside gas piping is buried according to locally applied codes and standards.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards govern the use of propane and gas in buildings. NFPA 58 (Standard for the Storage and Handling of Liquefied Petroleum Gases) is the main resource for tank and underground gas line installation, and NFPA 54 (National Fuel Gas Code) governs inside gas piping installation. Visit nfpa.org for more information.

Other System Components

Community Propane Systems

For mixed-use developments or large commercial projects with many individual fuel users, such as a resort or mall, a community propane system may be the best option.

Community propane systems are centralized gas systems that provide a scalable and flexible energy solution. The systems distribute propane gas through a network of underground pipes that connect to homes or buildings with individual gas meters. This makes them virtually identical to natural gas systems, but with the advantage of being available almost anywhere in the United States.

Propane increases energy independence and reliability.

In addition to homes and businesses, community systems can also power other amenities such as standby generators, pools, clubhouses, and gas lamps. Providing gas energy in large developments is much easier with this type of versatility.

A propane provider will work with you to design and install the central tank (or tanks) and piping system. These professionals know the federal and state regulations you must meet to ensure your community system is up to code. They will typically monitor and refuel the central tank, as well as perform ongoing maintenance of the system. For construction pros, homeowners, and tenants, maintaining a community propane system is hands-off and worry-free.

Optional Components: Remote Tank Monitoring

Propane tanks for commercial use are typically remotely monitored by your propane supplier to ensure that the propane supply is reliable and uninterrupted. These smart monitoring devices allow propane companies to track their customers’ propane levels and average usage so they can schedule propane deliveries when needed. Some of today’s advanced monitoring systems also integrate with building management systems and allow owners or facility managers to also track their propane usage.

Optional Components: Metered Services

Propane metering is a hassle-free way of providing sub-metered propane service to retail tenants, even if they draw from the same propane storage. Just as with electric or natural gas service, your propane company can install individual unit meters so tenants can be billed for the propane they use each month. With meters, you won’t have to devise a way to divvy up the costs of unequal use among the tenants, or simply attempt to recoup the cost with higher rent. Meters provide an accepted way to bill the exact cost of propane to the individual tenants who use it.

Propane and Green Building

COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS, INTERIOR WORK FOR TENANTS, RENOVATIONS, AND efficiency upgrades are often measured in their environmental effectiveness by standards such as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, and the new, enforceable International Green Construction Code (IgCC). Propane can go a long way toward helping a project meet these green building standards. For example, in LEED v4, commercial building projects may be eligible for up to 28 points — mostly related to the Energy and Atmosphere provisions. The 2012 IgCC has a similar approach to voluntary green rating systems, but it makes many of the voluntary points in other rating systems mandatory requirements in order to comply with the code.

Here are some ways propane can help builders earn points toward LEED certification in these and other categories:

  • Efficient heating. Energy and utility savings derived from propane-fueled furnaces, boilers, and water heating systems can help designers and engineers exceed standard-efficiency systems.
  • Temporary heat. Portable propane-fueled construction heaters can help meet LEED requirements for clean indoor air quality during the construction and pre-occupancy phases of building.
  • Meters. Developers can earn one point toward LEED certification for installing propane meters for individual tenants or the whole building.
  • Propane autogas. A LEED credit is available for buildings that install alternative-fuel refueling stations or provide low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, maintenance vehicles, or buses, such as those fueled by propane autogas.
  • Mowers. The use of propane-fueled mowers can help earn a LEED point by achieving emissions reduction requirements from site management equipment.

Propane Fundamentals

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE BEST ENERGY SOURCE FOR HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS, THE CHOICE IS SIMPLE. Gas is the smart, efficient, and environmentally friendly choice for a building’s major energy applications, and both propane and natural gas provide similar performance characteristics. Like natural gas, propane is an abundant, domestically produced source of energy. There are a few fundamentals that building professionals and their clients should know about propane.

It’s clean energy. Propane can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 50 percent compared with electricity in applications such as water heating, because much of the nation’s electric power is generated by coal- and oil-fired power plants. Propane has similar advantages over heating oil. For example, recently a Maine YMCA switched from heating oil to propane for its space and water heating, resulting in a CO2 emissions reduction of 183,000 pounds per year — the equivalent of taking 17 cars off 221.1 the road every year.1 By using propane and related applications, construction pros can earn points under green building programs, such as the LEED Rating System.

It reduces energy costs. Propane systems and appliances are typically far more efficient than their electric counterparts. For example, a propane condensing tankless water heater can save building owners or operators up to 50 percent on their water heating costs when compared with the costs of operating a standard electric storage tank heater.

Propane allows you to construct your buildings with first-rate amenities regardless of where they are located.

It’s versatile. Propane can fuel a building’s vital systems, including power generation, space heating, and water heating, even if the building is located off the grid, without access to off-site energy sources such as electricity or natural gas.

It protects your power supply. Standby generators fueled by propane enable a business to stay open during severe storms that bring widespread power outages. With propane available, on-site generators maintain lighting, refrigeration, heating, and air conditioning, while propane-fueled appliances such as water heaters can continue to operate without interruption

It provides maximum comfort. With options such as energy-efficient propane furnaces, which heat air to a much warmer temperature than electric heat pumps, and propane fireplaces, hearths, and outdoor heaters, which keep guest areas and outdoor patios inviting and toasty, propane amenities and heating systems turn buildings into comforting and appealing destinations.

It’s designed for safety. Typically used in gas form, propane is stored and transported as a liquid under pressure. Propane is nontoxic and odorless, so processors add a chemical odorant (ethyl mercaptan) to help users detect leaks by way of an easy-to-identify rotten-egg smell. The propane industry’s voluntary Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) helps ensure that propane installation and service personnel are well qualified to handle even the most challenging tasks. In addition, propane is a well-regulated industry that follows the codes and standards set by the NFPA, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, and various state and local regulatory bodies. For more information, go to propanecouncil.org/safety-and-training.

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