Electric Central Heating vs Gas Central Heating

An orange and black indoor gas furnace.

Gas and electric central heating systems are the most widely used heating mechanisms in residential construction. For a homeowner looking to purchase a new heating unit, the choice often has to be made between these two, but both types have their share of pros and cons that must be considered, some of which are detailed below.

Electric Central Heating

Widely regarded as the cleaner and greener method of heating your home, electric central heating is also popular for several other reasons. You do not have to worry about a fuel supply and installing gas lines in your home, and unlike wood burning stoves or oil heaters, you do not have to store a fuel source in your home all the time.

Electric central heating units provide heat without combustion. As a result, there are no combustion by-products produced as a result of the heating either, so you do not have to worry about venting or exhausting any fumes to keep yourself safe. The danger of carbon monoxide in your home due to central heating is also ruled out.

One of the drawbacks of electric central heating is that it is costlier to operate as compared to gas units. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2011 most people in the country spent 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. The same administration also showed that each of these kilowatt hours provides about 3412 BTUs—British Thermal Units—of heat.

Assuming that your electric system runs at 100 percent efficiency, which is the normal rate of annual fuel utilization efficiency for electric heaters, the average customer will spend $34.32 for a million BTUs of heat. Conversely, natural gas cost $1.01 per therm—equaling 100,000 BTUs—in 2012

Assuming a gas furnace runs at 78 percent efficiency, the minimum efficiency rate for this type in the U.S., you’ll be paying about $12.96 per million BTUs. Prices for gas and electricity do obviously fluctuate, but this still remains a good general estimate of the cost difference.

While they do not seem like it on the surface, electric central heating systems do actually present more of an environmental problem problem than gas because while the electricity does not create any harmful byproducts, it is produced at a very high cost. Electricity is produced with the use of fossil fuels, and around 60 to 70 percent of the energy is lost in the process of electricity generation.

While burning natural gas does still release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it burns cleaner than fossil fuels like coal and leaves behind a smaller footprint. Also, electric central heaters are considerably slower than and not as efficient as gas heating units.

Gas Central Heating

Gas systems are recognized as amongst the fastest and most efficient central heating units. As compared to electricity, gas systems offer a better response time, so that you can feel the results in much less time. They can also heat up water in much less time as compared to electric systems.

Electric central heating systems utilize all the supplied energy for heating, which makes them roughly 100 percent efficient, as mentioned previously. However, the production of electricity itself involves significant losses of energy. Gas central heating systems have better efficiency ratings if you consider the whole process.

With gas central heating systems, there is a danger of toxic byproducts being released into your home. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real danger with gas appliances, so if you have this kind central heating system, you must invest in carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home.

Gas units will also cost you more at the start, as the system itself is often more expensive than the electric variety. The average cost of a new gas furnace can range from $2,000 up depending on the size and efficiency of the unit while electric furnaces usually rest around $1000 in price at the most.

Added to the initial cost of the heating system, you must also arrange for a gas supply to your home. Whether it is propane or natural gas, you have to accommodate for the supply of fuel. Installation of gas lines in an existing home can be a complicated and costly process.

Overall, your choice of heating system must be dictated by the existing setup in your home, the maximum operation costs you can manage, and the suitability of a particular system to your needs.