Natural Gas vs Electric Heat – Which Is Best?

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In many areas of the United States, a heating system is essential in every home. The winter temperatures quickly invade your home without adequate heating, leaving you stuck wearing winter clothes and covered in blankets, even inside your house.

So, heating systems are undoubtedly integral to any home that experiences cool winter temperatures. But what type of heating system should you choose? For many folks, the debate falls between natural gas and electric heating, even though other options are available. Which one should you choose? The best choice for your home hinges on a few factors – here’s what you need to know.

natural gas vs electric heat

Gas vs. Electric Heating – Quick Comparison

Gas Heating Electric Heating
Operation Combustion of gasElectrical resistance to heat an element
Efficiency 80-90%Up to 100%
Installation Cost$4,800 to $5,200$900 to $1,200
Areas Of HeatingCentralized Zone heating available 
Ideal ForColder climates with long, harsh wintersWarmer climates with short, mild winters
Running CostLessMore

Gas Heating Overview

a technician installing a gas heater

Gas heating is often the superior choice for cold climates where the temperature regularly remains below freezing for several months of the year. Here are a few things to consider regarding gas heating systems.

How It Works

A central gas furnace essentially creates a cycle of warming cooler air. The process starts with burning propane or natural gas to generate heat in the furnace’s burner. Then, the burner’s heat passes through a heat exchanger, making it hot.

Next, air from the home’s ductwork blows over the heat exchanger, causing the cooler air to heat. The furnace’s burner blows the newly-heated air into the supply ductwork, sending it throughout the home and raising the temperature.

Who It is Best For 

Natural gas heating is the better choice for many homeowners, especially those with a gas furnace. Not everybody has access to natural gas lines, so incorporating natural gas as a heating system might not be feasible for your home.

If you already have a gas furnace and have access to natural gas, it’s usually best to stick with natural gas as a heating source. In addition, gas heating is often the best choice if you live in a colder climate with harsher winters and need heating for several months (or more) throughout the year.

Typical Maintenance 

Maintaining a gas heating system involves several steps to ensure the system continues to function correctly. Typical maintenance tasks include:

  • Cleaning and replacing the filter system
  • Cleaning the blower and vents
  • Repairing and cleaning the furnace ducts
  • Inspecting the fan

Upholding a regular maintenance schedule is crucial for normal function, so you must complete each task periodically. Alternatively, you can have an HVAC technician service the unit to catch any maintenance and upkeep necessary for optimal function. Generally, you should have an HVAC technician service the furnace at least once a year, ideally twice a year (spring and fall).

Related Article: What is a HVAC System?

Pros

  • Provides fast, powerful heat
  • Gas is often the less expensive utility
  • More cost-effective in the long run (with a high-efficiency furnace)
  • Pairs well with a heat pump and AC unit for year-round heating and cooling

Cons

  • Requires natural gas lines (if they’re inaccessible or you don’t already have them, switching to gas is infeasible and costly)
  • Generally need to purchase an additional indoor coil
  • Will need a carbon monoxide detector constantly running in your home

Electric Heating Overview

hands over an electric heating system

Electric heating is a solid choice for millions of homeowners, particularly those in southern areas of the United States, where winters are brief and mild. Here’s what you should know about electric heating systems.

How It Works

Like gas furnaces, electric furnaces are relatively simple in operation. Electric heating systems work similarly to a hair dryer – they suck air into the system via a heat exchanger. Once the cooler air is in the heat exchanger, electric heating elements heat the air.

Next, the blower pushes the warmer air into the supply ductwork of your home, where it gets distributed throughout your home. The temperature in your home rises, and the process continues as necessary.

Who It is Best For 

While gas heating is ideal in some scenarios, it’s not the best choice everywhere. This is where electric heating comes in. Electric heating is the better choice if you don’t have access to a natural gas line. Or, if you already have an electric unit, switching to gas might be expensive due to the need for gas hookups and installing a chimney.

Electric heat is often the better choice if you live in a mild climate with short-lived winters. Due to the high installation costs associated with gas heating, electric is often the better pick if you only use heating for a month or two throughout the year.

Typical Maintenance 

Although many folks dismiss electric furnace maintenance, it is essential for normal everyday function. Typical maintenance generally involves:

  • Examining the fan and motor for wear and tear
  • Lubricating and cleaning working parts
  • Inspecting heating elements for broken, loose, or dirty parts
  • Changing the filter
  • Calibrating the thermostat
  • Replacing the heat strips as necessary.

Many homeowners opt to have an HVAC technician handle the servicing process, as some parts of the project require specific technical knowledge. Of course, some homeowners choose to do it themselves, but it is up to you whether you decide to outsource the job.

