air gas heating

What’s Cheaper, Gas or Electric Heat?

Gas heat and electric heat have been competitors for the prestigious first-place spot among energy sources for some time now. While electric heat is more commonly used, gas heat is close behind, particularly as concerns like environmental friendliness become more important to the public.

As a result, if it’s time to update or scrap your heating system, you may want to switch things up. Picking the right option for your needs helps you save money, stress, and potentially the energy you use.

Vault Electricity helps you compare your options for energy and heat in your home with ease. No matter which energy source you choose, our team is here to make it simple to put your plans into action.

Below, we’ll explore what gas and electric heat are, how they work, and their benefits and downsides. From there, you can make an informed decision that works for your home.

Key Takeaways

  • Gas heat is cheaper to use and maintain than electric heat but requires a more significant upfront investment.
  • Electric heat is more popular thanks to its accessibility and relatively low installation costs.
  • Other factors, such as home size, insulation, local market prices, and the types of heater(s) used, can impact energy efficiency for either fuel source.
  • The best choice between gas and electric heat comes down to a homeowner’s preferences, needs, and budget. Each offers pros and cons that may be considered dealbreakers.

Gas Heating

Gas heating relies on using one or more gas heaters that burn natural gas to warm homes. This heat can then be spread around through vents or ducts. Gas heating is a popular option for home energy thanks to its lower price tag and efficiency. 

What to Know About Gas Heating Systems

First and foremost, it helps to understand that gas is a primary energy source. That means it’s a raw fuel burned to create electricity or heat. As a result, a smaller margin of the energy natural gas produces is lost during production compared to electric heat. This helps keep gas heating affordable and leads to less total energy consumption overall.

According to The American Gas Association (AGA), residential natural gas heating systems are among the cheapest forms of energy. On average, gas heaters cost homeowners less than half of what electric heaters cost. Gas heat is also more cost-effective than other popular energy options, including propane and distillate oil.

While gas may be more affordable throughout its lifespan, setting it up for home heating can require a heavier investment upfront. Most gas furnaces cost around $5,500 to install. 

Additionally, digging for and burying natural gas lines is often necessary to establish gas heat and may come with considerable labor costs. Gas heaters also produce partially combusted gas and carbon monoxide, which can pose some risks to homeowners.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Gas Heating Systems

Some homeowners choose gas heating systems mainly because of their lower costs and reliability. However, the safety risks and limited accessibility of these systems make them a less suitable fit for others.

Gas Heating
Cheaper overallHigher initial costs
Cleaner – burns fewer fossil fuelsNeeds to be connected to a natural gas line, which isn’t available in all areas
More efficientMore maintenance costs
Reliable – works even during a power outageRisk of creating carbon monoxide

Factors that Affect the Cost of Gas Heating

While gas heat is cheaper on average than electric heat, some factors may impact its cost to homeowners. 

  • Cost of Fuel: The source of natural gas impacts its cost. Natural gas prices can fluctuate and may be lower in some states than others, but they’re still cheaper on average than purchasing electricity. 
  • Efficiency of Heating System: Using gas appliances and devices that condense natural gas can help homeowners reduce maintenance and heat use costs. Installing a natural gas heat pump, for instance, allows you to quickly heat your home and use less gas for less time. The AGA reports that using a natural gas heat pump can help homeowners save anywhere from $300-$1,400 a year, depending on their previous energy setup. 
  • Cost of Installation and Maintenance: Not all homes have the infrastructure to support natural gas systems. Digging out space for a gas line and ensuring all parts of a natural gas furnace or heater stay functional can add up over time. Homes with an already established system for connecting to gas energy sources have an advantage in this area. Still, gas heating systems need more frequent maintenance than electric heating systems do.
  • Climate and Weather Conditions: Homes in colder climates tend to use more heat to keep homes comfortable. Those in warmer climates, of course, do not. Gas energy offers a more cost-effective solution for homeowners who rely heavily on heat during the winter. But this difference in usage levels can contribute to differences in maintenance, installation, and operating costs.
  • Size and Insulation of the Home: The larger a home is, the more fuel it takes to heat or cool it. Homes that are poorly insulated are more prone to intense changes in temperature, which may lead homeowners to use heat more or less often than others to compensate. 

Electric Heating

Electric heat warms homes by, unsurprisingly, using electricity. It’s created when electric currents pass through a heating element, which heats up and warms the surrounding air. 

Electric heat is hailed for its simplicity, ease of installation, and safety. But because it’s usually more expensive to operate than gas heat, it may have some downsides worth considering.

What to Know About Electric Heating Systems

While it is the more popular choice for many Americans, electric heating costs are generally higher overall. However, because electric heaters are more accessible, they’re usually less difficult to install and maintain. Likewise, electric heat requires less home modification to work; most homes already have electric services, appliances, and systems in place to support its use.

Still, electric heaters take longer to create heat than gas heaters. This, coupled with the fact that electric heaters are more expensive to operate, means their main appeal is how simple they are to find and use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Heating Systems

Though electric heat tends to be pricier than gas, it’s not without its perks. Accessibility, flexibility, and safety distinguish electric heating systems from gas, but their downsides are still worth considering. 

Electric Heating
Easy to installHigher operating costs
Safer – does not produce carbon monoxide and carries no risk of gas leaksProne to problems like lost heat due to power outages 
Less maintenance than gasWorse for the environment in general
More versatile – options like zone heating allow more control over the heat in different roomsSlower than gas heaters

Factors that Affect the Cost of Electric Heating

Installation costs are lower for electric heat sources, but factors that affect gas heating also influence the average cost of electric energy. 

  • Cost of Electricity: The price of electric heat systems can change over time depending on what factors affect electricity costs near you. Since electricity is a secondary energy source, there are more factors at play that can impact its price compared to those that affect natural gas.
  • Efficiency of Heating System: Electric heat is generally less efficient than gas. But opting for high-efficiency and larger electric furnaces, wall heaters, and portable heaters helps homeowners get the heat they need more rapidly and with minimal energy use. 
  • Cost of Installation and Maintenance: Installation and upfront costs for electric heat are lower than gas heat. It costs most homeowners around $3,500 to purchase an electric furnace, which can be several thousand dollars less than a gas furnace or heater. Since installation is straightforward for electric heaters, it tends to cost less. However, routine, yearly maintenance may be necessary to keep electric heaters working efficiently, which creates an additional financial burden.
  • Climate and Weather Conditions: Electric heaters can take longer to warm up a home, so those in cold climates or experiencing cold weather may burn through it fairly quickly. This can result in high energy bills throughout the year. 
  • Size and Insulation of the Home: It’s likely no surprise that larger homes have higher energy costs, no matter which fuel sources you rely on. But other factors that might impact bigger or older homes, like outdated roofing, can also hike up electric heating costs.

Both gas and electric heat come with benefits and downsides; the best option for your home depends on your needs, preferences, and circumstances. If you’d like a more cost-effective option, gas is likely the better choice. However, if you don’t live near a natural gas line or are concerned about maintenance and safety, electric heat may be ideal.