Electric Furnace vs Gas: Which One Is Better?
Electric Furnace vs Gas: Which One Is Better?

Why install an electric furnace vs gas furnace? Which heats better? Which yields lower utility bills? Choosing a furnace raises many questions; finding the answers is crucial to having no buyer’s remorse when winter’s chill sets in, the utility bill arrives, or furnace maintenance is required.

Forced-air heating is the most common system in homes today. A forced-air system requires a furnace and a fuel source to produce heat. The most popular fuels are electricity and natural gas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51% of homes used natural gas, and 31% used electricity to power their primary heating sources in 2000.

While gas furnaces are more prevalent than electric, they are not necessarily better. Consumers must weigh the pros and cons of each fuel type. Costs, efficiency, life expectancy, climate, house size, maintenance, and accessibility of fuel are factors to consider.

electric furnace illustration icon

Electric Furnace

Unit Cost: $1,000 - $2,500

Average Installation Costs: $1,000 - $1,500

Fuel Source: Electricity

Cost per 100,000 BTU: $3.87 on average*

Efficiency: 95-100% AFUE

Life Expectancy: 20 or more years

Pros:

  • Lower unit and installation costs
  • Doesn’t require access to gas lines or venting
  • Less maintenance required
  • Longer lifespan
  • Less noisy
  • Lower repair costs

Cons:

  • Higher energy costs
  • Heats home more slowly
  • Heat produced is less warm
gas furnace illustration icon

Gas Furnace

Unit Cost: $3,000 - $4,000

Average Installation Costs: $1,500 - $2,000

Fuel Source: Natural Gas, Propane

Cost per 100,000 BTU: $1.21 on average*

Efficiency: 55-97% AFUE

Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years on average

Pros:

  • Produces warmer heat
  • Heats home more quickly
  • Lower energy costs

Cons:

  • Higher unit and installation costs
  • Requires gas line access and venting
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Shorter lifespan
  • Noisier
  • Higher repair costs

*Based on $0.1319 per kWh of electricity and $12.58 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. Comparison is before considering energy efficiency.

What's the Difference Between Gas and Electric Furnaces?

The chief difference between gas and electric furnaces is the energy source that powers them; one uses natural gas, and the other uses electricity. They also differ in installation costs, heating efficiency, energy efficiency, maintenance, safety, lifespan, and noise.

Installation

Gas furnace installation costs more because it takes longer. The furnace must be vented outside the house, and its components must be properly sealed to prevent carbon monoxide leakage. It could take days to install, depending on the amount of work that’s required. The average gas furnace installation costs $1,750. The cost is higher if a gas line or a vent needs to be added.

Electric furnaces are easier and quicker to install, but electric furnaces are high-voltage appliances and should be professionally installed. The average electric furnace installation costs $1,250. If wiring needs to be installed, the cost is higher.

Heat and Energy Efficiency

Furnace efficiency is measured by the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. The AFUE rating compares the furnace’s annual heat output to the number of fossil fuels (natural gas, oil, propane) it consumes annually. Furnaces with higher AFUE ratings are more efficient. The federal minimum AFUE rating is 80%.

All electric furnaces are rated between 95% and 100%. Outdoor units have lower ratings because of heat loss, but indoor units are technically 100% efficient because all their energy is converted into heat. However, electric furnaces consume more energy to produce heat than gas furnaces. They have greater energy efficiency but are less efficient at heating houses. Additionally, coal-fueled power plants often produce the electricity used by electric furnaces so electric furnaces might have a harsher impact on the environment.

High-efficiency gas furnaces operate at 90% to 98.5% efficiency. Although there are some disadvantages of high-efficiency furnaces, nearly all of the fuel they consume is converted into heat. On the other hand, some houses possess outdated furnaces with 56% to 70% AFUE ratings, which wastes 30% to 44% of the fuel they consume.

Maintenance

Electric furnaces are easier and cheaper to maintain since they don’t require regular professional maintenance. According to HomeAdvisor, electric furnace repairs typically cost less than $300.

Gas furnaces, however, require yearly professional inspections and maintenance to locate corrosion-causing condensation buildup, remove sooty byproducts from burning fuel, and prevent carbon monoxide leaks. HomeAdvisor states that furnace inspections cost $50 to $100, while tune-ups cost $100 to $200. Gas furnace repairs cost $300 to $1,200.

Safety

Electric furnaces are typically safer than gas furnaces. There are slight fire and electrocution risks with improperly installed electric furnaces, but gas furnaces pose the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and gas leaks. Installing a carbon monoxide detector and scheduling regular inspections reduce the risk.

Lifespan

How long does a furnace last? Electric furnaces have longer lifespans of 20 to 30 years. Gas furnace life expectancy is 15 to 20 years. Regular maintenance is a critical element in prolonging a furnace’s life.

Noise

Electric furnaces are generally quieter than gas furnaces. Gas furnace burners produce some noise when they ignite at the beginning of each heating cycle. Both furnaces’ operational noises are similar.

Electric Furnace vs Gas Cost

Electric furnaces are cheaper to buy and install than gas furnaces. Electric furnace prices range from $1,000 to $2,500, and installation costs an additional $1,000 to $1,500. Gas furnace prices range from $3,000 to $4,000, and installation costs $1,500 to $2,000.

electric furnace vs gas furnace installed costs
Type Average Costs (Installed)

Electric

$2,000 - $4,000

Gas

$4,500 - $6,000

Which Is Cheaper to Run: A Gas or Electric Furnace?

Gas heating systems have higher price tags than electric systems, but they often cost less to operate. The cost of electricity is consistently two to three times higher than the cost of natural gas. Consequently, a natural gas furnace yields lower energy bills.

Natural gas and electricity prices fluctuate. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts a rise in natural gas prices in the coming years, but the cost of electricity will remain higher than gas.

The high AFUE ratings of electric furnaces only represent the amount of energy that is converted into heat; AFUE ratings do not reflect the rate at which furnaces heat homes. Gas furnaces are less efficient regarding the amount of fuel converted into heat because some burning fuel becomes exhausted, but gas is a better heat source than electricity. Gas furnaces produce warmer heat and heat homes more quickly than electric furnaces.

Electric Furnace vs Gas Furnace: Which Is Best for Your Home?

The best furnace for your home depends on your climate region, home size, and gas supply. In general, gas furnaces are preferable in cold climates and large homes. Electric furnaces are best in climates with moderate temperatures, shorter heating seasons, or no access to a natural gas supply.

Electric furnaces take longer to heat houses than gas furnaces. Electric coils heat up slowly, and their heat is cooler than heat from gas combustion. These factors may be suitable for small homes and houses in mild climates. However, bitterly cold weather or sizeable square footage forces electric furnaces to run long heating cycles to maintain temperatures. Long run times result in high utility bills. The American Gas Association states that heat from natural gas furnaces is between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making them more efficient at heating homes and better for cold climates and larger houses.

Electric furnaces are appropriate for houses with no existing gas line or access to natural gas. Installing or rerouting a gas line is very costly. Some homes don’t have a natural gas supply so an electric furnace might be the best option.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why is gas heating cheaper than electric?

Gas heating is cheaper than electricity because natural gas prices are consistently lower than electricity. In addition, gas furnaces produce warmer heat that heats houses more quickly.

How much electricity does a gas furnace use?

A gas furnace typically uses less than 600 watts of electricity to ignite the burners, run the blower, and power the draft inducer fans.

What's cheaper electric or gas furnace?

Electric units are cheaper than gas units. Electric furnace installation tends to more affordable as well. On the other hand, electric furnaces use more energy and have higher operational costs than gas furnaces.

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