What Is a Propane Air Conditioner?

clean propane tank with connectors attached

You know about propane grills and propane heating systems, and you may have even heard that this is a very clean-burning fuel, and that's very true. But when it comes to answering the question of what is a propane air conditioner, the answer starts to get pretty complicated.

What is a propane air conditioner? The answer is not so simple, because it's an idea, a possibility, and something many still consider dangerous.

What Is Propane?

To get super technical about it, propane is a chemical compound. It is a type of hydrocarbon gas that is colorless, and it can easily be turned into liquid.

The scientific formula for propane is C3H8. It is commonly mixed with butane when it is used as fuel for gas grills.

In its natural state, propane has no odor. Odorant is actually added to propane to give it a gassy smell, as this can serve as a warning sign in the vent of a gas leak.

Otherwise, you might never know you have a gas leak until it's far too late.

Propane has a high octane rating, which makes it a good choice for combustion engines like those found in motor vehicles. Propane is actually a byproduct of natural gas and crude oil.

Propane is not harmful to surface water, soil, or groundwater.

Propane is classified scientifically as HFC-32. This is an important designation because HCFC-22 is the gas most often used to power air conditioners.

HCFC-22 is chlorodifluoromethane, a type of chemical compound that has been very effective as a safe coolant. However, this compound is extremely damaging to the ozone layer, and it is already being phased out of production in the U.S.

As awareness of how humans affect the environment has grown, so have concerns about using HCFC-22 in AC systems and its long-term effect on the ozone layer. Several countries around the world, including the U.S., are limiting the production and use of this chemical compound.

Safer, cleaner alternatives are needed. And since propane burns clean without causing a lot of gross pollutants or damage to the ozone, it has become a topic of conversation in the cooling industry.

What Is Liquid Propane?

You will see propane gas tanks being used directly to power grills. But when it comes to home appliances, liquid propane is used instead of gas propane.

So, what is that? Liquid propane is perhaps more properly known as liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, and it is generally made with a mixture of propane, butene, and butane.

This mixture has been around since about 1860 and is most commonly used today in heating systems and as fuel for gas fireplaces, gas cooktops, and gas ovens.

In Europe, you will also find water heaters that use LPG. Liquid propane is clean-burning, and it can be stored indefinitely without degradation.

Liquid propane-powered appliances are becoming more common at home stores. Appliances you can find that use LPG include clothes dryers and refrigerators.

If propane can be used in appliances like refrigerators, which keep food cool, is there a way that propane can be used to cool an entire house? With an environmental energy crisis looming large, scientists and manufacturers are asking this question very seriously.

Using Propane As a Coolant

Propane is most well-known for being associated with cooking food and creating heat, so the idea of a propane air conditioner is pretty confusing. However, research indicates that propane is a better option, environmentally, for cooling systems.

However, there are strict regulations against using propane in air conditioners in both Europe and the U.S. Propane is classified as an HFC-23, a specific chemical compound, and it is not approved for use in home air conditioning systems.

This is because propane is a highly flammable material. This is why it literally burns as you are using it.

A highly flammable gas is certainly not ideal for use in residential applications and currently, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does not allow any type of air conditioner, even mobile air conditioners found in motor vehicles, to be powered with propane in any form.

Propane air conditioners exist mostly in theory, though some sources suggest that HVAC systems using propane have been manufactured and used in Asian countries. Because propane gas is highly flammable, it is considered to not be safe for home HVAC systems, and there are regulations against it in several countries.

But in theory, propane cooling systems are a really good idea. Research shows that propane can be very effectively used to this end and that it is far less dangerous to the environment than the popular chemicals used in home AC systems.

In fact, research indicates that propane air conditioning systems may just be ideal if they can be made safely. Propane is clean, and abundant, and could be the solution to a growing environmental problem stemming from the use of too many carbon-emitting HVAC systems.

The Future of Propane Air Conditioners

Switzerland has revised country-wide coolant standards, which allows for more flammable gasses to be used in home heating and air systems. This will likely result in an HVAC revolution of sorts in Switzerland, as it will pave the way for many new AC and furnace designs.

With loosened regulations in Switzerland, the rest of Europe could take notice if the country produces safe, high-quality HVAC systems that use propane.

As this country and other countries scramble to find solutions and clean alternatives to home cooling systems, propane AC and other types of AC may soon become the standard. However, scientists have some work to do to create safe ways to store and use propane within the home.

What Is a Propane Air Conditioner?

What is a propane air conditioner? Though split systems making use of propane and other gases have been used in countries outside the U.S. and Europe, there is no air conditioner running solely on propane because there is no safe design for this at present.

However, this is a clean source of energy that does not do environmental harm that has been studied as an alternative to fossil-burning fuels. As technology develops, propane air conditioners may be seen more often, and ultimately, regulations make changes to make them possible for home use.

