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Community and Q&A

Heating fuel usage diagnostics

T Carlson | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

By instinct it seems to me like I blew through a lot of propane, so I am trying to wrap my head around the best way to gauge useage, compare useage, find out what rate of useage is good and whats terrible.
There is some approximation and light rounding but I used approximately 200 gallons of propane from Jan 4 through Feb 8 based on Jan 4 fill and checking the gauge today. I use propane for heating and a 5 burner range top used usually twice daily, but usually just one burner. According to Weather Underground I had 1794 HDD during that time period, my house is 4500 SF including the conditioned basement which is unfinished and 41,220 cubic feet.

Heat is from a 96% 60,000 btu modulating furnace kept at 70 except for a typical M-F setback to 62 starting at 7am to 4pm.

I have no idea how much propane is allocated to the range top, my econet tells me the last 2 weeks I ran 103 hours on high heat and 43 hours on low heat, doubling that and guessing low heat at 40,000 btu I come up with 206*60,000 + 86*40,000 = 15,800,00 BTU used. Divide by 91,600 BTU per gallon = 172.5 gallons used.

With those numbers, what is a useful benchmark? BTU per HDD per SF?

Does Gallons172.5/HDD1794*91600/4500SF = 1.96 BTU per HDD per SF make any sense, if it’s not flawed does it sound good. If it is flawed what is a good equation to gauge the effectiveness of a thermal barrier?

Thanks in advance for any opinion, discussion or advice.

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Replies

  1. Richard McGrath | | #1

    Is this a boiler or a furnace ? Ducted or baseboard / other hydronic system ?

  2. T Carlson | | #2

    Its a Rheem Prestige series forced air furnace, when I referenced "econet" that is Rheems fancy touchscreen t-stat, has runtime hours available to view but only total and last 2 weeks.

    We've been in the house a year and a month, I never really tracked propane useage but it seemed like it didnt use much, then all of a sudden we went through 40% in a month, Im interested in a useful metric that can be applied to a house like cfm50 or ACH50 can be.

  3. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    T. Carlson,
    To double-check your math, I'll do my own analysis.

    Your furnace is probably delivering heat at a lower efficiency than its nameplate rating. Let's call it 92% efficient.

    Since your propane kitchen stove contributes heat to the house, we'll consider all propane use as part of your space heating fuel use.

    200 gallons of propane burned at an efficiency of 92% provides 91,600 * 200 * 0.92 = 16,854,400 BTU

    Btus per square foot per heating-degree-day:
    16,854,400 / (4500*1794) = 2.09

    The book Residential Energy notes: "Btus per square foot per heating-degree-day ... This factor -- often called the Home Heating Index (HHI) -- gives a means of comparing buildings with different sizes, climate, and energy prices. The home heating index varies from HHI-2 in very efficient homes to HHI-20 or more in the most inefficient existing homes. Three other energy indexes are used for homes in warm climates, electrically heated homes, and larger residential buildings. These indexes are expressed in annual Btus per square foot, dollars per square foot, or kilowatt-hours per square foot. These indexes are more useful for buildings whose energy costs are not dominated by heating and not so directly related to heating degree-days. Extremely efficient residential buildings may use 5,000 Btus/square foot or 2 kWh per square foot annually for all uses ..."

    Here is a table -- I forget the source:

    Table: Distribution of Single Family Homes in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Census Regions using Propane or Natural Gas as the Primary Space Heating Fuel in 1997

    Range of Energy Use............................. Relative Frequency
    Under 5.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft............................ 12.2 percent
    Between 5.0 and 10.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft......... 39.4 percent
    Between 10.0 and 15.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft......... 23.9 percent
    Between 15.0 and 25.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft........ 14.7 percent
    Over 25.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft. ............................ 9.8 percent

  4. User avatar
    Dana Dorsett | | #4

    Another way to look at it is calculating the 99% heat load using these methods, and coming up with the heat load per square foot:

    https://lakesideca.info/blogs/dept/guest-blogs/out-old-new

    Comparing a the fuel use load calculation against an I=B=R or Manual-J can also be useful. If they're more than 15-20% apart it could be telling you something, especially if the fuel-use calc comes in significantly higher than the IBR/Manual-J. A higher number from the fuel use calc could be attributable to leaky ducts, leaky propane fuel likes, etc.

    If your math works out (and I haven't checked it), the ~2 BTU/HDD-ft^2 is about 1/3 what my 1920s 2x4 bungalow is using per square foot if I don't count the insulated but unfinished basement and ~40% of my use if I count the basement (which stays at or above 65F all winter on the standby and distribution losses of my mechanical systems.)

