The prospect of a county- wide natural gas system coming to Sharp County leaves some residents with questions about the ease of converting their current propane appliances, if they choose to switch to natural gas.
Stewart Noland, a representative from Crist Engineers, the company that conducted the natural gas feasibility study for Sharp County, made presentations last month to all area city councils regarding the system. Noland answered many questions from citizens, but when asked about the conversion process from a current propane system he referred the public to a propane installer.
Bill DeClerk with DeClerk Propane in Pocahontas said residents should know that the ease of convertibility varies from one appliance to the other as well as by manufacturer and age. "Some are simply not convertible," he said.
Some appliances are easily converted with the changing of the main burner orifice, but DeClerk warns that these conversions must be made by a licensed Arkansas HVAC natural gas installer to ensure there are no liabilities to the homeowner for insurance purposes due to improper installation.
DeClerk said that most dryers and cook stoves can be converted and in most cases are sold with a burner orifice for either type of gas source.
There are, however, several appliances that cannot be converted. DeClerk said that any water heater that is in a mobile home cannot be switched from propane to natural gas. He also said that infrared heaters can not be switched. These heaters, DeClerk said, are equipped with a safety measure called an Oxygen Depleting System (ODS). The ODS allows the flame color to change to a blue color and eventually go out when there is a not enough oxygen to mix with the propane to enable it to burn safely. He also said that propane fire logs cannot be converted to natural gas.
Many older appliances and heating systems may not be able to be switched either, he said. DeClerk suggests looking up the information in the appliance's owner manual or taking information from the nameplate and looking on the manufacturer's Web site to determine whether the appliance can be converted or if it would need to be replaced.
In addition to the concern with appliances, DeClerk also addressed the need to verify the gas line size. He said that while natural gas requires 3.25 ounces of pressure, propane requires 6.5 ounces of pressure to push the gas through the lines. As gas pressure drops over distance, everyone who is planning on switching should have their line sizing verified with the aid of pipe sizing charts. DeClerk said pressure, volume and pipe size are very important factors to determine if the gas will burn properly.
For those who decide to switch to the more economical natural gas, DeClerk said that homeowner's should know that when propane gas remains in a tank and must be picked up by the distributor, "It can't be bought back at the same price it was bought for." He suggests users burn the remaining propane in the tank to zero percent before requesting the tank be picked up.
DeClerk says it is important for homewoners to be aware of potential drawbacks before signing a user agreement contract to purchase natural gas. He said he would be glad to answer any questions residents might have regarding conversions. He can be contacted at 800-952-7085.