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Gas Vs Electric Furnaces: 5 Differences & How They Operate

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Having a comfortable, warm home is important, especially in the colder months. When it comes to heating, the two main types of furnaces are gas and electric. Prior to comparing gas or electric furnace sizes for your living space, it’s important to consider the differences between these two types of systems. The main differences of gas vs. electric furnaces relate to installation requirements, energy efficiency variations, safety and maintenance options, and life cycle.

Should I Buy a Gas or Electric Furnace?

Installation Requirements

When it comes to gas and electric furnace installations, your best bet is to hire a professional. Gas furnaces use natural gas, which leads to toxic byproducts. As a result, the installation needs to be perfect to prevent a toxic gas leak in your home. The heat exchanger and other elements of a gas furnace need to be secured properly to avoid this from happening. Installing a gas furnace requires specialized tools and equipment, as well as extensive knowledge, and can take several days to install and set up. A gas furnace will need to have an exhaust pipe to vent toxic gases outside the house. If there is no existing pipe, then space for it needs to be cut into the wall.

The high voltage of electric furnaces is why professionals should be the ones taking care of the installation. If you’re comparing the installation differences between gas vs electric heating systems, an electric furnace requires a lot of heavy-duty wiring to ensure proper ventilation and function. For safety reasons, there are strict inspection processes to make sure that all installations are done properly.

FurnaceEnergy Efficiency Variations

Energy efficiency refers to the amount of gas or electricity that a furnace transforms into heat. Understanding the efficiency of gas and electric furnaces is important because it’s one of the main things affecting your wallet. Although gas furnaces are less efficient than electric ones, they heat a home faster because burning gas creates more heat than the coils in an electric furnace.

If you’re analyzing the efficiency variations between gas vs electric furnaces, the annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) rating of gas furnaces varies from 55 to 97 percent. To amp up the efficiency in a gas furnace, you can swap out the pilot light and opt for an intermittent, direct spark or a hot surface ignition igniter. Natural gas is usually cheaper than electricity, so the increased cost of making a gas furnace more efficient will be offset by low fuel costs. Of the two, electric furnaces are more efficient with an annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) rate of as high as 100%. High efficiency comes from furnaces converting nearly all of their energy into heat.

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Safety and Maintenance

When it comes to safety and maintenance, an electric furnace comes out on top. Gas furnaces need regular maintenance to keep them running efficiently and safely. They need to be inspected yearly to make sure that there is no corrosion and that there are no carbon monoxide leaks, which is highly dangerous. Only a licensed HVAC professional has the proper equipment and knowledge to inspect gas furnaces. It is a good idea to have carbon monoxide detectors in a house with a gas furnace as an extra layer of precaution.

Electric furnaces require little to no inspection and care, making them easier to maintain. There is no burner to clean or check and the parts that make up an electric furnace require very little attention. If you’re researching the maintenance discrepancies between gas vs electric furnaces, the average electric furnace is cheaper to maintain.

man replacing HVAC filterDifferent Life Cycles

Electric furnaces last significantly longer than gas ones. Due to the large number of parts that require maintenance, gas heating systems usually last for about 10 to 20 years. Burning gas creates small particles that can collect and build up in a furnace, which can lead to system failure. Additionally, corrosion is common and can cause parts to malfunction. Electric furnaces don’t use gas, so there are fewer chances of internal damage. Its lifespan is 20-30 years.

Different Noises Produced

Although not disruptive, different furnaces produce different noises. Due to its many parts, gas furnaces make a loud rushing sound when they start and when the burner ignites. Electric furnaces have no vents, no burner, and fewer parts—which means they are altogether quieter than a gas furnace. Still, they might make a noise when they start up.

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How Electric Furnaces Operate

Electric furnaces work similarly to a hairdryer: they pull air into the system and through a heat exchanger, changing the air from cold to hot. However, it is a bit more nuanced than this. Electric furnaces have three to six heating elements. These are tubes of resistive wire that are between 3.5 to 7kw each and are mounted inside an electric furnace cabinet. An electric furnace’s heating elements can withstand temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The current moving through these wires is what produces heat. Once the elements are hot enough, they will begin to warm up the air. Then the furnace’s blower pushes this hot air into the ductwork of a house and it gets distributed throughout.

FurnaceHow Gas Furnaces Operate

Similarly, gas furnaces use a heat exchanger to warm the air, but its heat exchanger is powered by natural gas instead of electricity. The first step in heating a home is the ignition of natural gas in the gas burners of the furnace. On a signal from the thermostat, the burner valves open to deliver gas that flows over the igniter to create a flame. The flame is then drawn through the burners and the natural gas begins to burn. This process is what heats up the heat exchanger, which then heats up the air. A draft-induced fan then pushes the warm air throughout the house and exhausts the cold air/carbon monoxide out.

ServiceMark is Here to Help

Regardless of your furnace preference, the licensed technicians at ServiceMark are trained to replace parts in gas and electric furnaces from a variety of manufacturers. Give our team of certified contractors a call by phone at (302) 367-7915 to schedule an appointment. We offer furnace repair services to households in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Our staff will arrive to your home on-time or your service is free.

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