There are many ways to heat your Fresno, CA home, but some options are far more efficient and cost-effective than others. As California prepares to phase out most gas-fired appliances, many consumers are exploring their options in electric furnaces. While both gas and electric furnaces provide even, whole-house heating, their fuel sources, safety risks, and performance are markedly different. Read on to find out how these two furnace types stack up.

How Gas-Fired Furnaces Work

Gas furnaces burn or combust natural gas to produce heat in their burners. This heat is then routed through one or more heat exchangers to warm them up. Air is pushed by furnace blower motors through heat exchangers to collect this heat. Once warmed, this air is distributed by HVAC ducting all throughout buildings.

Unfortunately, gas-fired furnaces don’t burn fuel completely. Their incomplete combustion of natural gas produces harmful exhaust. This exhaust includes carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and carbon dioxide (CO2). If breathed in, carbon monoxide can lead to nausea, headaches, confusion, and even death. To prevent exposure, all combustion-related gases are routed out of homes via furnace venting systems.

Gas Furnaces Require Electricity Too

Absent of a backup generator, having the power go out in your Fresno home will mean having to do without heating until your electrical service is restored. Surprisingly, this is just as true with gas furnaces as it is with electric models. Although gas furnaces burn natural gas to produce heat, they require electricity to support their basic functions.

While older furnaces had gas pilot lights, modern gas furnaces have electric ignition switches that require electricity to start up. Moreover, the blower motors that power the blowers fans in gas furnaces require a constant supply of electricity as well. Thus, despite what many consumers believe, owning a gas furnace won’t make your heating system impervious to power outages. You’ll still need a backup heating plan to see you through temporary power loss.

One Heat Exchanger or Two?

All gas furnaces sold throughout United States have annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings. AFUE ratings denote how much of the fuel used by furnaces is converted into usable heat energy. For instance, a furnace with an AFUE rating of 85% loses 15% of the fuel it consumes during combustion. This wasted heat energy escapes with exhaust gases and is routed out of the building. It’s important to note that the baseline efficiency losses reflected in AFUE ratings don’t account for the energy waste that also occurs in air distribution systems. Uninsulated and unsealed ducting could be responsible for additional heat losses of up to 40%.

To minimize combustion-related energy loss, some furnaces have second heat exchangers. These capture the heat from condensed gases and use it to heat buildings before exhaust gases are routed out. Furnaces with second heat exchangers have AFUE ratings between 90% and 98%. The best of these models lose just 2% of the energy they consume during fuel combustion.

How Do Electric Furnaces Work?

Rather than gas burners for fuel combustion, electric furnaces have electric heating elements. These heating elements are confined in an insulated cabinet. Each furnace has between three and six electricity-resistant elements in its housing, and each element is between 3.5 and 7 kilowatts.

When blower motors in electric furnaces turn on, they move air over these components to collect their warmth. The heating elements in an electric furnace function a lot like the heating coils in hair dryers and toaster ovens. No fuel is burned and no exhaust gases are released. For homeowners who are interested in reducing their carbon footprints, this is one of several factors that make electric furnaces so appealing. There’s also no risk of having carbon monoxide or other harmful exhaust gases enter the building.

All electric furnaces have AFUE ratings of 100%. Even basic, low-thrill models produce zero energy waste. At first glance, this makes electric furnaces the more efficient of the two.

The Bigger Picture

Many homes throughout Fresno and the surrounding communities have the infrastructure in place for supporting gas furnaces. If you’ve been using a gas furnace as your primary heating solution, installing an electric model could require significant building modifications. Although electric furnaces often have lower upfront prices than gas furnaces, this doesn’t account for the costs of conversion. These include making necessary adjustments to electrical systems, having gas lines capped off, and refining furnace storage areas among other things. Depending upon the size and layout of your home, your total installation costs for an electric furnace could be significantly higher.

There’s also the fact that natural gas is cheaper than electricity. Based upon average utility rates throughout the nation, you’ll pay just over $40 per British Thermal Unit (BTU) to run your electric furnace. Comparatively, heat provided by a natural gas furnace costs about $16 per BTU. Thus, even if your home requires few modifications to accommodate a gas furnace and your installation costs are much lower, your operating costs might prove higher over time.

However, advocates of electric heating have found other ways to combat this difference. When paired with strategies for tightening your home’s envelope, you may find that with an electric furnace, you actually need less heat to warm your living space up and keep it that way.

California’s Push for Electrification

There are definitely merits to switching to an all-electric heating system. To start, given that carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill, many homeowners are relieved to get CO-producing appliances out of their homes. Electric furnaces don’t directly contribute to global warming and so, each time you turn your furnace on, there’s no need to worry about your environmental impact.

It’s additionally important to note that the State of California and state legislators are pushing hard to phase gas appliances out. In 2022, the California Air Resources Board voted to ban the sale of gas-fired water heaters and furnaces throughout the state by the year 2030. Many local municipalities are jumping on board as well. While you can certainly still buy a gas furnace, the availability of these appliances is fast decreasing. Over time, this will also mean having limited access to knowledgeable HVAC technicians within the state who are trained and qualified to maintain and repair gas-fired heating equipment.

Which Option Is Right for You

To stay on par with California’s ambitious efficiency standards, gradually electrifying your home is important. Beneficial electrification or the act of prioritizing efficiency upgrades that provide the greatest returns is recommended. This way, even as you’re spending money to swap outdated, gas-fired appliances out, you’re recognizing worthwhile returns. For most homeowners, HVAC system use accounts for 40% to 50% of total monthly energy costs. When paired with sufficiently tight home envelopes and other efficiency measures, upgrading to an electric furnace could produce notable savings over time.

Switching to electric appliances is also important to do in an increasingly eco-conscious environment. If you intend to sell your home within the next several years, having a furnace with an efficiency rating of 100% could boost both the value and appeal of your property.

We’re committed to helping homeowners in Fresno, CA and the surrounding cities make informed decisions about their heating equipment. We offer heating, cooling, plumbing, and indoor air quality services. We also provide home energy audits, duct sealing, and insulation. To find out more about electric furnaces or to schedule an appointment, give Allbritten a call today.

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