Are Gas or Electric Heaters More Efficient?

If the time has come to replace your furnace, you’re probably faced with the big decision as to whether you should install a gas or electric furnace. For most people, the answer comes down to energy efficiency and what type of furnace is going to give them the most heat for the least amount of money. California and many other states have strongly encouraged replacing gas-burning furnaces with electric ones for environmentally-friendly purposes (as electric furnaces don’t output emissions), but electric systems are not right for everyone. So the big question is: what system is the most efficient and which is right for you?

In this blog, we’ll take a look at this often-confusing topic and help you make the best decision as to what type of heating system is the best heating system for your home and your needs.

A Direct Comparison of Energy Efficiency

When you put a gas and an electric furnace head-to-head and ask them to produce the same amount of heat, there’s almost no comparison: an electric furnace is going to be the more efficient model. Electric furnaces generally have an annual fuel-utilization-efficiency rating of as high as 100%, meaning all of the energy they use is turned into heat. By comparison, gas furnaces at the absolute best can usually only reach as high as around 95 to 97%. Older units are typically even worse, sometimes dipping as low as the mid-50s. Why is this the case? Because gas furnaces create exhaust, and a lot of the heat that is produced is lost through this exhaust line in order to prevent carbon monoxide and other potentially dangerous gasses from getting into your home.

Is Efficiency Always Better?

Does that mean everyone should ditch their gas furnace and swap to electricity? Not exactly. In most cases the actual answer is far more complicated because there are lots of other factors that need to be considered when making a decision on a new furnace. Energy efficiency is not and should not be the only factor you consider when choosing a new heating system.

In some instances, it’s actually more expensive run an electric furnace because electric furnaces don’t produce nearly as much heat with the fuel they use as gas furnaces do. An electric furnace may lose less heat through exhaust, but even with that fact gas furnaces tend to significantly outperform electric furnaces in the overwhelming majority of cases. As a result, they don’t have to cycle as long or as often. During particularly cold weather, this fact may actually make a gas furnace cheaper to run than an electric model.

Energy costs are also a huge factor to consider when choosing a new furnace system. Here in California, gas is significantly lower than the cost of electricity; our state is home to some of the highest electricity costs anywhere in the country. That means you could see huge electric bills during winter months, especially if a particularly cold stretch of weather rolls through and leaves you scrambling for heat. Cold weather will mean you have to run your gas furnace more often as well, but the significantly greater heat output of a gas furnace may mean you need to run your system less frequently overall, and that could mean reduced utility bills during heavy-use periods.

Cost of Installation & Operation

There’s another factor to consider when choosing a new furnace: how much are you going to pay to install the furnace you’re considering? Electric furnaces shine here: they are significantly cheaper than their gas-burning counterparts to install, and generally require significantly less maintenance as well. Gas units have burners that need to be inspected, lines that need to be cleaned, and exhaust systems that need to be tested every year. Electric furnaces need very little maintenance and attention, meaning their costs are lower.

However, the maintenance costs may still be worth it when you consider how much a gas furnace could save you on overall energy costs throughout the course of winter. Likewise, if you already have a gas line installed, your gas furnace installation is significantly cheaper as you already have the required connections in place. With electric furnaces, it’s not all that uncommon to need to have a pro install a high-voltage line to your furnace in order to make it run. This can take up a pretty significant chunk of the savings of installing one in your home.

Need help choosing between a gas or electric furnace? Call the experts at John Owens Services at (415) 942-6565 now to request a consultation and get help from a friendly and experienced member of our team.