What Is Natural Gas Used for? A Guide to Home Use and Safety

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What Is Natural Gas Used for? A Guide to Home Use and Safety

by | Educational, Natural Gas

In 1825, the first sustained commercial use of natural gas went on record in New York. By 1859, vast crude oil and natural gas deposits were discovered in western Pennsylvania. Commercial and residential natural gas use in the United States took off. Around this same time, New York’s natural gas consumption reached near 600 million cubic feet per year. The only uses for natural gas during the mid-19th century were gas lamps and heating.In 1825, the first sustained commercial use of natural gas went on record in New York. By 1859, vast crude oil and natural gas deposits were discovered in western Pennsylvania. Commercial and residential natural gas use in the United States took off. Around this same time, New York’s natural gas consumption reached near 600 million cubic feet per year. The only uses for natural gas during the mid-19th century were gas lamps and heating.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the combined commercial and residential natural gas consumption in the United States for 2021 will average 22.4 billion cubic feet per day! And although the amount of natural gas consumption has increased tremendously, our residential and commercial uses of this energy source has expanded to a far greater extent.   

How can we use so much natural gas and what is natural gas used for? Well, we use this non-renewable fossil fuel for almost everything we do today. In this article, we’ll take a look at what natural gas is used for in homes and whether having a natural gas supply can improve your home’s value. We’ll also discuss natural gas hazards along with everything you need to know about gas meters. 

What Is Natural Gas Used for in Homes? 

Natural Gas Home Use - Furnace imagesource

Since the mid-19th century, we’ve been using natural gas as an energy source to heat houses, but what other residential uses do we have for this fuel today? Current technology and the general affordability of natural gas prices grant us the ability to use this gas, which we consider to be the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, for just about anything.   

Let’s take a look at a few of the ways we now use natural gas at home:  

  • Cooking with cooktops, ovens, ranges, stoves, and grills 
  • Cooling our homes with air conditioning 
  • Drying our laundry with clothes dryers 
  • Enjoying hot showers and sanitizing our dishes and laundry with water heaters 
  • Generating electric power 
  • Keeping our groceries fresh with refrigerators and freezers 
  • Seeing better with outdoor lighting 
  • Staying warm with fireplaces, fire pits, patio heaters, and pool heaters 

What Appliances Use Natural Gas in a House? 

Natural Gas Uses in a House | Stove Gas imagesource

The cost of natural gas is about 68% less per British thermal unit (the standard measure of energy) than electricity. The purchase price of natural gas appliances can be a bit more than similar electric options. Still, in the end, the lower operating costs will add up to significant savings. Let’s take a closer look at some of the gas appliances you can install in your home to help save on your energy bill. 

Cooktops, Ovens, Ranges, Stoves, and Grills 

Although gas appliances plug into an electrical power source, they use natural gas as an energy source to create heat. Gas cooktops, ovens, ranges, and stoves are frequently chosen over electric stoves by professional chefs. It’s no wonder since gas stoves offer many benefits over their electric competitors. Some of these benefits include instant temperature control, lower energy costs, and even heat distribution.  

Gas grills may cost a bit more than charcoal or propane grills, but once again, many people believe the benefits outweigh the upfront expense. Gas grills have excellent energy efficiency, so you’ll end up saving in the long run. Plus, there’s no need to stock up on charcoal and lighter fluid or frequently refill your propane tank, providing even more savings. Natural gas is also the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, so you’ll be creating less greenhouse gas.</s pan> 

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Air Conditioning 

Using a natural gas air conditioner is another excellent way to save money and conserve energy. Some models have such incredible energy efficiency that they consume up to 50% less energy than a comparable electric unit. What’s more, water is recycled rather than consumed when running the unit. Most natural gas units are reliable in extreme temperatures as high as 131 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, many models can be powered by a generator, making them ideal for emergencies or using off the grid. 

Clothes Dryers 

Gas-powered clothes dryers run at a higher temperature, so in general, they dry clothes faster than their electric counterparts.The shorter cycles result in less tumbling, meaning less wear and tear on your clothes, more significant energy cost savings, and less static cling. Plus, after the cycle is over, gas dryers cool down quicker, which reduces wrinkling. 

Refrigerators and Freezers 

Using heat to keep your food cold seems a bit strange. But refrigerators and freezers aren’t just meant to be cold. They’re intended to maintain a regulated temperature. Gas refrigerators use heat to make the unit cold by using ammonia as the coolant. We refer to this process as ammonia refrigeration or absorption cooling  

One massive benefit to absorption cooling is that there are no moving mechanical parts involved. As a result, natural gas refrigerators are reliable and long-lasting since there are no parts to wear out. Another bonus is that you don’t have to worry about your food spoiling if you have a power outage. 

