Is a blank-slate situation with your home’s heating system leaving you with a choice between gas and electric? The first question on your mind when choosing a furnace for a “new build” or “swap out” probably revolves around which option is cheaper. Is a gas furnace cheaper than an electric furnace? While gas is often touted as the cheaper option, there’s a little more to the story.
The truth is that both gas and electric come with pros and cons for your wallet. The choice that works best for your home may not work best for someone just one street away based on factors like budget and energy availability. What do you need to know when deciding between an electric or gas furnace? Take a look at the factors to consider when choosing the cheapest option for heating your home!
Gas Heaters and Electric Heaters: Here’s What They Have in Common
Gas and electric heaters share many similarities when it comes to how the two options heat your home. With a gas unit, your thermostat sends a signal that ignites a pilot light in your furnace’s burner. With an electric unit, the signal triggers an electrical ignition.
Of course, you’re probably more interested in learning about the differences when deciding between gas and electric. There’s actually a pretty concise “nutshell” explanation to know about before diving into the details of what makes these two options so different. While a gas furnace requires a pricier, more complex installation, heating a home with gas each month is generally less expensive based on energy costs. By contrast, an electric furnace will come with an easier, cheaper installation process that is followed by energy costs that are generally more expensive.
Lifetime costs for either option will come down to things like usage habits, regional climate, maintenance, quality of installation and the quality of the furnace that you purchase. It’s also important to factor in some general facts about using gas and electricity because things like ease and quality of heat are going to impact life in your home. Next, let’s break down some of the pros and cons that go along with gas furnaces and electric furnaces.
What You Need to Know About Heating Your Home With Natural Gas
There’s a lot to like about natural gas! In fact, the general rule is to stick with a gas heater if your home already has a gas hookup. However, we can still cover some of the downsides of gas after looking at the pros. One interesting perk of using natural gas to heat your home is that prices for natural gas have been trending downward at the same time that costs for electricity have been trending upward.
“Natural gas is almost always cheaper than electricity,” according to Consumer Affairs. Cost aside, many people really like the way that gas heating gets homes very toasty quickly when compared to electric heating. This can be important if you live in a chilly climate. In the same vein, gas heaters are considered more efficient because your heater does less work to get more warm air circulating in your house.
None of that means that gas heating is perfect. The biggest complaint about gas furnaces is that they tend to wear down faster than other furnaces. Most homeowners max out with their furnaces at 20 years. The cost benefit of heating your home with gas gets eaten away at by the fact that replacing a gas furnace is expensive. In addition to the actual furnace being pricey, installation can be more expensive for gas than electric simply because the combustible, complex elements within a gas furnace make installation precarious.
If you’re installing a gas furnace for the first time, you’ll also need to factor in costs for venting. It’s not uncommon for the cost of a gas furnace to be double the cost of an electric furnace when all is said and one. There’s also a specific danger with gas heating that does require some extra vigilance on the part of homeowners. That danger is carbon monoxide (CO).
While rare, CO poisoning is possible if something goes wrong with a gas furnace. Preventative tools like CO detectors and routine maintenance are often enough to keep danger at bay. CO leakage is not a concern with electric furnaces.
What You Need to Know About Heating Your Home With an Electric Furnace
An electric furnace can be attractive due to its cheaper price tag. In addition to the fact that electric units tend to be cheaper than gas units, electric units are also much easier to install. That usually leads to some pretty big initial savings as far as your furnace and installation. Overall, maintenance costs for electric furnaces tend to be cheaper than maintenance costs for gas furnaces simply because they aren’t quite as complicated.
Electric furnaces also have longevity in their “pros” column. While gas heaters max out at 10 to 20 years, it’s not uncommon for electric heaters to run smoothly for 30 years with proper maintenance and operation. Electric furnaces also win out over gas when it comes to noisiness. While nobody would really accuse a gas furnace of being excessively noisy, electric furnaces do seem “whisper quiet” by comparison.
While electric certainly looks good to budget-minded homeowners, you should keep in mind that little costs can add up with this type of heating. First, you can expect your monthly heating bill to almost always be higher with electric than what you’d pay with a gas furnace. Currently, electricity is more expensive than natural gas in most parts of the country.
Electric furnaces also need to work a little harder in colder climates than gas furnaces. When temperatures dip, it will take longer for your electric furnace to get to the right temperature to keep your home comfortable. In addition to making you a little uncomfortable on chillier days, that “extra work” translates to lower furnace efficiency that ultimately means higher utility costs for your home.
Beyond the Home: Considering the Environmental Costs of Gas and Electric Furnaces
We’ve covered the “homeowner” costs for gas and electric up until this point. However, homeowners should also look at overall environmental costs when comparing gas and electric furnaces. Generally, natural gas is considered the cleanest option for heating your home. Many homeowners are surprised to hear this because they assume that “gas” must leave a bigger footprint than electricity. However, the coal used to generate electricity to the grid system is actually less clean than natural gas. When selecting a furnace model of any kind, do your homework to look for efficiency options that will make both gas and electric furnaces as “green” as possible. As a plus, efficiency features that are good for the planet almost always translate to lower energy costs for you!
Gas Heaters and Electric Heaters: Which Option Is More Affordable?
When you factor in “lifetime” costs of owning a furnace, gas furnaces tend to be the pricier options compared to electric furnaces. However, the relative “expensiveness” of purchasing a gas heater varies based on a few factors. Generally, it’s considered “worth it” to get a gas heater if the following conditions are in play:
- Natural gas is easily available in your neighborhood.
- Venting is already in place because you’re replacing an existing gas heater.
- Your home is located in a colder climate.
- You’re highly motivated by the clean energy offered by natural gas.
While electric heat is considered the most cost-effective option based on overall lower cost for electric furnaces combined with the longer lifespan of electric furnaces, this option tends to leave you with monthly energy bills that are slightly higher. Energy.gov has some suggestions that homeowners with any type of heating system can use to keep bills lower throughout the year. Here’s a look at some tips for how to save on heating bills:
- Use a programmable thermostat. Using a programmable thermostat to set the temperature lower for part of the day can help you reduce heating costs by 10 percent.
- Have your filters cleaned regularly.
- Ensure that furniture, window coverings and rugs aren’t blocking radiators or baseboards.
- Have a professional eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators seasonally.
The bottom line is that being happy with your furnace comes down to choosing a quality product that is placed in your home using quality installation. In addition to keeping your utility bills as low as possible for whichever furnace type you choose, this strategy will help you to keep your family safe from dangers related to carbon monoxide. Proper furnace maintenance will also ensure that you’re getting maximum efficiency for your monthly energy bills while squeezing every ounce from your furnace’s potential lifespan!