Electric and Gas Heaters | FAQS

No matter what type of heating system your home currently has, you may have wondered about the differences between electric and gas heating systems.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions (and answers) about electric and gas heaters.

How does heating impact my utility bill? 

Whether you have electric or gas, home heating systems probably take up the lion’s share of your energy use and budget, typically comprising about 42% of a homeowner's utility bill.

What is more commonly used in the United States, electric or gas heat?

According to energy.gov, natural gas is the most commonly used heating source in the United States, with about 49% of homes using gas heat compared to 34% of homes that use electric heat.  The remainder of homes either have no heat or use a variety of other sources, including propane, fuel oil, and wood.

Is electric heat more expensive than gas?

Electric heat costs more to operate than a traditional gas furnace, so homeowners with electric heat will likely have higher monthly utility bills. However, some homeowners may not have access to natural gas fuel or gas lines, so gas may not be an option. In addition, prices for installing gas furnace equipment are usually higher than those for putting in a new electric heating system, making the initial cost outlay more, which can be significant.  While prices vary in different regions, the average costs for gas furnaces include an estimated $1,215 for the furnace and an estimated $2,870 for installation.  Average costs for electric furnaces include an estimated $665 for the furnace and an estimated $1,950 for installation. 

Which is more environmentally friendly, gas or electric heat?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most electric heating systems are not very energy efficient. In addition, one of the primary sources to fuel electricity is coal, which is harmful to the environment through mining and emissions.  Although natural gas production does release greenhouse gases and pollutants, natural gas is considered to pose less damage to the environment than electricity.

Electric and gas heaters pros and cons

  •  Pros: Electric heating systems generally have small units and don’t require special venting, fuel pipes, or storage tanks and are easy to maintain.
  • Cons: While natural gas systems may cost more and require extra expenses for putting in gas lines if they don’t already exist, gas heaters offer the convenience and comfort of warming up rooms quickly, are less expensive to operate, and are great for areas that have harsh winters.

What other home heating options are there?

Today, homeowners have a variety of heating technologies from which to choose. In addition to furnaces and boilers, options include solar heating, electric resistance heating, wood and pellet heating, steam and hot water radiators, radiant heating, portable heaters, and heat pumps.  There are also hybrid heating systems available, which offer the benefits of dual systems.

When should I consider upgrading to a new system?

The average lifespan for a well-maintained furnace is 15-25 years.  However, the efficiencies of a new system may make it cost effective to upgrade sooner.  In addition to saving on energy costs, newer systems may be quieter and better for the environment.   

How much more efficient are new heating systems than older ones?

Older furnace and boiler systems are about 56% to 70% efficient, according to energy.gov,  while modern conventional heating systems can reach efficiencies of 98.5%.  The website also points out that upgrading to a newer, high-efficiency heating system can often cut fuel bills (and pollution) by half.         

What things should I consider when putting in a new heating system?

The Department of Energy (DOE) issues energy standards for residential gas, electric, and oil fired furnaces.   You’ll also want to consider choosing ENERGY STAR certified equipment, which can help you save on energy costs while protection the environment.

In addition to energy standards and efficiency, you should ask yourself a few questions about your home heating needs and location. For example, what energy and heat source options are available locally?  What are the costs for natural gas and electricity in your part of the country? Do you have gas line availability? What are the winters like where you live? How willing are you and other members of your household to take steps to save energy during cool weather months? If you choose a more expensive heating system option, how long will it take for the associated energy efficiencies to offset the initial costs?

If I don’t want to change or upgrade my heating system, is there anything else I can do to save on heating costs?  

Yes, there are many steps you can take to maximize your energy use and efficiency when heating your home.  Whatever type of heating system you have, make sure to properly maintain it. Have it serviced regularly, and change filters per the manufacturer’s directions, which can go a long way toward helping your system run efficiently and effectively.  In addition, here are some other tips from energy.gov can help you save on energy use and costs:

  • Install a programmable thermostat and set it on the lowest comfortable setting.
  • Clean heating equipment regularly, and make sure equipment and registers aren’t blocked by furniture or other items.
  • Turn off kitchen and bath exhaust fans within 20 minutes.
  • During winter, keep draperies and shades on the south side of your dwelling open during daytime hours to let the sun provide some heat.  Close draperies and shades at night to help eliminate drafts and chill from windows.

In addition to reducing your home’s heating energy use, consider taking a whole house approach to energy efficiency which combines proper equipment maintenance, insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings for up to 30% energy bill savings and reduced impact on the environment.  

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