The pros and cons of electric furnaces
If your furnace is starting to show its age, you'll need to replace it before a breakdown leaves you in the cold. When you do, you'll want to consider all of the options available to you instead of simply finding an identical replacement.
One option is an electric furnace, which heats a home in the same way as a gas-powered furnace but relies on a different source of energy. While these furnaces have a number of up-front benefits, you'll need to decide whether they'll be more advantageous over the entire lifespan of the device.
Electric furnaces work in a way similar to toasters. Apollo Heating & Air Conditioning, a company in Maplewood, Minn. says the furnace uses electrical resistance in a series of coils to generate heat, which is then distributed through ductwork by a blower fan.
The components in this system are generally less expensive and easier to install than those in a gas furnace, since you won't need to tap into gas lines or vent the furnace. The purchase price for an electric furnace may cost just one-quarter or one-half of what you would pay for a similar gas furnace.
These qualities also make the furnace easier to repair and maintain. As long as you take the proper precautions, such as cutting power to the furnace, you can keep the furnace in good condition by doing the maintenance tasks on your own. The home sustainability resource Modernize.com says these steps include brushing dirt and debris out of the air blower, replacing filters, and cleaning off the motor housing.
Electric furnaces tend to be quieter, more durable, and longer lasting than gas furnaces. The Entek Corporation, an HVAC company in Longview, Wash., says electric models are usually rated for 20 to 30 years, compared to 10 to 20 years for gas models.
There are also certain safety benefits to electric furnaces. Gas furnaces can potentially emit carbon monoxide in the home, so homeowners must regularly check the device and keep CO alarms handy to make sure this poisonous gas is not present. The home improvement site HomeAdvisor says electric furnaces don't carry the risk of an explosion, while gas furnaces do.
Electricity is more readily available than natural gas, which is generally only available in neighborhoods where gas lines are present. An electric furnace also eliminates the need to order deliveries of propane or heating oil.
Electric furnaces are highly efficient. Some of the heat produced by gas furnaces is lost with the gases ventilated from the home. By contrast, all or nearly all of the heat produced by electric furnaces is maintained.
Prices for propane and other combustion fuels are prone to considerable swings. Electricity costs tend to be more stable, making it easier to predict how much you'll pay to use the heating system during the season.
While electric furnaces have cheaper purchase and installation costs, they also cost more to run. Modernize.com says the typical gas furnace is about 63 percent less expensive to operate than an electric furnace. As a result, the up-front savings you realize from an electric furnace can quickly be obliterated by the higher costs of using the system each winter.
Electric furnaces also tend to heat up a home more slowly than gas furnaces. The Entek Corporation says this usually makes gas furnaces a more efficient choice in extremely cold temperatures, since they are better able to generate higher temperatures in a home during these conditions.
Homeowners considering an electric furnace for environmental purposes should find out how the electricity at their home is generated. Some of these techniques, such as the combustion of coal, can be inefficient and produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases. As a result, natural gas or propane may actually be a cleaner option for heating the home.
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