Can Natural Gas Appliances Run on Propane?  

Can Natural Gas Appliances run on Propanesource

Since natural gas and propane are both regularly used for heating and cooking, you may begin to wonder if you can use the gases interchangeably. After all, propane is a byproduct of natural gas, so aren’t they pretty much the same thing? Well, no. These two fuels are made of relatively different properties. But yes, it is possible to convert some natural gas appliances to run on propane and vice versa.  

What Are the Differences Between Natural Gas and Propane? 

Natural gas is mainly composed of methane and includes a bit of ethane, butane, and even propane. Natural gas plants use a filtration system to remove impurities such as acid, hydrogen sulfide, mercury, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and water vapor before processing it into either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG).   

During natural gas production, an odorant with a similar smell to that of rotten eggs is added as a safety precaution to help us detect gas leaks. Upon completion, the natural gas is considered clean and gets distributed through gas pipelines to our homes.   

Propane is a byproduct of natural gas, meaning it’s extracted from natural gas in the processing plant. As a fuel, propane includes small amounts of butane, butylene, propylene, and, similar to natural gas, an odorant meant for sniffing out leaks in its composition.   

Propane combustion is not as clean as natural gas. It produces more carbon dioxide, water vapor, and additional organic exhaust emissions. It also sinks since it’s heavier than air while natural gas rises.   

Finally, propane isn’t delivered directly to our homes through gas pipelines from the power plants. Instead, it comes in tanks that once empty, need to be replaced or refilled.  

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What Appliances Are Convertible Between Natural Gas and Propane? 

Cooktops, heaters, outdoor grills, ovens, ranges, and water heaters of specific makes and models may be convertible between the two fuels, either from natural gas to propane or the other way around. However, suppose the conversion is improper. In that case, you will have big problems since propane tanks have about twice as much pressure as the gas pipelines that fuel our home appliances.  

 Before taking on this task, it’s best to first check with the product manufacturer to make sure your product is compatible for a conversion. If it’s a go, hire a licensed technician. 

What Uses the Most Gas in a House? 

What uses Gas in a House - Smoke and heat Winter houses imagesource

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas was used in 58% of homes in 2015 and accounted for 44% of residential energy consumption in 2019. What was the primary use of natural gas in these homes, you ask? Just as you may have suspected, space heating and water heating followed by electricity generation use the most residential gas.   

It’s worth mentioning here that cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP) is an environmentally friendly system that uses natural gas along with other fuels. It can provide on-site cooling, heating, and electric power simultaneously from a single fuel source by recovering electricity’s waste heat and using it for cooling and heating.   

Although we primarily use CHP in commercial, industrial, and multifamily facilities, a scaled-down version referred to as micro-CHP is used in some single-family homes. If this growing trend catches on, it could become the top gas use for residential use in a sustainable future. 

How Do We Heat Our Homes Using Natural Gas? 

Throughout most of the United States, except the southern region, the leading residential use of natural gas is heat. So how do we heat our homes with this popular non-renewable fossil fuel? The process of converting natural gas to heat in our homes is as follows:  

  1. Scientists produce seismic waves around underground rock formations like coal beds and shale rock. When sizable natural gas deposits, or shale gas as it’s occasionally called, have been located, the fossil fuel is extracted. In North America, we use methods such as vertical drilling and fracking. Fracking is a method where a high-pressure water mixture breaks up rock formations to release the gas.   

  2. When drilling is complete, the natural gas supply begins to flow into a well. Then, a wellhead replaces the drilling equipment. At this point, the gas supply moves to processing plant facilities through gathering pipelines 

  3. Gas pipelines deliver natural gas from the power plants directly to our homes through gas pipelines.  

  4. The natural gas then converts to heat. A burner ignites the fuel as it releases from the incoming gas lines. That burner is either part of a boiler or a furnace. 

  5. Finally, heat is transferred throughout your house by way of one of the following methods: 
  • Boiler systems heat water and then pump it throughout the house to radiators positioned along the walls. In some cases, the boiler also moves hot water to a heat exchanger. Here, heated air pushes out through a blower.  
  • Radiant floor heat is when plumbing positioned in the floor is the heat source. Although it takes longer for the house to heat up with this system, you’ll appreciate the warm floors. 
  • Forced hot air is the most common heating system used today. This is when a furnace heats the air around it. A blower located inside the furnace then sends that hot air through air ducts and out of room vents.  

Does Converting to Natural Gas Add Value to Your Home?  

Does Natural Gas increase Home Value | Happy family imageSOURCE

It’s true that using natural gas appliances over electric will save you money on your energy bill. But will making the conversion to natural gas add value to your home? In short, the answer is yes. However, don’t be too quick to commit.   

