A home high efficiency furnace with a residential gas water heater

How do you heat your home? The two most efficient options are either with a gas or electric furnace. Obviously, keeping your home properly heated is very important. The only real question is which furnace option is best for you? We will delve into the pros and cons of gas vs electric furnace options to hopefully allow you to make a proper, educated decision.

Understanding Gas vs Electric Furnace

Before deciding which furnace choice is best for you, it is important to understand the specifics of both gas and electric versions.

Gas

Gas furnaces run off of natural gas (hence the name). When switched on, the gas becomes ignited within the furnace to rapidly warm up the air that is then dispersed throughout the home. A collection of components must be working in sync to properly perform this heating function:

  • The thermostat is the main communicator for your HVAC unit. It senses when the air in your home gets too cold and automatically turns on the heater. 
  • The draft hood/fan is what draws air towards the burners where it gets warmed up for redistribution around the house.
  • The natural gas flows through metal tube burners that heat the incoming air. The burners also heat up the heat exchanger which further warms the air inside the furnace.
  • The blower directs the incoming air through ducts to the heat exchanger and then redirects the air back through the ducts to be distributed throughout your home. 
  • The flue vent collects all the waste and directs it outside away from your home.

Electric

Electric forced air furnaces work similarly to gas furnaces, however they use electricity to produce heat as opposed to gas. They are made up of electric heating elements instead of gas burners and other essential components: 

  • Electric heating elements warm up the air in the heat exchanger. A blower distributes the warm air in the same way as a gas furnace.
  • The contactor controls the voltage of the furnace’s heating element and works with the thermostat to tell the furnace when to produce heat.
  • The sequencer is what turns the heating elements on and off. It also helps to keep the elements from overheating. 
  • The transformer supplies power to the furnace’s control circuits for the thermostat, contactors, and sequencers. 

Gas vs Electric Furnace

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of whether you should go with a gas or electric furnace as your home’s heating system. Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons for each:

Gas

Pros

  • Lower fuel cost: Because natural gas is a much cheaper source of energy than electricity, hence gas furnaces cost less to run.
  • Heat efficiency: A gas furnace heats a home faster than an electric furnace because the heat produced is hotter than the heat produced by electric coils. This makes gas furnaces the better option for colder climates.
  • Versatility: A gas furnace can be paired with a cooling system like an air conditioner or a heat pump.

Cons

  • Shorter service life: A quality gas furnace can last 15-20 years, while an electric furnace can last anywhere from 20-30 years.
  • Installation cost: A gas furnace is very expensive to install. The intricate process requires specialized tools, equipment, and the knowledge of a professional installer. It will also need regular professional maintenance.  
  • Noise: While not overly noisy, gas furnaces do make a loud rushing sound at the time that they start up and the burner ignites.

Electric

Pros

  • Installation cost: The installation process for an electric furnace is much less complicated than a gas furnace because there are no gas lines and vent pipes needed.
  • Easy maintenance: Electric furnaces have no burner to clean or inspect, and the system itself doesn’t generally require cleaning or care of any kind. That is why their lifespans are greater than a gas alternative.
  • Quiet: An electric furnace’s simplistic design makes it much less noisy. Unlike a gas furnace, it has fewer moving parts, no vents and no burner.

Cons

  • Higher heat cost: Because natural gas is cheaper than electricity, electric furnaces can cost more to operate during colder months.
  • Heat efficiency: Because its electric coils take longer to heat up than gas, electric furnaces take more time to heat a home.  
  • Dryness: Electric furnaces emit a dry heat, which can dry out the air in the winter months. This could be especially troublesome for people with allergies or a collection of houseplants.

Despite the pros and cons, the choice of a gas vs. electric furnace is really up to you. Both are capable methods for heating your home. Where your home is located and how it was built may play a part in which type of furnace is your best option. Is there an available gas line? Does your home have the necessary space to accommodate the proper venting system? It is important to have these questions answered before any kind of installation steps are taken.

Bottom Line

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the inner workings of gas and electric furnaces. Again, both are good options for warming up your domicile as long as you keep these finer points in mind:

  • Natural gas is highly combustible and must be worked on by licensed professionals to ensure your home is heated safely. 
  • Gas furnaces may be more expensive to install, but it can be offset by the low cost of natural gas.
  • If you’re looking for an extra long-lasting heating option, electric furnaces are the way to go because of their simplistic design.