Knowing the type of central heater you have in your home can be important when it comes to maintenance and repair. If you’re unsure of whether your central heater is gas or electric, there are several ways to identify which type it is.
In most cases, central heating can be fueled by either gas or electricity but there are rare occasions where other fuels are used, but these are not covered in this article.
By understanding some characteristics of both types of heaters and looking for a few obvious telltale signs, you can easily determine if your system is gas or electric.
What is the difference between gas and electric heating?
Gas heating systems ignite natural gas or propane heat the gas heat exchanger, which then distributes warm air throughout the house. Electric systems use electric resistance coils to generate heat that is transferred through the house via vents.
Both systems usually use a central fan system to push the warm air through the ductwork and vents in the house.
Related article: Natural Gas vs Electric Heat – Which is best?
How to tell if your heating system is gas or electric
Check if your central heater has a gas line
This is the most obvious way of determining if your heating system runs on gas or electricity.
Look for a gas line that runs from the main pipe to the heater itself. This is a solid indication that it is gas-powered heating, and it will likely have a pilot light nearby for ignition. Electric heating does not use any type of natural gas and will not have a line running from the main pipe.
Check for exhaust vents
If there is any indication of a gas line, you can proceed with caution by looking for more identifying features.
Gas-based central heaters will often have two vents or pipes connected to the outside. These are used to expel carbon dioxide and other dangerous gases out of your home safely.
Electric heating systems do not need any external venting.
A Gas heater has a pilot light
Look for the telltale sign of a pilot light. Most gas-powered heaters will have a small glowing flame near the furnace. This indicates that natural gas is used to power the system and that it requires ignition via this pilot light. Electric heating does not need this type of ignition and as a result, will not have a pilot light.
Listen To The Furnace
Gas furnaces tend to make a louder noise (separate from the fan) when it is running. The sound is hard to describe, but it is essentially the sound of the gas being burned very efficiently. If I had to put words to it, I would describe it as a “whooshing” sound.
Electric heating is usually much quieter, producing a soft whirring sound as the electric resistance coils generate heat.
Check the label on your furnace
If you can find a label on your furnace, it should tell you exactly what type of fuel is used for heating your home and whether it is a gas or electric system. It may also give other important information such as wattage, voltage, and safety guidelines.
Review your energy bills
Finally, you can review your energy bills to see how much gas or electricity you use. If there is a high usage for gas and the other steps listed are inconclusive, then it’s likely that your heating runs on natural gas.
Safety Precautions When Inspecting a Central Heating System
It’s important to take safety precautions when inspecting a gas or electric central heating system. Make sure you understand the system and all potential hazards before opening anything on the furnace that you are not familiar with.
Both types of heaters can be hot and cause burns if the wrong parts of them are touched. If you are unsure about what you can and can’t do safely with your central heating system, then you should call a professional to identify the system for you.