Pros and Cons of Heating with Electricity vs Natural Gas


A question that many have been asking recently due to the rise in renewable electricity being offered is what are the pros and cons of heating with electricity vs natural gas.

That’s due to the fact that, although natural gas heating has until now been a lesser producer of carbon emissions than the coal and oil used to power electric power stations, that’s changing now. Rapidly rising wind-farm and solar electricity generation are making the use of electricity for heating look much more environmentally preferable.

If it’s time to replace your heating system, you may have a choice between gas and electric heat. Both of these heating options have some pros and cons. Property owners should consider them carefully, before making a final selection.

It is important for future generations that we choose wisely. The non-renewable sources of energy we use to drive our technology continue to damage our planet.

To combat this, scientists and engineers are actively looking for less environmentally harmful energy sources. The goal which must eventually be achieved for our planet to remain habitable in the long-term is 100% renewable energy. In the meantime, we should all do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint.

Because we don’t yet have viable means of generating all our power from renewable sources, heating our homes is a significant contributor to the negative environmental impact, whichever we choose.

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to choose energy sources that have the lowest negative impact. That way we can all reduce the amount of damage that heating our homes does to the environment. So, what type of heating fuel and equipment recommended by heating professionals should we use in our homes? Read on to find out:

Gas vs. Electric Heating, Which Is Better For The Environment?

Gas (natural gas) and electricity are the two most-used fuel sources for home heating. That’s why we have chosen to make the comparison between gas and electric here. Now to examine both options in detail and try to come to some conclusions.

The Case for Electric Heating

Harm to the environment comes in two forms. We have already explained that there is a global impact of using non-renewable fuels, but there is also a direct local impact upon us from air-pollution/ emissions. It doesn’t get any cleaner or more efficient than electricity when it comes to the process of converting a fuel source to heat energy in our homes. The actual conversion process doesn’t typically give off any harmful greenhouse gasses. Nor does it result in any environmentally hazardous by-products being emitted in our homes reducing air quality. In contrast, most other fuel sources are harmful to the environment in some way when being converted to heat energy.

As the world moves to more “renewable” electricity generation, homes with electric heating will be able to take advantage of renewable electric power. Furthermore, the homeowner won’t need to take any action or spend any money to be cleaner.

More and more electricity suppliers are generating electricity from renewable sources globally. Going forward into the future all-electric homes will have a smaller and smaller relative carbon footprint.

As an added advantage of electricity, virtually every home already has electrical service. That means that once “renewable” electricity is available, the costs to convert homes to electric heating will be reduced because the fuel source will already be present in the home, and in commercial applications.

Another little appreciated fact about electricity is that it can be used as the fuel source for both heating and air conditioning. A great way to minimize the amount of electricity a home needs to keep warm is to install a heat pump. Heat pumps, which run on electricity, provide both heating and cooling. They are unique in that both functions are available in the same piece of equipment! No other fuel source can provide this crucial HVAC (air conditioner) functionality.

Gas vs Electric Furnace – General Pros and Cons

Gas Heating:

Pros

The huge advantage gas (natural gas) has (almost everywhere that a home is connected to a gas main), is that natural gas is significantly cheaper than electricity per heat unit.

In cold climates where people need to heat their homes a lot during the winter, a gas boiler can save you money over the long run. It costs more to buy initially than electric heating, but that cost is worth the investment due to reduced operating costs. Not only that. Gas brings much faster heating so that you can warm up your home more quickly when returning to it in very cold weather.  A gas boiler (gas furnace) produces a higher maximum heat output, and that heat starts coming as soon as the burners fire-up and the pump starts to run. Now, in cold climates, that can be a very real advantage when returning from work in the frozen dark-of-night in the depth of winter when the temperatures outside below freezing.

Cons

Gas boilers cost more to purchase than the electric and the installation is more complicated. The boiler needs proper venting otherwise there can be a safety hazard from escaping carbon monoxide. They also do not last as long. Some people with electric night storage radiators are still using them after 40 years of requiring virtually no servicing.

The equivalent gas boiler can be expected to last 10 to 20 years without repair but should be serviced annually. The combustible fuel used in gas boilers means they need to be maintained or else the system is likely to become inefficient (costing more in fuel payment), and could even become unsafe in service.

Electric Heating:

Pros

The idea of a lower installation cost a big incentive to many homeowners.

