Gas vs. Electric Home Heating
Which is Better?

Are you considering your heating options, like gas vs. electric home heating, as two of the most used fuel sources? Find out is it cheaper to heat a home with natural gas or electricity and which type is better for the environment.

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Knowing that about 60% of energy is used for space heating and close to 20% on water heating, it is important to make a wise decision when investing in such an expensive but vital part of your home.

The goal is to choose an HVAC system that can significantly reduce energy use and heating costs without sacrificing your comfort and harming the environment.

As you probably know, there are various heating systems and energy sources available, including gas, electric, solar, and oil-powered systems. And, no matter the HVAC system or portable spot heater you prefer, there are many factors to consider, such as unit's and installation costs, energy rate, location of your house, energy usage, house size, layout, etc.

Here, we will focus on comparing gas vs. electric heating systems only, whether you are installing a new one or replacing an old one.

Selecting your energy source depends on several factors

Fuel availability

Electricity is available almost anywhere in North America, while natural gas, which is delivered through the gas pipeline, is not, especially in remote areas. Homeowners in rural areas depend on propane gas distribution, which is a good substitute for natural gas, but it costs more and requires frequent delivery.

The cheapest option is solar than gas, oil, and electricity. This might change in the future, so be careful when choosing the fuel type for your home heating.

Costs

Homeowners should check both the initial cost of the heating system and operating costs. Other costs need to be considered, such as the hookup, storage, installation, maintenance, and service. When it comes to cost savings, home heating with natural gas seems more affordable.

Efficiency

The efficiency of the heating unit is directly related to the heating cost. The more the unit is efficient, the more you will save, and less energy will be wasted. Choose a unit with a high-efficiency factor such as over 80%. This means 80% is used, and 20% is lost. This applies to gas-powered furnaces while the electric heat pumps can achieve an efficiency of 3-4 times higher. To be safe, look for the Energy Star logo; it tells you that the unit is highly efficient.

Electric heating systems have close to 100% efficiency as all of the generated heat goes toward heating, and there are no combustion gases. We use kilowatts to measure the electric power.

Gas heating systems mostly lose heat through the chimney while transferring exhaust gases to the outside atmosphere. Homeowners have an opportunity to buy ultra-efficient condensing models that are able to take advantage of the latent heat of the flue gases to boost efficiency.

The gas systems use an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) which helps you check the annual heating costs or savings. They use BTU to measure the power.

Pollution

The energy generated by the solar, wind, and geothermal systems is the cleanest, renewable and free, and that does not produce greenhouse gases and pollute the environment as coal, gas, and oil.

Gas heaters are considered clean, but they still produce greenhouse gases that contaminate the environment directly.

Electric heaters do not pollute the environment directly but indirectly in the plants where it is produced. The pollution level depends on the fuel type they use to generate electricity. If we can generate electricity with renewable sources only, such as wind and solar, we won’t harm the environment as today because such systems have a minimal carbon footprint.

How to heat your home or what heat distribution system to choose

Forced-air heating systems and hydronic systems are the most popular heat distribution systems in North America and are meant for central or whole-house heating. Others include space heaters that do not use ductwork and are meant for spot (room) heating.

Forced-air systems utilize mainly gas furnaces, electric resistance heaters, and heat pumps to heat the air and distribute it throughout the house using the electric blower and the network of ducts.

For room heating, homeowners often use electric baseboard and convection heaters, oil radiators, and wood and pellet stoves, generally heating only one room – directly and without using the ductwork.

In the case of hydronic heating, homeowners have options to use electric, gas, and oil-powered boilers, heating water first, circulating heated water to the radiators, baseboard heaters, or floor radiant heating system, from where it heats the surrounding air.

Home heating with electricity

Advantages of heating your home with electricity

Convenient and easy access. Electricity is by far the most used energy source. It provides an easy and convenient heating option that can heat air and water, solo or combined with other heating systems. Electricity can be used to power various appliances, including forced-air systems, hydronic, room heaters, and in-floor systems.

Electricity is your best option if you live in an area where electricity is cheaper than other fuel sources available to you, it is not feasible to use other heating systems, or where you can fully take advantage of the air-to-air and geothermal heat pumps.

