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How To Convert a Gas Range from Natural Gas (NG) to Propane (LP)

(excerpted from the DRSNews, May 2004 issue)

Back in the March issue of the newsletter, we talked about gas dryers, both diagnosing them when they don't heat and converting them from natural gas to LP (liquid petroleum, or Propane, gas).

I thought I'd take a brief run at ranges this month, starting with their conversion to LP.

(Note: in most locales, gas ranges cannot legally be plumbed and connected by homeowners, but they can be converted and adjusted by a 'non-professional'. Please check your local codes on this. And please - if you're at all uncomfortable doing any of this, call in a pro. But watch what he does - it really isn't difficult!)

1) New ranges ship from the factory already set up for natural gas. There at least a couple of reasons for this: 

 a) A higher percentage of our population uses natural gas
 b) It's easier to convert to LP than back from LP to natural

There are basically two types of ranges to deal with: those with sealed top burners, which are pretty much the standard today, and the conventional, 'non-sealed' ones.

While they operate in much the same way, their conversion is usually different. There are still a few ranges that use adjustable sealed burner orifices, but most are 'fixed' and must be individually replaced to convert each burner from one fuel to another. 

(An orifice is simply a small brass fitting with a specifically sized hole very accurately drilled through it, and, if adjustable, has a provision to change the size of this hole by turning closed a threaded portion).

Either way, basically what you're doing when going from natural gas to LP is changing to a smaller orifice to allow for the higher pressure supplied by the 'bottled' gas (The available energy in each ft of gas is different too, but for our purpose here that's not important). Natural gas supplies typically run around a pressure of 5.5 inches water column, while LP runs at twice that pressure, averaging around 11 inches. The orifice through which the gas travels to the burner must be smaller to accommodate this difference.

Adjustable orifices are simply 'snugged' down, clockwise, with a 1/2 inch open-end wrench, to convert them. Nearly all oven burners use these too - more about that in a minute.

Fixed orifices are replaced, and the good news is: the LP parts are usually included with the new range. On some brands (GE being one), the unused set is attached to a storage point on the stove, and this is a great idea. This way, they can't get lost, and if you ever want to convert back, there they are!

The not-so-good news: these little top burner orifices very often require a metric wrench to remove & install. And some can't be changed without a very slender wrench or nut driver.

A very useful tip I picked up many years ago: to hold that little orifice in a regular nut driver or socket, tear a very small piece of paper towel, hold it over the open socket, then push the orifice into the socket. The paper does a great job of holding the orifice into the wrench, preventing its being dropped into the 'innards' of the range.

The installation instructions that come with your range will usually be pretty clear on which orifices go into each burner head. Many new cook tops use as many as three different sized burners, each with a different BTU rating and orifice size.  I usually start by laying the correct orifice beside its corresponding burner, just to be sure I get them right the first time. Again, the instructions should be clear on this. Some use a color code system, while others use size numbers. (Note to manufacturers: here's another area that needs a standardized system!)

One detail that's commonly overlooked  on these is the simmer settings. Each top burner valve has a small screw inside its shaft that can be adjusted to provide a low simmer. This adjustment must be made on each burner once the range has been converted, or 'simmer' settings will be far too high to be useful.

A small-bladed screwdriver is needed for most of these. If you can't find one small enough, it's possible to grind one down to fit. I've noticed some of the most recent ranges are using a larger screw that's a lot easier to access, and that's a welcome change.

That should help get you through the top burner conversion. Not as hard as it sounds, and stay with us -the rest is much easier. 

First convert the regulator. This is the part to which the inlet connects. Remove the vent cap, flip the insert over and reinsert it (You'll usually see 'NAT' on one side and 'LP' on the other). Reinstall the cap, and that's done.

Then, find the brass orifice that supplies the bake burner (usually under the range, behind the drawer), and if included, the broil burner (usually inside the oven). These are adjustable, and, like adjustable top burners, are simply 'snugged' down clockwise with a 1/2 inch wrench. 

Then turn the oven on, keeping in mind that it may take up to 2 minutes for ignition to occur. Watch the burner flame. If, after burning for a minute or so, it pulls noisily away from the burner, it's getting too much primary air. Simply loosen the screw on the air shutter, where you just turned down the orifice, and close this shutter down a bit to reduce air into the mixture. If the flame is yellow-tipped and appears 'soft' (you'll know if you see it), open the shutter a bit to increase air into the mix. This adjustment isn't critical, and will rarely have to be done. But you should now about it. Again, the instructions should mention this.

Congratulations! Your new stove's flames should be a cheerful, even blue, and you just saved yourself some serious money.

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