In 2010, The National Association of Home Builders took a survey that concluded gas-powered homes sold for 6% more than electric-powered homes and sold quicker. However, the cost of converting a home to natural gas will run you thousands of dollars. To find out if it’s financially beneficial for you, you’d first have to crunch some numbers.  

Natural Gas Hazards and Precautions 

For many of us, natural gas is part of our everyday lives. It’s inside our homes, used as a primary feedstock (raw material) for manufacturing, and it’s even used to fuel some vehicles. Being aware of natural gas hazards and knowing what precautions to take are critical safety measures. To cover this information, we’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about your safety and health as they relate to natural gas.  

How Do You Detect a Natural Gas Leak? 

Although pure natural gas is odorless, power plants add a substance (called an odorant) that smells similar to rotten eggs or sulfur. The odorant helps to warn us when there is a natural gas leak.  

Here are a few additional signs there may be a potential leak:  

  • Hearing a hissing or whistling noise 
  • Seeing a damaged gas line connection 
  • Seeing disturbed soil or evidence of digging near a potential gas line 
  • Seeing blowing dust or a white cloud in an enclosed space 
  • Seeing bubbles in standing water 
  • Noticing plants that are dead or dying 

What Do You Do if You Smell Gas? 

If you’re suspicious of a gas leak, avoid creating sparks (such as lighting a match), touching electrical appliances, and smoking. Exit the area immediately, leave the door open, and head to a safer location. Call your gas utility company as soon you’re safe to report the leak. If you don’t have the number or feel the situation could be serious, dial 911.  

Can Breathing Natural Gas Harm You? 

Although low-level exposure to natural gas will not harm you, long-term exposure can lead to depression, a decreased quality of health, and respiratory problems. Not to mention, serious leaks lead to a depletion of oxygen, resulting in suffocation and death.   

Here are some telling symptoms to watch out for:

  • Breathing problems 
  • Dizziness 
  • Eye and throat irritation 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache 
  • Nausea 

Does Natural Gas Turn Into Carbon Monoxide? 

Natural gas produces fewer pollutants (such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other particulate matter emissions) than other fossil fuels. But that doesn’t mean it’s a truly clean energy source. It may be the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, but when not burned completely, it can release carbon monoxide.  
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Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms to watch for include:   

  • Chest or stomach pain 
  • Dizziness 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Headache 
  • Loss of muscle control 
  • Nausea 
  • Vision trouble 
  • Pink or red skin and bright red lips 

In addition to using your senses, consider putting your mind at ease by installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home. 

What Do I Need To Know About Gas Meters? 

Gas Meters Explained - What Need to Know | Outside older meterSOURCE

The final thing you’ll want to understand if using natural gas in your home is the gas meter. This way, you’ll be sure that you’re only paying for the gas you use. Your utility provider may be in charge of billing you, but they’re allowed to estimate. If you don’t want to overpay, it’s a good idea to take a monthly reading  

Follow these simple steps to become a meter master: 

Step 1: Find Your Meter  

What does a gas meter even look like? Well, most gas meters are installed near the incoming gas lines on the outside of your house. If you can’t find it outside, there’s a chance it’s in your basement or a utility room. Most meters have four or five dials that look similar to clocks with numbers and hands that move both clockwise and counterclockwise. However, some newer meters have digital numbers instead.  

Step 2: Locate Your Gas Meter Number 

Your Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN), also sometimes called an M number, identifies the gas supply specific to your home. It will be six to 10 numbers long and can only be found on your utility bill or by visiting the Find My Supplier website.  

Step 3: Learn How To Turn Your Meter on and Off 

Located inside your home, you’ll find the house-side main valve. In older homes, it’s likely located on the pipe where natural gas first enters your house. In newer homes, your main shutoff valve will probably be by your water heater or furnace. This valve will turn the gas supply to your entire house on and off.   

In addition to the main shutoff valve, all gas appliances should have a shutoff valve within six feet of the appliance, which allows you to control it independently. Finally, older homes may have a street-side main valve located next to the gas meter. It’s best to leave this one alone as it’s only intended for gas company employee use. However, in an emergency, you can turn this valve perpendicular to the pipe it’s on for the gas supply to be off and parallel to turn it on.  

Is Natural Gas Right for Your Home?  

Natural Gas at Home | Gas Fireplace with Lady imageSOURCE

Now that you know all the different ways to use natural gas in your home, it’s an excellent time to reach out to your local utility provider. Ask about all of the possibilities available to you including renewable energy options. Make sure you secure the best energy plan for you by considering all of your choices before you sign up.

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