Heating is a basic necessity in any home, but not everyone agrees about which type of heat – gas or electric – is best. Although many experts assert that gas is usually cheaper to run (which is true), this isn’t the whole story. Homeowners have to consider many different factors before they make a final call.
Gas heating typically requires a centralized furnace, and this unit can be quite large. The combustion of the fuel also means that homeowners need vents and air ducts for ventilation, which can take up additional room. If you have a moderate to large house, this might not be such a big deal, but if your square footage is limited, you might not want the bulk of a gas system. Gas heat is also better for large houses because it creates more heat in a given period of time.
Closely related to the space issue is home design. In some cases, the way the home is laid out makes it impractical or extremely inefficient to install a gas system and the necessary ventilation, even when the home is larger. If the architecture of the home makes it hard to use gas, homeowners might have no other choice than to move to electric heating. Many electric heating systems allow homeowners to adjust the temperatures in individual rooms, which is great if the home is more compartmentalized and people tend to spend most of their time in just one or two rooms. When floor plans are very open, however, it’s almost impossible to limit heating to just one location of the house, in which case centralized gas heat usually makes more sense.
Homes are not created equal when it comes to how much the heating system gets utilized. A house in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota, for example, uses heat much more than one in, say, Arizona or Texas. Electric heat is more standard in warmer climates, simply because the system does not need to be running as much, and because when it does operate, homeowners can keep temperatures low.
One thing that homeowners don’t always consider when debating about which heating system to use is that, in the event bad weather strikes, electric heat isn’t a guarantee. In colder locations, for instance, power outages frequently occur when electricity lines are snapped, which often happens when trees fall onto them under the weight of ice and snow. Even in warmer regions, high winds can disrupt connections. When this happens, the electric heat will not function, which can be extremely dangerous for those in more remote locations who don’t have backup systems available.
A properly ventilated gas system should release very few fumes into the home. In most cases, the natural gas used, which is usually methane, has no odor at all, but for safety reasons, gas companies add a chemical called Mercaptan to it to aid in the detection of leaks. Sometimes this chemical doesn’t completely burn up, so people occasionally smell it when using their gas heat. For most people, this is trivial as long as they have verified that the system is functioning as it should through a professional inspection, but for people who are very sensitive to smells, it can be an issue. Electric heat does not have this problem.
In terms of safety risk, gas heating poses the risk of explosion and the release of deadly carbon monoxide into the home when ventilation fails. Open systems, such as gas fireplaces, also can be risky because people can trip into them. Electric heat usually is considered to be a bit safer, but it still poses the risk of fatal shock if not properly maintained, and can still produce fires.
Ultimately, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong in terms of which heating system to use. Which works for a homeowner depends not only on cost, but also on factors such as home space and layout, location, weather and tolerance of fumes. Either system holds some risks.
Laura Ginn knows that in order to heat her home effectively she needs to take things like space, room layout and ventilation into consideration before she installs any heating equipment. She always gets the best price on her gas and electricity tariffs by using the excellent uSwitch.com energy comparison website.