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Choosing Between Gas and Electric Furnaces

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When it comes to keeping your house warm and cozy, choosing the right furnace for your family is essential. When it comes to choosing a furnace, comparing gas vs electric is a good place to start. Each type of furnace has their own unique features, advantages, and considerations to keep in mind. In this blog, we will break down the workings of both types of furnaces, examine their pros and cons, and provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision about which is best for your home and family.

Overview of Gas vs Electric Furnaces

Gas furnaces and electric furnaces are two common types of heating systems used in homes. Gas furnaces operate by burning natural gas or propane to produce heat, while electric furnaces use electrical resistance elements to generate warmth. Gas furnaces are known for their cost-effectiveness, high efficiency, quick heating response, and reliability. However, they require access to a natural gas supply and proper ventilation.

On the other hand, electric furnaces are easy to install, have excellent safety features, and offer durability. They do not require a gas line but may have higher operating costs compared to gas furnaces depending on local electricity prices. Keep in mind that heat pumps which both heat and cool are also an efficient electric option for homeowners in Portland.

How Gas Furnaces Work

Gas furnaces work by using a burner and a heat exchanger to produce warm air. The process begins with the ignition of natural gas or propane in the burner. This flame heats the heat exchanger, which is a metal component designed to efficiently transfer heat.

As the heat exchanger warms up, the surrounding air is forced over it by a blower fan. The air absorbs the heat from the exchanger and is then distributed throughout the home via ductwork. Meanwhile, the combustion gasses produced during the burning process are safely vented outside the house through a flue or chimney. This continuous cycle ensures a constant supply of warm air that creates optimal heating comfort for your family.

Gas and Electric Furnace Ratings to Consider

When looking at a gas or electric furnace, there are several important things to consider:

  1. AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency): This rating measures the furnace’s energy efficiency, indicating how much of the fuel (gas or propane) is converted into heat. Higher AFUE ratings indicate greater efficiency, with the most efficient models reaching 98% or more.
  2. HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor): This rating applies specifically to electric heat pumps and measures their efficiency in heating mode. A higher HSPF rating indicates greater efficiency and cost savings during the heating season.
  3. BTU (British Thermal Units): This measurement quantifies the heating capacity of the furnace. The appropriate BTU rating depends on the size and insulation of your home. A professional HVAC consultant can help determine the right BTU rating for your specific needs.
  4. SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio): This rating is relevant for electric heat pumps and air conditioning units, measuring their cooling efficiency. Higher SEER ratings indicate greater energy efficiency and lower operating costs during the cooling season.
  5. Noise Level: Furnaces produce noise during operation. Look for models with low noise levels, measured in decibels (dB). Quieter units offer a more comfortable indoor environment.
  6. ENERGY STAR Certification: The ENERGY STAR label signifies that a furnace meets strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Choosing an ENERGY STAR-certified furnace ensures enhanced energy savings and performance.

Considering these ratings will help you make an informed decision when selecting a gas or electric furnace that suits your home’s requirements and prioritizes energy efficiency.

Single Stage, Two Stage and Variable Stage Furnaces

Newer furnaces are available in single stage, two stage and variable stage models. Single-stage furnaces have only one heating output level, providing a consistent heat output. Two-stage furnaces offer two heat output levels, allowing for more precise temperature control and energy efficiency. Variable-stage furnaces have modulating burners that adjust the heat output in small increments, providing optimal comfort and energy savings.

Pros and Cons of a Gas Furnace

Gas furnaces are a popular choice for home heating, yet they come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. By understanding the pros and cons of a gas furnace, you can make an informed decision that best suits your home’s heating requirements and energy efficiency goals.

Pros of a Gas Furnace

  • Cost-effective heating: Natural gas is often cheaper than electricity, making gas furnaces more cost-effective in the long run.
  • Efficient heat production: Gas furnaces provide quick and high heat output, ensuring faster warm-up times for your home.
  • Reliable performance: Gas furnaces are known for their reliability and can provide consistent heating even during power outages when used with a portable generator.
  • Energy efficiency options: High-efficiency gas furnaces with AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) ratings of 90% or higher are available, reducing energy consumption and lowering utility bills.
  • Better for larger homes: Gas furnaces are often recommended for larger properties as they can efficiently heat larger spaces.

Cons of Gas Furnaces:

  • Higher upfront costs: Gas furnaces generally have higher initial installation costs compared to electric furnaces.
  • Need for fuel source: Homes without access to natural gas may require additional infrastructure and fuel storage, increasing installation complexity and costs.
  • Combustion-related risks: Gas furnaces involve combustion, which can pose risks such as carbon monoxide leaks if not properly maintained and vented.
  • Limited versatility: Gas furnaces are not suitable for all areas, especially those without a natural gas supply, limiting their suitability in certain regions or properties.