Propane Air Conditioner FAQ

hand with propane tank

Why can propane ovens be used indoors but propane air conditioners are considered unsafe?

Propane ovens, clothes dryers, and other appliances that are used inside the home are not powered by propane gas. Home appliances that use propane, other than outdoor grills, are powered with liquid propane that is actually a mixture of different fuels.

Propane gas, while perfectly safe in most respects, is considered to be highly flammable. Many nations, including the U.S., have regulations against using propane gas for air conditioners and other home systems due to safety concerns.

As new technology emerges, however, propane may become the go-to energy source for home appliances and HVAC systems, as this is a cleaner-burning fuel than gasoline, and it does not do the damage to the ozone layer that other cooling chemicals can do.

When will propane air conditioners be available for home use?

Some form of propane air conditioners are being used in Asia, and split air conditioning units that have indoor and outdoor components serve as a model for how future propane AC units could work. However, propane air conditioners are not widely in use anywhere, and they go against environmental and safety regulations in many countries.

It is not known when, or if, propane air conditioners will ever be created safely enough for home use. But you can expect to see some shakeups in the HVAC industry in the near future, as many scientists and manufacturers are looking for cooling alternatives that are less damaging to the environment than the current popular choices.

What is liquid propane used for?

Liquid propane is actually a combination of different fuels and gasses put in liquid form to provide heating or cooling energy for home appliances like ovens, freezers, and clothes dryers. Liquid propane is very different from propane gas.

What is a split air conditioning system?

A split AC system or split HVAC system has at least two units: one indoor and one outdoor. These units work together, and they are connected with tubing.

The outside part of the system is the compressor and the condenser, while the indoor unit is the evaporator coil and the air unit itself that sends warm or cool air throughout your home via ductwork.

The alternative is a package unit, where the entire system is a single unit. When a split or packaged unit is used to heat or cool a property depends on several factors, as one system may be ideal for some properties but not for others.

However, split systems are often more expensive than packaged systems, and you will lose some outdoor space when this system is in place. Also, the outside air compressor may be noisy, which can affect your outdoor enjoyment sometimes.

What other AC options do you have outside of propane air conditioners?

Since propane air conditioners aren't really a thing yet, there are other options to consider.

A ductless air conditioner, or mini split air conditioner, cools your home without ductwork. This system has an outdoor condenser unit and smaller inside units used for each room.

Individual temperatures for each room can be set using this system, which can get expensive in larger homes with a lot of rooms to keep cool.

You can also use a window unit to provide cool air, but these units really only cool a single room. To cool an entire house, you will need window units in just about every single room.

If you live in a dryer climate, you may be familiar with swamp coolers. This is, essentially, a soaking wet sponge and a fan.

The fan blows air through the sponge, which cools the water. Crack a window so the hot air in the house can escape and the cool air is left behind.

This is an efficient system that creates low utility bills. However, these systems really only work in low-humidity environments.

Portable air conditioners are made to be small and easy to move around the home, so you can take the AC with you wherever you are. These units can be somewhat noisy, and they take up floor space.

If you're looking for an environmentally friendly air conditioning option, you have a few options. Geothermal air conditioning systems use natural energy to regulate temperature.

Solar-powered air conditioners are highly environmentally-friendly as well.

Why is propane considered to be dangerous?

Propane is very environmentally safe because it is considered to be a clean fuel. However, there are some dangers associated with propane that should not be ignored.

Propane can cause suffocation in high concentrations. It can also cause seizures, unconsciousness, and cardiac arrest.

If propane comes into prolonged contact with skin, it can cause frostbite.

But the main safety concern associated with propane is its flammability. It is stored under pressure, and if heated, it can explode.

Yes, explode. This is why propane is considered to be unsafe for home residential use.

What can you use instead of propane?

Propane is a clean-burning fuel, but it is not the only one. There are several alternatives to propane gas that you can use instead.

Natural gas is a more affordable alternative to both oil and propane gas. However, this is not a renewable resource, and some very damaging practices have been used in order to extract natural gas from the ground, such as fracking.

Both solar and wind power can be used to power air conditioning and HVAC systems of all kinds. The initial cost of installing these systems can be very expensive, however, prohibitively so for some.

Further Reading

5 Ways to Save Money With Alternative Energy

6 DIY Air Conditioners

Air Conditioner Thermostat Wiring

Ductless Air Conditioner Installation

Four Portable Air Conditioner Problems

HVAC Hacks: Energy-Saving Improvements You Can Make Yourself

How to Install a Window Air Conditioner

How to Protect a Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

How to Replace an Air Conditioner Filter

How to Uninstall a Split Air Conditioner

Installing a Through-the-Wall Air Conditioner

Installing a Window Air Conditioner in a Tilt Window

What Does it Cost to Run a Room Air Conditioner?