Propane Fuels Growing Underground Movement Among Homebuilders

Washington, DC (April 20, 2006) – A survey released today finds that homebuilders are installing propane tanks underground, with 34 percent of homes built by surveyed builders over the last 12 months in locations with partial or no access to natural gas feature an underground propane tank.  While access to natural gas plays a role in influencing a decision to use underground tanks, outdoor rooms and stand-by generators are also driving builder interest.

The survey found that overall awareness of underground propane tanks was high, with eight out of 10 builders surveyed noting they are aware of the use of underground tanks. Underground tanks are strongest among builders in the Northeast followed by builders in the Midwest and West regions. The survey was conducted by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center on behalf of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

The survey found that once builders understood the benefits of underground propane tanks, their intention to use propane in the next 12 months jumped from 18 to 29 percent in homes they intend to build. The greatest gains for propane were in regions without access to natural gas, but even in regions with access to natural gas, the likelihood of builders using underground tanks increased, with interest driven by outdoor living areas and identifying a reliable energy source for stand-by generators.

Highlights from the survey:

  • Outdoor living rooms and stand-by power generators are the top drivers for builder interest in underground propane tanks.
  • Geography plays a major role in interest in propane and underground storage, with builders whose homes have partial or no access to natural gas noting they were four times more familiar with propane and twice as likely to use underground propane tanks.
  • High-efficiency hydronic heating systems such as radiant floor heat appear to be adding to builder interest in using propane, with builders saying they would install radiant floor heat in 13 percent of their homes in the next 12 months, an 11 percent increase over current usage of just 2 percent.
  • Custom builders are far more likely to use underground propane tanks, with outdoor living spaces playing a large role in driving use – 60 percent of the homes built by the custom builders surveyed feature propane by preference, and 44 percent of their homes feature an underground storage system to fuel outdoor room applications.

“As builders work with homebuyers to design cost-effective homes that deliver added value, homebuilders can count on their local propane retailer to help them understand the benefits of building a home that maximizes the benefits of an underground storage system,” said Jim Hitzemann, Ray Murray, Inc. (Huntersville, NC). “Propane-fueled appliances such as tankless water heaters and high-efficiency gas furnaces help to fuel interest in propane, but the added value propane delivers for outdoor rooms and stand-by power generation are also important drivers.”

Underground tanks are becoming increasingly popular among homebuilders. They are constructed of heavy steel and painted with a mastic coating to prevent corrosion. Once the tanks are buried, the only evidence of the tank is a small dome with filling connections that protrude just inches above the ground where the supplier fills the tank.

Single-family homes can be fueled by tanks of varying sizes, depending on demand. Generally, 500-gallon tanks easily accommodate an average four-bedroom home. One hundred gallon tanks can be installed to provide energy for specific applications such as outdoor rooms, while 1,000+ gallon tanks can fuel large homes with applications such as swimming pools and hot tubs. However, entire developments are now also using underground storage systems, with centralized systems that feature a gas main and metered access to propane.

Two completed developments fueled by underground tanks were recently named PERC’s Exceptional Energy Award winners for 2006. Sable Developing of Rockford, MI, was selected for its use of centralized underground propane tanks and service lines to fuel an 82 home community, with piping sized to serve all applicable residential applications from pool heating to outdoor grills to clothes dryers.  Real Estate Service of Connecticut was recognized for its use of propane to fuel the Spinnaker Community in East Lyme, CT, which features 77 detached condominium units, all fueled by a metered propane fueling system featuring underground storage tanks.    

“Underground tanks are clearly the way to go,” said Bruce Bylsma, director of sales and marketing for Sable Developing. “Buyers like the aesthetics with the absence of the tank, and they see propane as more cost effective than electricity and better for developing both off the grid and off the natural gas main.  Propane gives homeowners all the benefits they need to live comfortably in a home.”

About the Survey
The web-based survey was conducted by the NAHB Research Center on behalf of the Propane Education & Research Council in March 2006. A nationally representative sample of 294 builders participated in the survey.  The NAHB Research Center promotes innovation in housing technology to improve the durability, affordability, and environmental performance of homes and home building products.  A subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Research Center has established itself as the source for reliable, objective information and research on housing construction and development issues. 

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