Note: Like gas furnaces, you should service your electric furnace at least once a year, ideally twice (once in the fall and once in the spring).

Pros

  • No need to install or use natural gas
  • Might be the only thing necessary to heat/cool your home throughout the year (applies to certain areas)
  • Ideal for mild climates with short-lived winters

Cons

  • Is often the more expensive utility
  • Creates original heat (doesn’t transfer heat)
  • Can raise electric bills
  • May strain to reach heating demand (in some areas), especially when pairing an air handler with an air conditioner

Top Considerations for Selecting Gas or Electric Heat

HVAC technician servicing a central heating system

Gas and electric heating are go-to options for keeping homes warm and cozy throughout icy winter temperatures. However, each option is better suited to a different area. Here are a few things to consider in your selection process:

Location and Local Climate

Your location and local climate are two significant considerations when debating between gas and electric heat. Generally, electric heat is more efficient for southern areas of the United States, where winters are mild. In these areas, the heating season only lasts about 2-3 months of the year, and even then, you might only use the furnace one month of the year.

If you don’t already have gas service in your home, installing a gas heating system might not make sense, as you may only use the system for a month or two out of the year.

On the other hand, a gas heating system might be the better option if you live in the northern United States, where climates are often cooler and the heating season lasts for around six months.

These areas often experience harsher winters, with freezing temperatures lasting for months. Since gas heating is typically more efficient at heating larger homes in cooler temperatures, this is usually the better option.

Install Cost

There are a few aspects to consider when investing in natural gas heating, each of which affects the cost. First, you’ll need a natural gas network connection. If you’re not connected, your local utility will have to set up gas service to your home. Once you’re set up, you can install a gas furnace.

In addition, your home will need a flue pipe or chimney to escort combustion gases out of your house. Due to these factors, installing a gas furnace in your home (if you don’t already use gas) is quite expensive.

On the flip side, electric furnaces are usually much easier to install, so the initial cost for installation is much lower than starting from scratch with a gas furnace. On top of that, electric furnaces are usually less expensive than gas furnaces.

Running Cost

technician conducting a central heating installation

Before you commit to one over the other, it doesn’t hurt to consider running costs. These costs vary depending on the local climate and home size. However, natural gas heating systems tend to be less expensive to run than electric resistance heating systems.

This difference is primarily due to the lower energy prices for gas. Of course, this can vary based on local pricing in your area, but for the most part, electric heating systems are pricier to run. Gas furnaces usually work more efficiently to heat larger spaces in cooler climates, which translates to lower running costs.

Energy Costs

While the upfront cost is a major determining factor for many folks, it’s essential to consider the long-term energy costs. In some cases, these costs can far outweigh the price difference between the two options.

For example, if you purchase a high-efficiency (90% or more efficient) gas heating system, you’ll pay much more upfront than you would for a typical electric furnace. However, since electricity is more costly than gas, your utility bills would be substantially lower than with an electric heating system.

Additionally, high-efficiency gas heating systems generally translate to the best long-term cost savings and optimal comfort for homeowners.

Note: If you purchase a standard (80% efficiency) gas heating system, the difference in long-term utility costs is generally minimal. However, you would likely still pay more for the gas system upfront, especially if you don’t have gas service to your home already.

Size of Your Home

In addition to your location and climate, you need to consider the size of your home. Generally, gas heating systems heat a larger space much faster than an electric heating system. In the same time frame, a gas heating system produces much more heat than an electric one.

A gas heating system may be better if you have a larger home (especially in a cooler climate). On the flip side, you might not need the powerful heating capabilities of a gas heating system if you only need to heat a small space, so an electric heating system may be sufficient.

Other Heat Sources in Your Home 

Other heat sources in your home will contribute to the temperature in your home. For example, if you have a gas, wood, or electric fireplace, this will help heat the space in your room. In some cases, a fireplace (often wood-burning fireplaces) can serve as a primary form of heating, provided there’s adequate circulation in the home.

However, it’s best to have an additional form of heating, as a wood fireplace often won’t cut it (due to inefficiency in heat output). So, while this is an aspect to consider, it’s best to have an additional form of heating.

Bottom Line

For most folks, a heating system isn’t an optional addition to their home – it’s necessary to weather the freezing winter temperatures. However, every home is different, so heating systems aren’t one-size-fits-all. While electric heating systems might be the perfect choice for one homeowner, it could be entirely illogical for another homeowner, and vice versa.

So, while each option has its benefits and downsides, the best choice for you ultimately falls on your location, local climate, the size of your home, your budget, and whether you have access to natural gas.

About The Author

Jonathon is a mechanical engineer with over ten years of experience in the HVAC industry. He has hands-on experience with all types of HVAC systems.

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