Gas or Electric Heating: Which is Best for Your Home?

You have abundant choices for home air comfort. Packaged unit or split system? Central air or ductless? And, of course, the common conundrum: gas or electric heating? For many homeowners, that can be a tough decision. We’re here to help you make it a little easier.

Gas or Electric Heating: Operational Differences

Let's start by laying out the basics. When it comes to gas or electric, both can keep your home warm all winter long. Typically, both are used as a forced air heating system. You'll use the same kind of thermostat for either.

Of course, they're not totally the same.

In the case of an electric furnace, the heating elements are activated by an electric ignition. This ignition is dormant until the thermostat tells it to turn on.

Gas units work a little differently. When a gas heater receives the signal, the pilot light will ignite the main burner of the heat exchanger. Unlike with an electric heater, the pilot light is always burning on a gas appliance. The heat exchanger then takes heat from the burner to be circulated into the home via the ductwork.

Both types of units use a blower fan to force the heated air in the various rooms throughout the home. Once the desired temperature is detected by the thermostat, the furnaces shut off their heating operations. Because of the extra steps required by the gas furnace, gas flowing through the pipes, and the burner getting lit, gas options are typically noisier.

Gas or Electric Heating: Installation

Even though the methods of heating and fueling with gas versus electric units are very different, they both have various hazards when it comes to installation. The main safety factor of installing a gas furnace is handling natural gas. As you likely know, gas is highly combustive.

A HVAC professional must complete the installation for optimum and safest results. Specialized tools, equipment and knowledge are all required to successfully install a gas furnace. It also needs an outside vent for burn off fumes, which is something an electric furnace doesn’t require. The cost of installation for gas units can run higher than electric because of their additional complexity and need for professional skills.

Electrical units have high voltages that are dangerous even for a seasoned professional. Specialized wiring from the unit to the electrical breaker box is needed as well. Electric units are typically less expensive to install and faster to hookup, which can tip the scales in their favor.

Gas or Electric Heating: Efficiency and Price Tag

Efficiency

It’s a commonly held belief that a gas furnace is more efficient than electric, but electric furnaces can have an efficiency rating as high as 100 percent. This is as efficient as you can get! Natural gas is typically less expensive than electric, making it cheaper to fuel a gas furnace. As a result, it’s easy to confuse cheaper fuel costs with actual appliance efficiency.

True efficiency means that the amount of energy (or fuel for a gas unit) that it can actually turn into heat, not necessarily at the rate that it can heat your home. When you find an electric furnace that has 100% efficiently it means that it turns all of the electric energy into heat, while gas furnaces will always have a small amount of waste because of burn off.

That being said, gas furnaces typically heat homes faster than electric, despite their lower efficiency. If you have your heart set on an ultra-efficient HVAC unit and are leaning towards gas, look for one with an alternative to the normal pilot light system. This could be direct spark or hot surface ignition. It might cost you more upfront but will be offset by lower fuel costs. Especially in regions with harsh winters.

Price Tag

If you’re looking to keep your upfront costs to a minimum, electric might be a good place to start. Electric units are typically less expensive and can be nearly half the cost of a gas unit. The cost of a new electric furnace varies between $1,000-$2,500. Gas units run between $2,500 and $4000 before installation.

Cost of installation is less expensive for an electric furnace as well. Upfront gas costs are higher. However, measured over a furnace lifetime, the costs equal out or even favor gas. This is because of the affordability of natural gas fuel.

This might not last forever. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates natural gas prices may increase in coming years. However, electricity has a lot of ground to gain for most homeowners.

Gas or Electric Heating: Maintenance Costs

Typically, electrical units have smaller and less frequent repair bills and have a higher life expectancy. There’s no burner to clean or replace. In general, electric units have fewer parts that require less maintenance than their gas counter parts. The reduced cost of service, cleaning, maintenance and parts replacement of an electric unit can make up for the high utility costs of winter electric bills.

Gas or Electric Heating: Green Factor

Electric units can run at 100% efficiency which means zero waste. However, the new generation of high AFUE gas units can get very close.

Still, no furnace is perfect at reducing emissions.  Electric furnaces eliminate the emissions that gas furnaces produce. But how is that electricity produced. If your home is serviced by a coal-fired power plant, then relying on electric for 'clean' reasons doesn't really work.

The best bet for your home is to upgrade from an older, less modern unit to a highly efficient unit, either gas or electric. Preferably, one that has all the eco-friendly bells and whistles available. But any new system is going to be more efficient, and therefore more green, than an outdated system built with lower efficiency standards in mind.

Which Means You Should Pick....

The gas or electric heating solution that works right for you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and let no one tell you different. Customize your air comfort to your home and your life.

What Do You Think?

Do you have more questions or a few comments about the choice between gas or electric? Just let us know below. We would really love to hear from you.

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