Electric vs Gas Heating: Compared on Price, Safety, & More
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to worry about heating my home.
My world is far from perfect.
Unless you live somewhere close to the equator, heating your home is a necessity. Are you going to heat with electric vs gas heating, or something else entirely? Depending on your locale, the choice may not be yours.
If you have the luxury of choosing between electric or gas heating, and you’re wondering which is going to be better for you, you’re in the right place. I’ll cover everything you ever wanted to know in the gas vs electric comparison. And probably a bit more.
Ultimately, the choice between electric and gas heating is based on several factors.
One type of fuel may be more available than the other. If upfront costs are an issue, electric might be the better choice. If long term fuel costs are an issue, gas might be the best option.
So which should you choose? Electric or gas heating? Read on, and you’ll be able to answer the question for yourself.
Electric vs Gas Furnaces: Which is more expensive?
Well… it depends.
I hate it when I get that answer, and you might too.
But the truth is, there is no clear-cut answer to the question.
There is a huge range in costs upfront. For several reasons.
The cost of the equipment. Depending on where you live, the cost of the actual appliance can vary wildly. If you live in a large urban area where there’s lots of competition, that will drive prices down. If you live in a more rural area with little demand, that can drive costs up.
Wherever you live though, the cost of an electric furnace will be significantly cheaper than a gas furnace. In some cases, almost half the cost.
The cost of the installation. First off, in my opinion, the installation is the most important part of getting a new furnace. Especially a gas furnace. You could buy the most expensive, feature full furnace, and if you have it installed by a hack—because the hack offered the cheapest quote, of course—your expensive furnace will never run as it was made to.
An incorrectly installed gas furnace could be a problem waiting to happen. Hire a contractor you can trust, not the one with the cheapest price.
Electric furnaces can be installed nearly anywhere—as long as the proper wiring, voltage, receptacles, and circuits are in place. In contrast, a gas furnace requires exterior venting and gas supply lines.
However, that doesn’t mean you can buy an electric furnace and plug it in yourself as if it were a toaster oven. What I said above about wiring and voltage is critical. You need an electrician for this job.
HVAC contractors should be skilled in both gas and electric installations, but they may be more experienced in one over the other. Make sure your contractor has both the skill and the experience you require.
Fuel. Clearly, if a certain type of fuel isn’t available in your area, the cost is irrelevant. If you live in a rural area, you are likely limited to propane or wood furnaces.
For urban areas—or anywhere natural gas pipelines are available—fueling your furnace with gas is cheaper than electric. In some places, electricity can be as much as 4 times more expensive than gas. So if you live somewhere where you need the furnace on for six to eight months of the year, that can and will add up.
Maintenance. Whether you buy a gas or electric furnace, it needs to be regularly maintained. And you need to decide if the service contract offered by your installer is worth the price or a cash grab.
They’re often a cash grab.
I’m not saying you don’t need regular service. I am saying do your research. The service contract may end up being way more expensive than booking a tune-up appointment every year or two.
Electric furnaces are cheaper and easier to maintain. And in most cases, it won’t require the level of professional attention maintaining a gas furnace will need.
Gas furnaces need burners inspected and cleaned regularly. Condensation can build up, ultimately causing corrosion, so that needs to be checked for. And since we are talking about combustion heating, carbon monoxide can be an issue. Only an HVAC professional will have the equipment and the knowledge of how to inspect and correct any issues.
Electric vs Gas Furnaces: Heat and Energy Efficiency
You may wonder why I didn’t include efficiency under the cost heading. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to quantify the cost of efficiency—at least in this debate.
We can say that one furnace is more fuel efficient than the other. But that doesn’t automatically equate to that furnace costing less to operate overall, or that it will heat your home faster. There are too many variables.
I can tell you that electric furnaces are more energy efficient than gas furnaces. That is a fact. You can buy electric furnaces that have an annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) rating of up to 100. The best rating you can find on a gas furnace is 97—and the rating can be as low as 55, depending on the model you buy.
Simply put, don’t buy a furnace based on AFUE alone. The only thing that number tells you is the amount of energy the furnace turns into heat and how much energy it wastes. It doesn’t tell you how fast the furnace is able to heat your home.
Interesting fact. Even though an electric furnace has a higher AFUE rating, it’s the gas furnace that will heat your home faster. Meaning you ultimately use less energy.
That’s not mind-bending at all, is it?
In the end, you need to choose which is more important to you. The amount of energy your appliance efficiently uses or the job it does at heating your home.
