Introduction – Fuel Source Vs Heating Technology
Does a heater use gas? Is my furnace gas or electric? Is central air electric or gas? Central heating is a common way to keep our homes warm during cold winter months. While many people wonder whether central heating is gas or electric, the answer is that both are options.
The major point to keep in mind is that this question is about the fuel source. The other question people often have is whether forced air or baseboard heating is gas or electric. This question is more about the heating modality or technology. These are two axes of choices. In fact these combinations are all possible. Let’s make a table to show what are possible.
|Forced Air||Baseboard or Radiator|
Therefore, regardless of whether a heating system uses gas or electric, the heating modality or technology is separate from the fuel source. For the latter, baseboard, forced air, and hydronic heating are all examples of different technologies that can run off either gas or electricity. The situation is different for air conditioners. All air conditioners that we know are run on electricity. There are very few, possibly none, air conditioners that run off natural gas.
Home Fuel Sources – Natural Gas Vs. Electricity
When we talk about “gas” we mean “natural gas“. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is used as an energy source in many homes. Natural gas is a versatile fuel source that is widely used in homes for heating, cooking, water heating, clothes drying, fireplaces, generators, and outdoor grilling. It is a reliable energy source that can be used for many different applications. Natural gas is also a relatively clean and efficient source of energy, making it a popular choice for many homeowners. The carbon emissions of natural gas is about half or less emitting than oil and coal, the really dirty fossil fuels.
Electricity is also used as an energy source in homes. At the point of generation, the electricity is generated from a mix of sources: oil, coal, natural gas, renewables like solar and wind. The burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity is in fact one of the big sources of carbon emissions that ShinkThatFootprint talks about. Electricity is versatile and can be used for all of the same things as natural gas. Electricity is a reliable energy source and can be used for many of the same applications as natural gas. In recent years, we’ve seen a very steady, small shift to renewables that continues.
There are heaters available that use one or the other, and air conditioners only run off electricity.
Natural Gas As A Heating Fuel Source
When it comes to natural gas central heating, there are a few built-in advantages. Natural gas is the lowest carbon source of fossil fuel energy, making it a relatively environmentally friendly choice. It is also relatively efficient, with many brands and models available for different sized houses and climates. However, there is a possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning with gas heating as with any usage of natural gas, so it is important to make sure the system is properly installed and maintained.
Forced air natural gas heating works by using a furnace to heat air and then pushing the air through ductwork and into the home. The furnace typically has a blower fan that circulates the warm air throughout the house. Hydronic natural gas heating works by heating water and then circulating it through pipes to radiators or other devices that can transfer the heat. The hot water is then returned to the boiler to be reheated.
Our position is that you should switch to a heat pump that runs on clean grid electricity if possible, or get solar. But failing that, natural gas is better than any of the other fuel sources including straight electric resistive heating.
Electricity As A Heating Fuel Source
Electric central heating also has advantages. If the electric grid is low carbon intensity, then electric heating can be more environmentally friendly. However, electric heating is much less efficient than gas heating, unless it is a heat pump. From our estimates, electric heating is 2-3 times more expensive to heat a medium sized home. The only situation we’ve ever recommended electric resistive heating is for a small apartment of 500 sq ft or less. Electric heating typically takes longer to reach the desired temperature.
Electric heating works by using electricity to power a device that generates heat, such as a heater or a heat pump. The device then transfers the heat to the air or water, and the air or water is then circulated throughout the house (hence forced air vs baseboard or radiator). Electric heat pumps are highly efficient but regular electric heating as we describe above is not as efficient as natural gas heating.
In most parts of the US, electric heating is not very environmentally friendly because it’s generated burning fossil fuels.
Air Conditioners Only Run Off Electricity
Air conditioners are different from central heating systems. Air conditioners only run off electricity, not natural gas gas. One of the only ways to set up a home air conditioner to run off natural gas is to power the home with a natural gas electricity generator. This is a good option to have in case of an emergency, but it is more expensive than running off the electric grid.
Sure there are some natural gas air conditioners that are more of a novelty. For example, Scientific American featured a new device that generates electricity at the point of air conditioning using natural gas as an energy source. Clearly if it appears in Scientific American it’s not a common consumer appliance and will take a few years to penetrate the market, work out technical problems etc.
How Can I Tell If I Have Gas Or Electric Heat?
There are several ways to tell. The easiest way to tell if you have natural gas or electric heat in your house is to check the main power source to the furnace. If your furnace is connected to a natural gas line, then it is likely that you have natural gas heat. If you are connected to an electric grid, then it is likely that you have electric heat.
There are indirect ways to tell too. If you have no gas hook up or you don’t get a gas bill, then obviously your heating must be electric. If your gas bill doesn’t change over the winter months, then you’re not using gas for heating. Conversely, if the electric bill goes up during winter, then that’s a good sign you’re using electric heat. But even if you have gas, you might have an electric heater that doesn’t use the natural gas.
A Device That Both Heats And Cools
So far we talked about central heating or central cooling appliances. An Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) is an energy-efficient system that both heats and cools buildings by leveraging the temperature differences between the outdoor air and indoor air. This HVAC system uses a refrigerant cycle to absorb heat from one place and release it in another.
In the cooler months, the ASHP absorbs heat from the outdoor air and transfers it inside to warm the building. Conversely, during the warmer months, the heat pump works like an air conditioner, removing heat from inside the building and releasing it outdoors, thereby cooling the interior. Heat pumps can be ducted, using a network of ducts to distribute conditioned air throughout the building, or ductless, where individual indoor units are installed in specific rooms or zones.
Ductless systems, also known as mini-split systems, can offer more targeted and energy-efficient heating and cooling as they allow for room-by-room temperature control. Both systems offer year-round comfort, making them an attractive choice for many homeowners and businesses.
Summary – Is Central Heating Gas Or Electric
Central heating comes in both types of being fueled by either gas or electric. So what do we recommend? If you’re getting a new heating system, we advise you either get a heat pump using electricity, or a natural gas heating system for its efficiency, or if you have your own solar generation capacity, get any type of electric heating because the energy is free for you! We recommend against getting a plain, electric resistive furnace. Natural gas or electric heat pump will save you money. If you’re getting an air conditioner, you’re limited to getting an electric powered one.