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Are Propane And Natural Gas Heaters Interchangeable?

Many different kinds of appliances, including garage heaters, burn natural gas (NAT) or propane (LP). It is important to understand that these are two very different types of fuel source. They are not interchangeable at all. It is absolutely necessary to have the correct gas utilization fittings for each type of fuel.

In this article, we explain the difference between NAT and LP powered appliances and discuss the topic of converting an appliance from NAT to LP use and vice versa. Read on to learn more.

What’s The Difference Between NAT And LP Burning Appliances?

How to convert a natural gas garage heater to propane gas heaters interchangeable

It’s important to understand that NAT has much lower pressure than LP, so if you want to convert an appliance from one to the other, you’ll need to compensate for the differing pressure.

This means that if you were to connect an appliance that is supposed to use NAT to a LP source, you’d wind up with an appliance that malfunctions and may very well be dangerous.

This is because the orifices in a NAT appliance are quite a bit larger than those in an LP appliance, so higher pressure gas coming through the larger sized orifices would result in a greater amount of gas going through the burner. This means a higher flame resulting in waste of fuel and possibly danger.

On the flipside if you try to use NAT with a LP appliance you’ll end up with little or no flame because the pressure of LP is much lower than that of NAT. Additionally, the orifices in a NAT appliance are smaller than those in a LP appliance.

Can You Convert A Natural Gas Heater To Propane?

When you purchase a new appliance, you will find new appliances labeled for use with natural gas or propane.

If it is possible to convert the appliance, you will find this information listed in the label. Additionally, appliances that can be converted from NAT to LP will usually come with an especially designed conversion kit that is intended to be used with that appliance and that appliance only.

Be advised that these days it is very unusual to find any new appliance that is intended to be converted or that comes with a conversion kit.

In some cases, you can convert an appliance designed for use with NAT to one that can work with LP. Even so, converting any appliance from NAT or LP can be a complex process, and very often it is not possible.

The process involves changing out internal parts of the appliance in order to compensate for difference in pressure between NAT and LP.

Gas appliance conversions involve making a number of changes to the appliance so that it is able to use a fuel other than the one for which it is designed. To change a NAT appliance to one that can burn LP involves the replacement of multiple components, such as:

  • Appliance Regulators
  • Gas Orifices
  • Burners

These are internal connections and fittings for the utilization of gas that are made to work with a specific kind of gas that has a specific pressure.

In some cases, it is possible to convert an appliance that runs on one of these fuels so that it can run on the other, as long as there is a specified conversion kit available for the appliance in question.

How Do You Convert A Natural Gas Garage Heater To Propane?

In this day and age, it is not a simple matter to perform this type of conversion. In the past, it was pretty easy to buy a standard conversion kit and convert almost any appliance, but today new gas appliances are especially engineered to be used with only one type of fuel.

It’s important that DIY handy persons understand that there’s a lot more involved in converting a garage heater from NAT to LP than simply drilling out the orifice to make it larger.

In addition to replacing all of the orifices in any appliance you are attempting to convert, it is also necessary to replace the appliance regulators, any burners that may be present, and you may even need to replace the venting if you’re converting your garage heater from NAT to LP.

Here are three other factors you must take care of:

  1. You must make appropriate changes to the appliance regulator. This adjustment regulates inlet pressure and delivery pressure. If the appliance has the wrong type of gas regulator, it will deliver either too little or too much pressure. Quite naturally, this can be very dangerous. For this reason regulators should only be repaired, changed or converted by licensed professionals.
  2. Appliance burners must be the right size and deliver the fuel at the right pressure for efficient combustion. The wrong size burner may damage the appliance and may be dangerous.
  3. The burner air shutter must be correctly adjusted to produce the right type and condition of flame. The burner air shutter is the point in any NAT or LP appliance at which the gas and the air are combined before going into the burner. The gas and air mixture must be correct complete and efficient combustion.

These videos give an idea of some of the steps that may be involved in this kind of conversion:

Converting A Maxtrol Gas Regulator for Natural Gas (NG) or Propane (LP)

Drilling the gas orifice from propane to natural gas

Changing the size of the orifices and other components in an appliance requires purchasing the correct conversion kit. Not all NAT and LP appliances can be converted. You’ll need to look at the information that comes with the appliance to make sure that it is safe to convert it, and most appliances that can be converted should be converted by a technician who is licensed in gas appliance repair.

Should You Convert A NAT Garage Heater To LP?

The bottom line is that it’s a lot less expensive, a lot less trouble and a lot safer to simply purchase an appliance that burns the type of fuel you have. If you want to switch from NAT to LP, you’re better off starting off new with an appliance that is specifically designed for that purpose.

If you do decide that you simply must convert the garage heater you have from NAT to LP, be smart and look up a licensed technician to do the job for you. In that way, you’ll have some guarantee that the conversion will be correctly done and safe.

Additionally, be sure to check with your homeowners insurance provider before doing this sort of work. You may very well negate the effectiveness of your insurance policy if you do not have the approval of your insurance provider.

Resources:

  1. Natural Gas vs. Alternative Fuels
  2. Propane Benefits and Considerations
  3. Natural Gas Explained

1 thought on “Are Propane And Natural Gas Heaters Interchangeable?”

  1. Good Article & Great Advice. I have a new NAT heater given to me and had been considering trying to convert it to LP for a garage. After reading this, I have decided it would be better, & safer, to simply spend the extra money and buy the correct heater. I am very technical/mechanical but realize my limits, and my families safety overrides any desire to save a few bucks. Thanks.

    Reply

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