Electric vs Gas Furnaces: Safety
A lot of people assume that a gas furnace is going to be more dangerous. The reality is that both gas and electric furnaces come with inherent dangers and risks.
Combustion heating—gas furnaces—will be extremely dangerous, if not deadly, if they aren’t properly vented or if the heat exchangers develop a crack. Either can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide inside your home.
Electric furnaces don’t run on combustion, so there is no threat of CO buildup. But their electric coils can pose the risk of a fire. Just as deadly as carbon monoxide.
However, assuming your furnace, either gas or electric, was installed and is maintained properly, there is virtually no danger to a homeowner, whichever type they decide on.
As mentioned, the coils used in electric heating systems can cause a fire. This is a particularly serious risk associated with electric space heaters, which are estimated to play a role in as many as 79% of house fires that resulted in deaths.
When it comes to heating, your furnace is likely the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll buy for your home. But what about other types of heaters—space heaters, outdoor heaters, etc.? Does the gas vs electric debate apply to them as well?
But one last thing before I get to that.
If the life expectancy of your furnace is a big deal—you plan to be in your home for decades and aren’t interested in upgrading during that time frame—there is another consideration.
Electric furnaces will outlive gas furnaces. Assuming they are working well, and they are properly maintained. A gas furnace will last about 15 to 20 years and an electric furnace should last between 20 and 30 years.
Electric vs Gas: Space Heaters
Do you have a cold bedroom over the garage, an office, or a basement that needs a bit more heat? Then a space heater may be the answer.
Here are some pros and cons.
Electric space heater pros:
Energy efficient (remember, this doesn’t mean they cost less to run!)
- Great for enclosed areas
- No venting required
- Excellent portability
Electric space heater cons:
- They will usually cost you more to operate
- Take longer to heat your space
- You need an electrical outlet close to where you want to place it
Gas space heater pros:
- They can cost up to 50% less to operate
- Good portability
- Heats your space quickly
- Will function during a power outage
Gas space heater cons:
- They usually cost more upfront
- Ventilation is a must
- Can be noisier than electric units
Electric vs Gas: Which is better for patio heating?
Let me preface this by saying that the following does not apply to enclosed patios.
We’re talking about outdoor patios that are fully open to the elements. That is a very important distinction.
The first thing you want to do, regardless of type, is know the size of the area you want to heat. This will help to determine the number of BTUs (British Thermal Units) you need if you’re thinking about getting a gas heater, but electric heaters are measured in watts.
One free-standing patio heater placed in an uncovered area will only provide warmth to an area 20 feet in diameter. That’s less than 400 square feet.
There are two types of heaters:
Obviously, a tabletop model will allow for portability. And they won’t take up much space.
Natural gas patio heater pros:
- They’ll heat your space quickly
- They cost less to operate
- They’re connected to your gas line
- They’re better for larger, more open spaces
- They’re safe outside in any weather
Natural gas patio heater cons:
- They cost more upfront
- They are only as portable as your gas hookup allows
Infrared patio heaters pros:
- They’re fully portable
- The units are cheaper to purchase
- They are eco-friendly
- They are energy efficient
Infrared patio heaters cons:
- They can cost—on average—up to 3 times more to operate than gas heaters
- It may need to be stored over the winter
Are Space Heaters Dangerous?
I talked extensively above about the safety of both gas and electric furnaces, but what about space heaters? Whether gas or electric, indoor or outdoor, portable or not?
Let me break that down, keeping in mind there are different safety considerations for indoor vs outdoor heating.
Ultimately, there are dangers involved for either gas or electric space heaters. The biggest concern is fire.
Electric space heaters are estimated to play a role in as many as 79% of house fires that result in deaths.
When it comes to gas space heaters, a lack of ventilation is dangerous. Unvented gas space heaters are the most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. Obviously, this is not an issue for gas heaters that are being used in an outdoor space.
For either properly vented gas space heaters or electric space heaters, the recommendation is that they should not be left turned on and unattended overnight as you sleep. Even though, in each case, modern models have safety features in place.
Buy a gas furnace if:
- You’re interested in reduced annual heating costs
- You want your home to heat up as quickly as possible
Buy an electric furnace if:
- You’re looking for lower upfront costs
- You’re concerned about life expectancy
- Your goal is energy efficiency
Thanks for reading! Hopefully, this information has been helpful for you. Whichever you decide on, may you have many cozy winters ahead.