How Electric Furnaces Work

Electric furnaces work by using electrical resistance to generate heat. The furnace contains a series of heating elements, usually made of coils or ceramic disks, that become hot when an electric current passes through them. As the current flows through the heating elements, they generate heat, which is then transferred to the surrounding air. A blower fan forces the air over the heated elements and distributes it throughout the home via ductwork.

Unlike gas furnaces, electric furnaces do not require combustion or a fuel source, making them easy to install and operate. However, they may have higher operating costs compared to gas furnaces depending on local electricity rates. In the Portland area we have access to hydroelectricity which lowers electricity costs and is renewable.

Pros and Cons of Electric Furnaces

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of electric furnaces will help you weigh the electric furnace vs gas furnace debate in the context of your home’s specific heating requirements and constraints.

Pros of Electric Furnaces

  • Lower upfront costs: Electric furnaces are generally less expensive to install compared to gas furnaces, as they do not require fuel lines or ventilation systems.
  • Safety: Electric furnaces do not produce carbon monoxide or other combustion byproducts, reducing the risk of indoor air pollution and potential health hazards.
  • Easy installation: Electric furnaces are typically easier to install and require less space, making them a convenient option for smaller homes or apartments.
  • Energy efficiency: Electric furnaces can achieve high efficiency ratings, especially with the use of advanced technologies like variable-speed blowers and heat pumps.
  • Carbon footprint: Because our area relies on hydro dams for some of our electricity the carbon footprint of electric furnaces is reduced.
  • Versatility: Electric furnaces can be used in any area with access to electricity, making them suitable for regions without natural gas availability.

Cons of Electric Furnaces:

  • Higher operating costs: Electricity is generally more expensive than natural gas, resulting in higher monthly heating expenses.
  • Slower heating response: Electric furnaces may take longer to reach the desired temperature compared to gas furnaces, potentially leading to less immediate comfort.
  • Reliance on power supply: Electric furnaces heavily depend on a reliable electrical power supply, and any power outages will disrupt heating functionality.
  • Limited suitability for large spaces: Electric furnaces may struggle to efficiently heat larger homes or buildings, requiring additional units or alternative heating methods.

Assessing Your Needs and Priorities

When assessing the needs and priorities for choosing between a gas or electric furnace, homeowners can consider the following checklist:

  • Fuel availability: Determine if your home has access to natural gas lines or if it would require other fuel sources, such as propane or oil.
  • Energy costs: Research and compare the cost of natural gas and electricity in your area to evaluate the long-term operating expenses of each type of furnace.
  • Efficiency: Consider the energy efficiency ratings (AFUE for gas, and HSPF or SEER for electric) to determine how efficiently each type of furnace converts fuel or electricity into heat.
  • Safety considerations: Evaluate the safety features and potential risks associated with gas furnaces, such as carbon monoxide leaks, and weigh them against the safety advantages of electric furnaces.
  • Environmental impact: Assess the environmental impact of each type of furnace, considering factors like greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability.
  • Heating requirements: Determine the heating needs of your home, including square footage, insulation levels, and climate, to ensure that the selected furnace is capable of providing adequate warmth.
  • Installation and maintenance: Consider the ease of installation, any necessary retrofitting, and potential maintenance requirements for both gas and electric furnaces.
  • Longevity and durability: Research the expected lifespan and reliability of each type of furnace, considering factors like warranties and maintenance requirements.
  • Home resale value: Assess the potential impact on the resale value of your home by considering market trends and preferences in your area.
  • Professional consultation: If unsure, consult with a reputable HVAC professional who can assess your specific needs and recommend the best furnace or heat pump option for your home.

Consult an HVAC Professional

A professional HVAC consultant plays a crucial role in helping homeowners make informed decisions about the type of furnace to buy. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning consultants possess extensive knowledge and experience in heating systems, allowing them to assess the specific needs and requirements of a home.

By conducting a thorough evaluation, an HVAC expert will consider factors such as the size of the house, insulation quality, climate, and budget constraints. Consultants can provide valuable advice on fuel options, comparing the benefits and drawbacks of gas and electric furnaces. They can explain efficiency ratings, energy costs, installation considerations, safety features, and environmental impact.

Installing a High-Efficiency Furnace in Portland

Furnaces are a long term investment in your home and comfort so it is crucial to consider your specific needs, budget, and local energy costs when deciding between an electric vs gas furnace. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are here to guide you. Consulting with a professional Jacobs technician will provide additional insights and help you make an informed decision about selecting the most suitable furnace for your comfort and budget.

If you’re looking to install a high efficiency furnace in your Portland, Oregon, or Vancouver, Washington home, contact Jacobs Heating and Air Conditioning to talk to an HVAC consultant about options. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away.

About the Author

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Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.