Electric Furnaces Versus Gas Furnaces

To be, or not to be. Stones or Beatles. Should I stay or should I go now? Choices, choices, choices. When you have a choice to make, it’s always a good idea to get as much info as possible before you make up your mind. You’re much less likely to regret an informed decision you make than an uninformed one. This counts double for expensive decisions, like figuring out what kind of furnace you want.

Now, unless you’re building a new home or have to replace your current system, you’ll probably never have to make this choice. Still, it’s always good to know stuff–especially about how your home works. In part one of “How Electric Furnaces Work”, you read about how electric furnaces work. After learning about electric furnaces, you probably wanted to know how they compare to gas furnaces. To help you figure that out, we decided to pit the two types of furnace against one another. Here are the pros and cons of both electric and gas furnaces. Things are about to heat up (get it??)!

Electric Heating Pros

+ Nothing is cleaner than electricity when it comes to converting fuel to heat energy. Electric furnaces produce no harmful greenhouse gasses or environmentally-hazardous byproducts. Most other fuel sources can’t make that claim.

+ Since your home already has electrical service, it doesn’t cost much to convert it to electric heating.

+ You can use electricity for both heating and air conditioning.

+ Gas furnaces emit a low level of carbon monoxide. You have to make sure it’s working properly all the time, or it could be dangerous. Electrical units don’t require the same level of attention.

+ Electric furnaces are usually quieter and more durable than gas. A properly-maintained electric furnace can last from 20-30 years.

+ Electric furnaces are easier to install than gas furnaces.

Electric Heating Cons

– While converting electricity into heat is clean, generating the electricity itself still has a negative impact on the environment. In 2017, almost 63% of the electricity we used was generated from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases). About 20% was from nuclear energy. Only 17% was from renewable energy sources. Coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels when you take into account the mining and combustion process.

– Electric resistance was the most expensive heating fuel source and many homes use it (as opposed to more efficient heat pumps, which also use electricity). Inefficient electric resistance heating uses twice as much electricity than high-efficiency heat pumps to generate the same amount of heat.

– When you add the fossil fuels needed to generate that electricity, the environmental cost of electric furnaces is pretty darn big. On the other hand, however, we’re creating renewable sources to generate electricity very quickly. When we’re able to generate electricity with only renewable sources, electrical heating will have a much smaller environmental impact.

Natural Gas Pros

+ Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels available. If fossil fuels are your only option, natural gas is probably the best for heating.

+ Financially, natural gas furnaces easily beat electric resistance equipment. A low-efficiency gas furnace costs much less to operate than even the most efficient electric furnace.

+ Since electricity is generated from dirty sources, natural gas is (currently) better for the environment than electric resistance heating.

+ There’s plenty of natural gas. Until we can generate electricity using 100% renewable sources, natural gas is the best alternative.

Natural Gas Cons

– The piping infrastructure required to use natural gas is not available everywhere. If you don’t have the pipes, you’ll have to use propane or fuel oil. Both these gas methods require fuel storage tanks that are expensive to install and maintain.

– Natural gas consists of mainly methane and other hydrocarbons. Natural gas forms when heavy pressures under the Earth’s surface crush plant and animal matter over time. When we extract it from underground, we lose a lot of the gas into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. In fact, the clean-burning benefit of natural gas is pretty much negated by the gas released during extraction.

– We currently extract much of our natural gas using fracking. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of injecting highly-pressurized liquids into subterranean rocks. That liquid forces open existing fissures in rock, allowing frackers to extract the natural gas inside them. During the fracking process the fissures release harmful methane gas into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Fracking may also pollute groundwater.

– After we extract natural gas, we have to transport it through pipelines. Pipelines also have negative environmental impacts. An estimated 2 to 2.5% of the gas in America’s pipelines leaks into the environment constantly. Pipelines also disrupt the natural ecosystem wherever they’re built and negatively impact animal populations. Meanwhile, even if we transport natural gas via trucks or trains, we have to burn fossil fuels.

– Burning natural gas creates carbon monoxide gas, which is clear, odorless, and deadly. If it isn’t vented properly, carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous. Between 1999 and 2010, 5,149 people died because of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

So: What’s The Verdict?

It’s hard to say, because both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Electric furnaces tend to be more expensive to run, but they’re cheaper to install and they’re more durable. Gas furnaces, meanwhile, are cheaper to run, but they’re considerably more finicky.

Ultimately, we think the contest comes down to environmental impact. Even in that category, however, the results are far from cut-and-dry. Electricity relies on dirty fossil fuels, so today both natural gas and electrical heating harm the environment. Sorry, that seems kind of anticlimactic.

But there’s good news: look at that sentence again. Notice the disclaimer “today”–as in, there’s not much difference today. As we integrate renewable energy and stop relying on fossil fuels, the environmental advantages of electric furnaces will become more apparent. The more renewable energy we use to produce electricity, the smaller electrical heatings’ environmental impact. If you’re installing or replacing your heating system, installing electrical heating today will pay off in the future.

There are many factors to consider in the great battle between electric furnaces and gas furnaces. There’s cost, effectiveness, durability, safety, ease of installation, ease of use, and more. If you ever have to make this choice, we recommend getting as much info as possible. And remember, as always, you can call Early Bird with any questions about all things electric.

Now that we’ve got you in the mood to weigh tough decisions, we’ve got one more question: Stones or Beatles?