Electric heaters don’t need to be located in a home in a location where they can vent to the outside. The outcome of that is the ability to put them where you want them. The installation process is quick to do, and an electrical heating system can usually be completed in a day or two. There is very little disruption to your home or daily routine because no holes are needed through walls for radiator pipes – just an electrical cable and outlet socket. Generally, maintenance is limited to cleaning the radiators, which can be done by the householder: A large electric furnace should still be checked annually. But, a malfunction would be highly unlikely to put you in danger.

Cons

Electrical heating systems are a higher lifetime cost than gas. That’s due to the higher cost of electricity per unit of energy delivered to your house. Electric heat, by comparison, will be more expensive than gas heat, until the cost of renewable energy drops. Currently, fossil fuel-based gas is cheaper per unit because it is easy to transport it in pipelines and no heat is lost until it’s burnt in your home boiler. Furthermore, electricity has the disadvantage that as it travels through cables it warms up the cable a bit. That warmth is lost but still costs you. 

The savings you enjoy upfront are soon lost once the higher running costs of electric heating in all but the warmest countries. Not everyone wants the cheapest form of electric heating which is by adding bulky radiators that take up space and may look intrusive. If so, electric underfloor heating is certainly an option but that form of heating is certainly not one of minimal disruption during installation.

In general, electricity is a less responsive technology for immediate heating when you want it. An electric boiler must spend time warming up a storage radiator before that radiator can start to warm your home. Also, where a gas boiler allows the rapid inflow of gas in the gas main (under pressure) into your boiler, the equivalent electrical load has to be limited to avoid overloading the system. The overall effect is that users have to wait longer for the effects of turning up the thermostat before they kick in.

Most electricity is produced using techniques that are only 30 percent efficient according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, in the US coal still represents one of the primary fuels used to produce electricity. This fuel is dirty, has larger carbon emissions than the same heat produced using natural gas, and is either:

  • produced in a power station that emits many pollutants into the local air or
  • suffers from the inefficiencies of supporting a large sacrificial load which has to be used to clean-up the dirty flue gases.

More About Costs – Comparing Electric Heat with Gas Heat

We have previously identified the fact that electric boilers are less expensive to buy than gas boilers and installation costs are lower. In very average figures a new electric hot water boiler plus storage radiators will set you back to the tune of £1, 000 to £2, 500, while a gas boiler will cost between £2, 000 and £3, 000 in preparatory work for new installations, plus £4, 500 – £6, 000 for the gas boiler itself. This adds up to a total cost of £6, 500 – £9, 000 for a gas heating system as opposed to just £1, 000 to £2, 500 for the electric.

Don’t be deluded by the lower initial cost of electric heating, for most people it will cost more than gas over a period of time. But, hopefully, electricity cost per unit of heat supplied will reduce as in the next few years as cheaper renewable energy supplies become more available from solar and wind turbines. Furthermore, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has said that it expects natural gas prices to increase over the next few years.

Also, remember that only electric systems have the option of air conditioning.

The Number 1 Reason to Have an All-Electric Home

Many people think of electric heating as expensive and inefficient, however, there are currently some highly efficient options. Current high-efficiency heat pump models are some of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to heat a home, making a very strong case for the use of electricity in home heating.

Combustion safety is a big one.  Your water heater will never kill you with carbon monoxide poisoning in your sleep if it’s running on electricity.  Also, an electric heat pump can be used to carry the load and reduce the consumption of electricity way down and they do that even in cold climates. Depending on where you live, and over a 10 to 20-year timeframe getting rid of gas may actually save you money on your energy bills.

Finally, of course, having an all-electric home makes it easier to offset your energy use with site-generated solar power if you install photovoltaic modules.  The all-electric homeowner can go all-out for net-zero energy use and net zero emissions if they wish. To do that they just need to add home-insulation to a high standard, add night-time energy storage batteries, and change their old gas boiler for a new heat pump water heater and underfloor electric heating system.

Our View on This

Right now most homes are still heated with fossil fuels. Decarbonization is essential to preserve the planet. To decarbonize means electrifying everywhere where renewable fuel generation is rising, and from now on is the time to electrify, while getting rid of all gas appliances. There should be more education given by governments about the benefits electrification will bring in reduced climate change.

If you need help repairing, or maintaining, your heating system, or in choosing a new gas or electric heating system for your home, be sure to appoint a professional heating service.

Whatever you decide to do, it all comes down to preferences which will be guided by how much you have to spend. Consider your priorities. Are you short of money and can’t, or don’t wish to, borrow? Is cost-efficiency your number one concern, or are you more focused on ensuring the planet is livable for future generations? We hope that the pros and cons we have explained here will help you to make an educated decision.

One thing the vast majority of scientists are sure about is that things will definitely be getting hotter. It’s down to all of us to decide how much hotter!

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