  5. Walter Ahlgrim | | #5

    T. Carlson,

    A few things to consider

    1 The gages on most propane tanks are far from precision instruments. I do not think you can say you used 200 gallons of propane based solely on tank gage readings.

    2 When I watch my Econet heat pump thermostat I often find the thermostat calling for “low heat” but the heat pump is running at full speed and supplying high heat. I do not think you can assume that a hour of low heat logged by the Econet thermostat equals 1 hour low output of the furnace.

    If you want to find the leaks in your thermal envelope I think the best way is the have a blower door test on a very cold day and have the inspected with an inferred camera while the blower is running. This will make your leaks show up very brightly. This test is part of a quality energy audit.

    Walta

  6. T Carlson | | #6

    Thank you Martin, Dana and Walter for your responses. HHI sounds interesting, but wouldnt it be more accurate/useful tied to conditioned volume?

    Anybody know if a combustion analyzers efficiency ratings are accurate to determine true furnace efficiency?

    @Dana, great article, I'll give it a go.

    @Walter. I hear you on the propane gauge, hard to tell with a 1 1/2" dial marked at 5%, it would be nice to have an inline flow gauge or something, I dont trust propane companies.

    My econet seems to be somewhat accurate, I can hear it ramp down and rpm and cfm react in real time, I havent measured the static pressure to check against the display but I have manipulated it and watched the tstat react to it. Only thing its a modulating furnace, there is supposed to be many stages of output, not just high and low so Im not sure whats up with that.

    I guessed 200 on my poor memory, I just looked at the ticket and they only filled me to 40% because of the "cold snap" (or to sell me higher priced winter propane, I mentioned I dont trust propane companies right?) So I used approx.150 gallons total but will adjust for accuracy as soon as they fill me up in the next day or two.

  7. User avatar
    Dana Dorsett | | #7

    Heat load isn't a function of volume any more than it is of square footage. It's about exterior surface area. A sprawling single story had more exterior surface area than a 2 story of equal volume. A house with a lot of ells & bump-outs has a lot more surface area per unit volume or square feet of floor han a simple rectangle.

  8. T Carlson | | #8

    Hows that, more volume is more exterior surface area, no?

  9. Walter Ahlgrim | | #9

    If you lived in a sphere you would have about 20% less surface area that a cube, a rectangle could be closer to 40%, add some crazy bump outs you could double the surface area.

    Walta

  10. johns3km | | #10

    Range of Energy Use............................. Relative Frequency
    Under 5.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft............................ 12.2 percent
    Between 5.0 and 10.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft......... 39.4 percent
    Between 10.0 and 15.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft......... 23.9 percent
    Between 15.0 and 25.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft........ 14.7 percent
    Over 25.0 BTUs/HDD/Sq.Ft. ............................ 9.8 percent

    Is there any more recent data regarding these brackets as it is over 20 years old? Or maybe a different grouping depending home construction? (Super insulated/energy star/2018 code min/retrofit goal/uninsulated)

    I'm at about 11 BTU/HDD/sf in a 1940s home with a decent amount of improvements which I was starting to feel good about, until I saw that puts me below 50% of the cold weather population, and probably even lower with the rise of super-insulation techniques.

    Kevin

    1. User avatar
      Dana Dorsett | | #11

      Superinsulated houses are such small fraction of the total I doubt it even registers.

      But the percentage of homes on the lower end of that scale should be growing with the housing stock built since IRC 2006 was released, and perhaps a bit more since air tightness standards were introduced in IRC 2009.

      The source for that table was a DOE survey study published in 1997, as mentioned here:

      Most 1940s vintage 2x4 framed housed can get under 10 BTU/HDD/ft^2 with retrofit air sealing and insulation.

      The insulation & air sealing component commonly missed that could possibly put your house in that range is foundation insulation. Heat losses out basements & crawlspaces are a much larger fraction of the total than most people think until they do the math. The common perception that since the space isn't being actively heated it can't be very much of the heating bill. But once you've gone ahead and tightened up the fully-conditioned space, what's under the first floor can easily account for 15-25% of the total heat loss, even without actively heating it.

      1. johns3km | | #12

        Thanks Dana, we've discussed my home before. I have MassSave coming next week for an audit (they did work 5 years ago). Planning to do blown in on the remaining second floor walls, and get estimates to do foundation walls/sills with CC foam.

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