Whether you’re looking for a heating system for your newly constructed home or you’re ready to replace your existing one, a furnace is a great option. This type of heating system can run on various fuels, including propane, natural gas, heating oil, and even electricity. Two of the most popularly used are electric and gas furnaces. But which one is best for your needs?

How Do They Heat?

There is a stark difference in how a gas furnace works compared to an electric furnace. With a gas furnace, combustion is used to create heat. When your thermostat tells your furnace to turn on, your gas furnace will pipe natural gas to its burner.

The ignitor in the burner lights this gas on fire via combustion. Then, the heated gas enters a narrow chamber known as the furnace’s heat exchanger. Cold air from your home is circulated across the heat exchanger, where it absorbs the heat created. Then, the heated air is forced back to the rooms of your home through your ducting. This process continues until your thermostat senses that the ambient room temperature is at your desired temperature setting.

An electric furnace works much differently. Instead of using an ignitor to burn fuel, it uses heating elements. These elements are powered by electricity and emit heat. As air gets pulled into the furnace, it crosses the heat exchanger, where the heating elements are found. The air will absorb the heat and then get forced back into the various rooms of your home to increase their temperature.

Energy Efficiency

When it comes to energy efficiency levels for heating systems, they are based on AFUE ratings. This stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency, and the higher the number, the more energy efficient the unit is. When it comes to natural gas furnaces, they have a typical AFUE rating of 78% to 84%. This means that for every input of gas, only between 78% and 84% of its energy is converted into heat. That leaves 16% to 22% of that energy being lost during the heating process.

Electric furnaces have a typical efficiency rating of 100%. This means that no energy input is lost when creating heat for your home. There’s no denying the fact that an electric furnace well outperforms natural gas-powered furnaces when it comes to the topic of energy efficiency.

Operational Costs

Apart from comparing their upfront and installation costs, it’s only fair to compare their operational costs. Pretty much everywhere in the country, natural gas is going to be cheaper than electricity. Therefore, electric furnaces are going to cost more per unit to run than natural gas-powered furnaces. It’s also important to note that natural gas isn’t readily available everywhere, especially in rural communities. However, electricity is widely available throughout the nation, even in those rural communities.


No matter what type of furnace you purchase, safety is always going to be at the top of your mind. When it comes to furnaces, the burning of actual fuel will create unwanted harmful exhaust fumes. For example, burning natural gas will emit carbon monoxide and other pollutant fumes into the air. Your furnace will be constructed to naturally vent these fumes to the outdoors to keep your home safe.

However, there’s always the possibility of harmful fumes leaking out of a cracked heat exchanger or a venting system that has developed a leak. You’ll need to have carbon monoxide detectors in your home to alert you of any potential hazardous fumes that are backing up into your home.

When it comes to an electric-powered furnace, there’s no creating of harmful exhaust fumes. There’s no need for venting or having carbon monoxide detectors. This can go a long way in creating peace of mind for you and your family when it comes to the safe operation of your new furnace.


As with any investment, you want to see which option is going to give you the most bang for your buck. When it comes to a natural gas furnace, you can expect it to last anywhere between 15 and 20 years. On the other hand, an electric furnace is well-known to last 20 years or more. This is simply due to the fact that the internal components of an electric furnace don’t have to deal with the byproducts of the combustion process that natural gas furnaces do.

Maintenance Requirements

Regardless of whether you invest in a gas or electric furnace, you’ll need to get yearly maintenance by a licensed HVAC professional. With an electric furnace, the maintenance process tends to be much quicker than with a gas furnace. Since gas furnaces burn fuel, they have more internal components, like a burner. All of these components need to be cleaned of byproduct debris. Additionally, the exhaust venting system will need checked for safety. This takes longer and is a more invasive maintenance process.


Another area of notable comparison between natural gas and electric furnaces is their operational noises. It’s important to note that each system will rely on ducting and the indoor air handler to circulate air through that ducting, which will produce a faint whooshing noise. However, with an electric furnace, there will be no other noise. With a natural gas-powered furnace, you’ll experience a loud rushing noise when your furnace first starts up. This is the sound of your burner igniting and gas being lit.

Reliable Heating Service

Meade’s Heating and Air offers reliable heating service for the entire Sterling, VA region. We can also help with all of your cooling, indoor air quality, gas line, air duct sealing, water heater, and ductwork needs. Simply contact our office today to schedule your heating installation service.

Meade's Heating and Air

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