Gas Lamps are Expensive

While redoing our landscape, we ripped out a nonfunctional gas lamp because it had rotted at the base.

We weren’t sure whether we want to restore the gas lamp or convert to an electric lamp.

I like how gas lamps look. They look far better than the typical electric-conversion gas lamp.

Gaslite America West’s Gaslight Specifications say that a 2 mantle gas lamp consumes about 1.5 MCF (thousands of cubic feet) of natural gas per month. I checked with someone who recently installed a gas lamp. Comparing his Sept. 2005 gas consumption to Sept. 2004, 1.5 MCF appears reasonable.

Coincidentally, my most recent gas bill is for 1.5 MCF. Using an average of Department of Energy-calculated annual natural gas prices over the prior 6 years (1999-2004, link), and adding on the taxes and surcharges in the Dallas, TX area, natural gas is about $10 per MCF. This means that a gas lamp costs about $15 per month to operate.

Gaslite America West and other sites say that a 2 mantle gas lamp generates the same light output as a 100 watt incandescent light bulb or a 25 watt compact fluorescent bulb.

Calculated from a DOE spreadsheet (link), 1998-2003 US electricity prices averaged $0.0841 per kWh. A 100 watt bulb consumes 0.1 kWh per hour. If I ran this light 12 hours per day, 30 days per month, that would be 36 kWh per month. 36 kWh per month is about $3.00, tax included. If I ran the 25 watt compact fluorescent watt bulb, that would be a measly $0.75 per month.

Note that the prices I quoted above are average. Energy prices are currently high, although natural gas’s current percentage increase far more than electricity, even if you factor in upcoming 24% electricity price hikes.

According to a post at Google Groups, there is a device that can throttle down gas lamps during the day. I have not found any other reference to such a device. Even if it was for sale, a best case scenario may be around a 25% consumption reduction. (You can’t totally shut it off.) Even at that consumption level, the gas lamp would still almost 4 times as expensive as the 100W incandescent or about 15 times more expensive than the 25W CF.

Conclusion? It’s expensive to run a gas lamp. You’re looking at around $180 per year just for a 2 mantle gas light. Is that worth it? Probably not for me.

8 thoughts on “Gas Lamps are Expensive”

  1. I’ve wondered, though, if an indoor gas lamp may not be a good deal during the winter when you are paying for heat anyways. This would seem especially true if you’re trying to use solar power, since during the winter your lighting needs are greater, but you receive less sunlight. During the summer, when sulight is plentiful and extra heat is a curse rather than a blessing, switch to electric lighting.

  2. I bought a beautiful brass Aladdin kerosene lamp a few years ago that is as nice as a gas lamp. It’s portable, and provides a lot of heat and light when used indoors in the winter. I sometimes place it at the center of my round picnic table for evening barbechews outdoor. Aladdin lamps have a hollow round wick with a delicate, incandescent, ash mantle above the wick, sort of like a combination of the old time kerosene lamp and the Coleman camping lantern. It makes a lot more light than the old flat wick type kerosene lamps. It makes enough heat to warm a small room in the winter. I believe it’s rated at 3,000 BTU/hour if I remember correctly. It makes more light than a 25 watt incandescent bulb; but probably less than a 40 watt bulb. You can put the lamp anywhere you want though because it has no power cord… or gas pipe for that matter.

  3. Never use any portable gas lamp or appliance indoors!
    All of them release carbon dioxide. None are safe indoors.
    People often get sick or die from leaving lamps on in tents.

  4. If they’re specifically designed for indoor use, gas lamps can be safe, but with modern more ‘sealed’ dwellings, yes, the dangers of carbon monoxide are made worse (19th century victorian properties, both in the US and elsewhere were far far less well sealed than we’re used to now). With regards to the original article, am I guessing correctly that the lamp burns 24/7 ? That would be unusual in my part of the world (England) where public utility gas lamps, and private ones, for outdoor use, almost always had either a low consumption pilot burner and a valve, manually operated at night, or more usually, required a man to light them at dusk!

    I still use gas lighting indoors but only out in our ‘sunroom’ which is better ventilated than the rest of the house, which means it requires heating during winter anyway.

  5. You CAN use gas lamps which are rated for “indoor” use indoors. We use them at my family’s summer home where there is no mains electricity, and they are powered off of LP (Propane) gas. They throw a LOT of heat, and since we are using the house in the summer, you can imagine the conundrum! We use one mounted at ceiling height and it produces about the equivilent of a 60W light bulb. We also use an Alladian Lamp which is not as bright, but even hotter.

    I have seen mechanisms in London on the gas lamps there that seem to act as a “striker” or spark to ignite the gas light when the gas is turned on at dusk. You should look into one of these for your outside gas light!

  6. Electricity prices are about thrice that here. No idea what gas costs and anyway they’d quote it in cubic metres and I don’t feel like doing the conversion. But while back-of-the-envelope calculations like this are useful, you can’t really draw general conclusions from them.

    Besides, the big gas installations can ignite and extinguish gas lights automatically. A full-off ought to be possible at least in theory. Something to hack up, perhaps.

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