Nowadays, it seems like the price of everything just keeps ticking up, with no end in sight. As a result, we’re all looking for ways to save money, and one of the best ways to do so is by cutting down on monthly energy costs. There are several tricks you can use in order to spend less on heating your home, such as turning the thermostat up by a few degrees, but ultimately, if you really want to take advantage of long-term savings, you may have to opt for a new heating system entirely. Before you do so, however, you’ll need to figure out what the most cost-effective method of generating heat is for your home.
While there are many different ways to heat a building, gas furnaces and electric resistance heating are among the most common. But which one is the least expensive? Below, we’ll help you to determine the answer to one of the most commonly asked questions in HVAC: is gas or electric cheaper?
When we refer to “gas heating,” we’re referring to a furnace that is designed to use natural gas as a fuel source. Natural gas is not the same thing as the gas you use in your automobile. It’s actually primarily methane, although there are plenty of other compounds found in its chemical makeup as well. It’s “natural” because, unlike gasoline and other commonly used fossil fuels, it does not require any sort of refinement or synthesis to be an effective fuel source. Instead, it’s mined directly from the earth and transported through a series of pipelines.
In a gas furnace, the natural gas is pumped through a pipe into an ignitor. The ignitor has a pilot light that causes the gas to combust. The resulting flame is controlled and used to heat the air inside a device called a heat exchanger, which is an essential element of any furnace system. Once the air has been heated, a large fan is used to circulate it through the home’s ductwork, where it enters each room through a series of vents. The heated air will continue to flow until the thermostat detects that the desired temperature has been achieved. It will then shut the system off.
An electric furnace is similar, in many ways, to a gas furnace, in the sense that it also makes use of a heat exchanger, a blower fan, and your home’s system of ductwork. Where the two methods differ, however, is in the way they generate heat. While a gas furnace ignites a fuel source to release heat energy into the air, an electric furnace uses a method known as resistance heating.
Chances are, if you own a toaster, you are already somewhat familiar with the concept of resistance heating. You’ve probably even witnessed it in action. When you press the lever on your toaster, you may have seen the metal coils inside of it turn red as they heat up. The reason this occurs is that, when the toaster is activated, an electrical current is sent through those coils. The voltage from the current excites the electrons inside of the coil, causing it to heat up (the red glow results from a phenomenon known as incandescence).
Electric furnaces, space heaters, and other electric heating methods use the same principle as the toaster. Electricity is passed through a medium, generating heat. The heat energy can then be transferred into the air and circulated throughout the home.
Besides the two methods of generating heat we’ve mentioned above, you can also opt to use a heat pump instead of a traditional furnace. Technically, the heat pump is considered a type of electric heating because it does require electricity to operate. However, in this case, the electricity is not actually used to generate the heat. Instead, it’s simply used to transfer heat energy from one area to another.
Unlike a gas or electric furnace, a heat pump is usually smaller and mounted somewhere on the wall of the home it’s being used for. A small set of tubes connects it to the outside unit, which is a device that can collect heat energy from outside and transfer it into the home.
A heat pump actually uses the same underlying technology as an air conditioner (in fact, it can even be switched into a cooling mode and double as an air conditioner during the summer). Refrigerant coils absorb heat energy, but when the system is in heating mode, the heat is vented into the home instead of away from it (as an AC unit does).
So, at the end of the day, is gas or electric cheaper? Electric heating has plenty of advantages. For example, it doesn’t require a gas main, and it’s comparatively safer since it doesn’t generate harmful byproducts. However, when it comes to the question of which is cheaper to run, electric is usually the more expensive option, costing an average of a little over $2,000 a year to run.
On the other hand, a gas furnace can cost as little as $400 a year to run. On the face of it, this is much cheaper than electric. However, you will also have to consider that an electric furnace tends to last a lot longer, meaning you’ll have to replace it less often. This can balance the cost savings of a gas furnace somewhat.
Finally, a heat pump costs around $1,500 a year to run. While this seems much more expensive than a gas furnace, remember that it’s being used for heating and cooling, so that price tag covers your air conditioning bill as well. It’s an excellent choice for energy efficiency.
Whichever heating method you choose, installation should be performed by certified contractors, such as Entek HVAC, whose installers and technicians are specifically experienced with the type of heating method you’ve chosen.