Gas Vs. Electric Furnaces: Heating Repair and Other Considerations

There are many things to consider when deciding which kind of heater to place in your home. The type of fuel used, cost per unit of fuel, amount of hot air provided per unit of fuel, and efficiency of the system are top considerations. All of these conditions factor into evaluating the ultimate cost of maintaining working heat for your home, whether it be gas or electric. Cost of heating repair if a system has broken or failing to work efficiently is also a cost to consider when making your decision.

To calculate energy costs for both gas and electric furnaces, gas burned and the electricity used to run blowers and controls must both be taken into account. The efficiency of a system is indicative of how well an energy conversion or transfer is accomplished. This can be measured as a percentage by using the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) scale. The higher this percentage, the more hot air the system can extract from each portion of gas used, and the lower the impact on the environment. Efficiency is calculated using the BTU, or British thermal unit, which is equivalent to about 1055 Joules, or the amount needed to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Efficiency = (output BTU/input BTU) x 100.

Gas Furnaces

Gas is the larger of the two furnaces. They essentially take in cold air, clean it, warm it via combustion of gas in a heat exchanger, and then distribute the warm air throughout your home. It requires access to a natural gas line and a ventilator (typically a chimney) to dispel the hazardous byproducts produced during combustion, typically carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Because of this, there is a more involved installation process, and consequently a more involved heating repair process. Regular professional maintenance is absolutely required, since carbon monoxide leaks are definitely hazardous to the family.

Gas systems are larger and initially more expensive, ranging from $2300-$3000. But, they are generally less expensive to operate. The lowest AFUE acceptable for these machines to operate is 78 percent, and the cost per 1,000,000 BTU is about $18. Although natural gas creates greenhouse emissions and other pollutants, it still burns “cleaner” than the coal used for electric. It is more effective and efficient, especially in extreme temperatures. There is better humidity control with these heaters, it warms the home faster, and is much better for large spaces. The lifespan of a gas furnace is 10-20 years.

Electric Furnaces

In an electric furnace, a blower moves air over a series of coils that are warmed via electricity. They are smaller and less expensive than gas, ranging from $1000-$1500, and have an AFUE of 95-100%. However, because coal is primarily used to produce the electricity needed to operate the electric system, it is often more expensive over time. For example, the cost per 1,000,000 BTU is $32. Electric furnaces are typically more suitable for smaller spaces and dry climates. Expensive electric bills could arise in extremely cold temperatures, as the furnace struggles to keep the indoor temperature high.

Electric heaters are generally quiet and more durable, and no ventilation is required because there are no combustion byproducts to worry about. They have a lifespan of 20-30 years. Additionally, these systems are fairly straightforward. Many can troubleshoot and resolve issues without additional assistance, thus reducing the need for full-blown heating repair.

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