What you need to know about gas and electric furnaces

As anyone who has lived here long enough can tell you, our winter nights in Albuquerque can get cold. You need a reliable furnace to keep your home warm through the winter season. You need a furnace. However, with so many options out there, how do you know which furnace to buy? How do you decide between an electric and gas furnace?

In this article, we’ll explore how gas and electric furnaces work and some of the most important differences between them. We’ll then get into cost, efficiency, and longevity, as well as how you can find the right furnace for your home.

At Wagner, we’re your home’s best friend. For generations, Albuquerque homeowners have trusted Wagner with their winter heating and summer cooling. If you need a new furnace installed in your home, talk to our team and get started with a free in-home estimate.

How do furnaces work?

At a basic level, both gas and electric furnaces create heat energy for your home. This separates them from heat pumps, which use a form of the refrigeration process to pull heat energy from outside air and move it inside. In contrast, furnaces transform fuel into heat energy.

As you might have already guessed, gas furnaces use natural gas to do so, while electric furnaces use electricity. Here’s a quick breakdown of how each works:

Gas Furnaces

Gas furnaces use combustion to generate heat energy, which is then transferred to the air inside your home. Your gas furnace ignites a small amount of natural gas in a sealed compartment, generating this heat.

As air moves through the heat exchanger, it’s warmed. Your furnace blower then pushes this heated air out through the vents and registers of your home, raising the indoor temperature.

Electric Furnaces

Unlike gas furnaces, electric furnaces do not use combustion to generate heat. Instead, the inside of your electric furnace features specialized wiring. As electric current runs through these wires, they become superheated and start emitting heat energy. This heats the air in the furnace, which is pushed out into your ductwork and throughout your home.

This heating method is fundamentally similar to that used by a toaster or hair dryer—just on a much larger scale!

Which furnace costs less?

When it comes to furnace pricing, the energy type is just one part of the story. Your furnace cost will ultimately come down to a number of variables: its make and model, its efficiency (more on this below), its advanced features, and its size. For instance, Carrier offers a wide variety of gas furnaces at different price ranges, depending on what features they have.

Exclude these other variables, however, and you’ll find that electric furnaces are generally less expensive than gas ones. However, it’s typically not a very large gap. You’ll also find that just going by the upfront sticker price isn’t a great way to gauge just how much you’ll pay over time. As we’ll discuss in the next section, gas furnaces are generally less expensive to run than electric furnaces.

Talk to your Wagner HVAC expert about what you can expect to pay on your monthly utility bills—it might make you rethink what you’re paying for your system in the present.

Which type of furnace is more energy-efficient?

The energy-efficiency of any furnace is measured using something called Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). AFUE gauges just how efficiently a furnace converts its energy source (gas or electricity) into heat energy. A furnace with a higher AFUE is more energy-efficient and typically less expensive to operate.

We say “typically” because AFUE is actually an imperfect means of comparing gas and electric furnaces. The combustion process, by its very nature, is generally less energy-efficient: combusting fuel to create heat is inefficient compared to using electricity to create heat. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that electric furnaces are cheaper to run. Natural gas is often less expensive than electricity, which means a less efficient gas furnace might be easier on your household budget than an electric model.

If you’re comparing electric and gas furnaces, you can use AFUE to compare the relative efficiency of one gas furnace to another gas furnace, or one electric furnace to another electric furnace. Just use caution when drawing conclusions from comparing the efficiency of a gas furnace to that of an electric model.

When in doubt, look on the sticker for information about the average annual energy cost. Or, better yet, talk to our HVAC experts to get a better idea of just how much your new furnace will save you.

A Wagner technician discusses the efficiency differences between gas and electric furnaces with a local homeowner.

Which furnace is easier to install?

That ultimately depends on your home. If you want to install a gas furnace and you already have a natural gas hookup in your garage, you’re already halfway there. Most homeowners with a gas line opt for a gas furnace—you already have the line in-place, after all.

Installing a gas furnace gets trickier when your home doesn’t already have a gas line or connection. At Wagner, we can help you navigate through the process of adding one, but it’s not quite as straightforward as your other options.

If you don’t have a gas line, an electric furnace is probably the easier solution for your home’s heating needs. This type of furnace just needs an electrical hookup, which nearly every home has in the garage. If not, our electricians are happy to help configure your electrical panel and garage circuit with this in mind.

Which type of furnace lasts longer?

Gas furnaces have an average lifespan of 15-20 years, while electric furnaces last anywhere from 20-30 years. In most cases, an electric furnace will outlive a gas model: with no combustion process, there’s just less long-term stress on the furnace.

It’s important to note that both fuel types will last longer with seasonal maintenance from the professionals here at Wagner. Don’t neglect your furnace’s annual check-up if you want to get more years out of your system!

Have Wagner guide you to the right furnace

If you’re currently debating between an electric and gas furnace, you’re probably at the point where it makes sense to bring an expert. So often, the decision between a gas and electric furnace comes down to fit—in other words, which system makes the most sense for your home. Our HVAC experts are the right people to help you figure that out.

Contact our team to set up your free in-home estimate here in Albuquerque. We’ll send one of our furnace installation professionals out to your home to take measurements, talk to you about your heating needs, and figure out which furnace is right for you.