Between the cost of gas heat and the cost of electric heat, which is more expensive? Ultimately, the costs of gas heat versus electric heat are dependent on multiple factors - the type of system you have, whether your house is powered by renewable energy or not, and so on.
In general, we'd argue that the best and most affordable alternative for our Richmond, VA climate is one that has a gas furnace combined with an electric heat pump or geothermal heat pump. In other words, the answer is, both!
The Debate: Gas Heat vs. Electric Heat
Here are some of the factors to consider when you're deciding which type of heating source to use:
How much do you use your heating system compared with your A/C system?
Here in Richmond, we have chilly falls, cold winters, brisk springs. and hot summers. The average Richmond-area homeowner uses their heating source for about six or seven months out of the calendar year. That extended heating period means you need the most cost-efficient heater you can afford. In this region, natural gas is notably more affordable than oil, so we usually recommend people consider gas over oil heat.
Natural Gas in Richmond VA
Also, natural gas is run all through Richmond and the surrounding areas, making it easy to tap into the city's gas lines. This eliminates the need to monitor fuel levels and order more fuel for your heater. Instead, natural gas is cost-effective and on-demand whenever you want to fire up the heater.
Electric Heat in Richmond VA
On the flip side, electric heat can feel like the happy medium between a barely-used oil heater and purchasing a new system. Many clients opt to use efficient space heaters as an alternative, but this isn't ideal either. It makes for inconsistent heat as opposed to more universal, zoned comfort.
The Discomfort Associated with Electric Heat
Also, electric heat is notorious for sucking all the moisture out of the home, making an already dry climate even drier. However, it's possible to combine a gas furnace, electric heat pump, and whole-home humidifier to help your home benefit from the best of both worlds without sacrificing whole-home comfort or indoor air quality.
How does your heating season compare with the cooling season?
When you consider that natural gas is considered quite affordable and that the heating season is slightly longer than the cooling season, many homeowners find that a combination gas furnace paired with an electric heat pump is arguably the ideal heating and cooling setup for homes in Richmond, VA and the surrounding Central Virginia region.
Are you still using oil heat in your home?
Notice we've emphasized "gas," rather than "oil" to make these arguments. If you're still using an oil furnace, it's worth considering an upgrade to a gas alternative. Not only are oil furnaces significantly more expensive to run when compared with natural gas, the maintenance requirements are often more expensive as well.
If you're hung up on oil furnaces, please take the following into consideration:
Oil costs significantly more than natural gas.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) states the average cost of heating a home (October through March) with natural gas is $732 per year. Your oil furnace costs a whopping average of $2,535 to fuel each year! This is largely due to the rising and inconsistent costs of oil over that past few decades.
Since oil tanks have to be filled, this can make for big, one-time or two-time bills per year that are more difficult to manage with a typical household budget. On the flip side, natural gas is billed monthly and is more easily absorbed into the monthly utility expenses, especially as you make the transition from the summertime cooling expenses into your heating season.
Most oil-fueled heating systems are outdated and inefficient.
Most oil furnaces are outdated, with the majority of them operating in older homes in the northeast. As a result of oil vs. gas prices, oil heaters tend to be one of the most expensive appliances in a home.
Natural gas is better for the environment.
In theory, oil is much harder on the eco-system than natural gas. However, this point is debatable as the result of fracking and other controversial methods used to extract gas. Ideally, experts advise all of us to move more towards renewable energy sources - like solar and geothermal heating and cooling systems (more on that below).
That being said, your modern, efficient natural gas heater will burn cleaner than it's oil heating counterpart.
Oil heaters cost more to maintain in the long-run.
When we discuss changes to heating and cooling systems with our clients, we like to bring up the difference between first-time and lifetime costs. The first-time costs are the ones that initially cause sticker shock - they pertain to the cost of a new system, any additional/accessory parts required, and the installation/labor costs. At first invoice glance, you may feel your oldie-but-goodie oil furnace does the job just fine.
However, lifetime costs matter. Beyond the cost difference required to fuel that oil system (remember that $2,535/year spent on oil, versus $732/year spent on gas?), oil heaters are more expensive to maintain each year. The maintenance required for oil-burning heaters tends to be more expensive because there are often more steps involved in maintaining that type of system.
Thus, over the long term, upgrading from an oil to a natural gas system will more than pay for itself, after which you benefit from energy savings put back into your pocket.
Have You Considered a Geothermal Heating & Cooling System?
According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, affordable and environmentally clean system for heating and cooling buildings. This area of the country is ideal for geothermal heating and cooling systems. Relying on the ambient temperature of the earth to stabilize - and therefore minimize - the energy required to heat and cool recirculating air, geothermal energy systems are a renewable energy source that makes very smart sense in this region.
Geothermal heat pumps work best in areas where underground temperatures (50° to 60° F) are warmer than outside air temperatures during the cool months, and cooler than outside air temperatures during the warmer months - which describes our climate here in Richmond, Virginia in a nutshell. Geothermal pumps transfer heat from the ground into the forced air system during the winter and then reverse that process when you're ready to cool your home down in the summer.
Geothermal Vs. Gas Vs. Electric Heat
If you're considering replacing an outdated heating and cooling system, you may want to skip the debate between gas vs electric heat altogether and schedule a visit with an experienced HVAC technician to discuss geothermal options.
According to energy.gov, "though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5 to 10 years."
Also, the life of a geothermal heating/cooling system is about 25-years, longer than traditional HVAC systems, and the system life for the ground loops are upwards of 50 years or longer.
Get a Heating Cost Estimate for Your Home
Are you ready to make better choices about your heating system? Contact the experts at Howell's Heating & Air. Our professional, certified technicians have improved Richmond and surrounding area homeowers' comfort systems for nearly 50 years.