If your furnace has reached the end of its life or you're building a new home and need to install a heating system, it is important that you carefully consider which type of furnace to install. Both gas and electric furnaces are popular options for heating homes in Columbus. However, each type of furnace has some advantages and some drawbacks that make them better suited for certain situations.
How Electric Furnaces Work
Electric furnaces work by directly converting electricity into heat energy through the process of electrical resistance. Any time electricity flows through a metal wire, it encounters resistance. This resistance creates lots of heat, resulting in the wire almost instantly heating up and becoming red hot. A simple way to understand this is to think about what happens to the wires inside a toaster when you turn it on.
Electric heaters produce heat using electric resistance coils that consist of a series of tightly coiled wires. When the furnace turns on and electricity flows through the coils, they quickly start giving off large amounts of heat. Once the coils are hot, the furnace blower turns on and starts drawing cool air in through the return vents and ductwork. As the cool air comes into the furnace, the heat flowing out of the coils causes the air temperature to rapidly increase. The blower then draws the warm air out of the furnace and into the supply ductwork where it then blows out of all of the supply vents.
How Gas Furnaces Work
Gas furnaces heat using combustion. Inside the combustion chamber are a series of burners that burn either natural gas or propane, which produces extremely hot combustion gases or fumes. The hot fumes are drawn out of the combustion chamber and flow through a series of curved steel tubes known as a heat exchanger. As the hot fumes flow through the tubes, the metal quickly heats up to a temperature of around 150 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inside the furnace is a low-temperature limit switch that constantly measures the temperature of the heat exchanger. Once the heat exchanger reaches a certain temperature, usually around 160 degrees, the low-temperature limit switch activates. This closes the blower circuit so that electricity flows to it, and it starts running and pulling in cool air. As the blower draws the cool air over the heat exchanger tubes, all of the heat radiating off them instantly raises the temperature of the air by anywhere from 70 to 100 degrees.
The air does cool off a bit as it moves through the ductwork, but it is still usually at least 120 degrees when it flows out of the vents. This is why gas furnaces are so effective as all of the hot air coming out of the vents quickly raises the ambient air temperature to the desired temperature within 10 to 15 minutes.
Pros and Cons of Electric and Gas Furnaces
Gas furnaces produce far more heat at any given time, which is why they are usually the better option for larger homes or places with much colder winters. An electric furnace will typically produce sufficient heat to keep a smaller home warm. However, this type of unit would often struggle to fully heat a larger home and also during much colder weather when the home cools down quickly and much more heat is required.
Electric furnaces do have some advantages in that they are less expensive and have a longer life expectancy. Installing an electric furnace is also much easier, which further reduces the overall cost compared to a gas furnace. The reason that electric furnaces last longer is simply that they have fewer components. A gas furnace will typically only last for around 15 years, whereas an electric furnace should last well over 20 years. Electric furnaces are also simpler and cheaper to repair, and they operate much more quietly than gas furnaces as well.
Electric furnaces are also safer to use since they don't produce any harmful fumes like carbon monoxide. The fact that electric furnaces don't produce any carbon emissions technically makes them better for the environment, but this isn't always the case with larger electric furnaces as they consume large amounts of electricity. As such, you also need to consider the environmental impact of generating all of the electricity.
Energy efficiency is always an important consideration when choosing a furnace or any heating option, and this is where comparing gas and electric furnaces can be slightly confusing. Electric resistance heating always works 100% efficiently since it simply converts electrical energy directly into heat energy, which means that no energy is wasted. Traditional gas furnaces range between 80% and 89% efficiency while condensing furnaces can be anywhere from 90% to 98.5% efficient.
Despite being less efficient, gas furnaces use less energy since combustion produces much more heat. Since electric resistance heating produces less heat at a time, electric furnaces tend to consume huge amounts of energy. This means that an electric furnace will typically cost quite a bit more to operate both since it uses more energy and because electricity is more expensive than natural gas.
If you have a 1,500-square-foot home in the Columbus area, you would typically need between a 20- and 25-kilowatt electric furnace. In our area, a furnace will typically run for a total of somewhere between 9 and 12 hours each day. Based on the current average electricity rates, this means that heating a home of this size with an electric furnace would cost you between $40 and $50 per day or more than $1,000 per month. In this situation, opting for even an 80% efficient gas furnace would typically save you around $500 a year on heating costs. If you, instead, chose to install a high-efficiency condensing furnace, you'd usually end up saving well over $1,000 a year compared to using an electric furnace.
A gas furnace will not only cost you less money in the long run, but it will also help to keep your home more comfortable than heating with an electric furnace. This is partly because the air coming out of the vents is much hotter, so you'll always feel warm and toasty. You'll also be able to heat up your home much more quickly in the morning if you prefer turning your heat down at night.
Making the Right Furnace Decision
At Apex Plumbing, Heating, and Air Pros, we install both electric and gas furnaces for residential customers throughout the Columbus area, and we also serve customers in the Gahanna, Dublin, and Newark areas. If you're not sure which type of furnace is the best choice, our team can evaluate your heating needs to help you find the right furnace for your home. We also offer professional furnace repair and maintenance services as well as a full range of air conditioning, plumbing, and sewer services. For more information on your furnace replacement or installation options, give our team a call today.