High efficient. Electric heating is the most efficient, affordable, and reliable heating option. They are close to 100% efficient at the point of use, and electric heat pumps are over three times efficient.

Affordable. Typically these systems have lower upfront costs and are more affordable and easier to install and maintain. They don't require regular service as with the gas type, and if you live in a warm region where there is no need to run it often, the difference in operating costs is even lower.

Safe. They are very safe as there are no burning materials and residues, combustible gases, exhaust fumes, unpleasant odors, and potential carbon monoxide leaks.

Long lasting. They last long as there are no moving parts, venting, sooting, and incomplete combustion, affecting performance and reducing efficiency. Electric furnaces can last very long, up to 30 years, or twice as long as gas heaters.

Many applications. Another advantage of using electricity is that it can be used not only for heating but air conditioning and dehumidifying also.

Heating systems such as baseboard heaters, wall heaters, and radiant floor heating systems are known as electric resistance heating systems that use an element or resistor with electricity passing through.

Disadvantages

Cost more to operate. While electricity is available almost anywhere in North America, and the initial price is lower, they cost more to operate from month to month than the gas type.

Slow heating. Electric heaters are not fast in heating the space as gas appliances.

Not an eco-friendly fuel source. Electricity is not eco-friendly if it is produced using dirty technologies such as coal burning. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency - "Electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 67 percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas."

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Home heating with gas

Advantages

Popular and widely used. Heating a home with natural gas is probably one of the most popular and used heating options in North America. Natural gas is an affordable, clean, and environmentally friendly heating method, and that is why most homes are heated by gas-powered forced air and hydronic systems. Even if you don't have access to gas, it might be worth investing and switching from electricity or propane to natural gas.

Cost savings. Gas furnaces are cheaper to operate, especially in cold climates. According to some experts, even gas furnaces with lower efficiency are a better option than the most efficient electric furnaces. In addition to this, you might get additional savings by buying a high-efficient furnace that is also eligible for tax rebates.

Fast heating. Due to their powerful gas burners, gas furnaces tend to heat much faster than the electric type. As soon as the burner kicks in, all the available power can be used, while with the heating elements, it takes time to reach full capacity.

Disadvantages

Higher initial cost. Gas furnaces, unit's and venting installation require more investments than electric ones. And if you don't have a gas connection, that cost becomes much higher. Since they require a venting system to remove products of combustion to the outside, it might be needed to call a professional technician to deal with the installation and troubleshooting.

Availability. While natural gas for home and water heating is widely used, the piping infrastructure is not available in all areas of the US and Canada, pushing homeowners to consider other options, including propane and oil. Unfortunately for many, both fuel types require fuel storage tanks and frequent delivery, increasing the price and producing more hassle.

Gas can leak. The burning of natural gas creates carbon monoxide gas that is dangerous to people when exposed to higher levels. Gas can also leak when in transport or delivered to a home, harming the environment. To avoid problems, always consult an expert, schedule regular maintenance, and install a CO detector.

Shorter lifespan. Due to problems with incomplete gas combustion, dirty elements, sooting, and venting issues, gas furnaces usually last less than their electric counterpart.

Need more maintenance. Gas furnaces require regular cleaning and professional maintenance because smaller particles produced by the gas burner can accumulate on the heater's elements and affect its performance and longevity.

Highlights of pros and cons of gas vs. electric heating

  Gas heating Electric heating
Upfront costs High Low
Operating cost Low High
Heating rate Fast Slow
Maintenance Frequent Regular
Safety CO, gas, and exhaust leaks High voltage
Installation difficulty Complex (requires a pro) Simple (requires an electrician)
Lifespan 10-15 Up to 30

Comparing the costs

According to fixr.com, a new electric furnace can cost you up to $2500 while a gas type up to $4000, excluding installation.

As per the same source, installing the electric type can cost you between $1000 and $1500 and installing a gas furnace between $1500 and $2000.

Conclusion

As you can see from the above text, it is essential to consider all the pros and cons of both electric and gas options to buy the right furnace or heater.

Gas heating is recommended for homeowners who live in colder climates, while electric heat is the best option if you live in a warmer region and where natural gas is not an option.

In addition, high efficient natural gas furnaces and electric heat pumps that are also Energy Star compliant are the most effective options for your home, making them recommended if buying a new or replacing an old HVAC unit.

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