Before you can decide whether to opt for a gas or electric furnace for your home, you should understand the basics of how furnaces work and the main differences between gas and electric.
Sounds easy – but there are quite a few misconceptions and misunderstandings with furnaces. And that’s not good for such an essential element of your Calgary home, one which most of us rely on to make our long winters seem a little shorter.
Let’s start with how your furnace works and then consider the main differences so that you can make an informed decision about which is best for you.
Top Article: What to do if your furnace stops working
Your furnace appliance may sit down in the basement or utility room, unloved, unnoticed and unconsidered until it seizes up and you are faced with January’s plummeting temperatures and no heating.
In the past, when wood or coal was used, a furnace was a relatively simple concept. Nowadays, with modern gas and electric furnaces adopting a complex array of technology and a network of components and compliance all working in delicate balance with each other, furnaces take a bit more getting your head around.
That’s why most homeowners leave it to the professionals like us. But we want you to understand how your furnace works even if we don’t think you should be attempting to fix it without our assistance.
So, let’s consider the typical scenario: a furnace thermostat set to around 21-23°C. The job of the thermostat is to regulate the air temperature in your home by signalling the furnace to start when the temperature drops below the set temperature. Most thermostats are programmable.
When a modern furnace starts, it goes through a five-step process to heat the home:
Thermostats often start clicking when the signal is sent to the furnace to start.
The above process applies to both gas and electric furnaces – except for step two, where resistance coils or tubing is used in electric furnaces to create heat instead of gas burners.
Modern furnaces have reached a high level of efficiency with the above process. They are more energy-efficient, have fewer problems (if well-maintained), and are safer for the household.
Gas vs electric furnaces: What's the difference?
As explained above, gas and electric furnaces function in almost the same way – except for the initial heating process (gas uses burners and electric uses coils).
There are pros and cons of both types of furnaces. Let’s take a quick look at how they fare in terms of efficiency, costs/installation, and how suitable they are for Calgary’s cold, dry, continental climate.
Heating performance and efficiency
A modern gas or electric furnace is highly efficient compared to a model made 20 or 30 years ago.Gas furnaces are more popular in Calgary largely because they heat homes faster. However, gas furnaces are less efficient than electric furnaces. Even the most modern ones can only reach 98.5 percent AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) while electrical furnaces run at close to 100 percent AFUE.
The main “con” of electric furnaces is that they take a while to heat your home so if you hit a sudden cold snap, you need to be ready in advance – not always possible in Calgary.
Other climate considerations
The cold, dry winters in Alberta present other challenges for homeowners and the furnaces they choose.
As well as the low temperatures, a furnace can make dry air even drier inside your home. The hot air circulating in your home dries out everything it touches. It can even cause cracking and warping to wooden furniture and discomfort for people particularly susceptible to dry air.
Both gas and electric furnaces can lead to these issues, but it is more common with gas furnaces because they heat the home so quickly. The rapid-changing temperature of the air can be harsh on the quality of the air. With electric furnaces, the more gradual heating process generally has a lesser impact on the air quality in the home.
Humidifiers are a good antidote for dry air in the home and can reduce the drying impact of a busy furnace.
Cost and installation
With any furnace, there are three costs to consider: purchase, installation and running costs.
Electric furnaces are generally more expensive to buy but cheaper to install.
Gas furnaces always require experienced professionals to install them for safety reasons (the dangers of carbon monoxide gases leaking to the home and combustibility).
Most electric furnaces are also installed by professionals (electrical wiring knowledge is required) but they are simpler to install and this helps keep the costs down.
Overall, the purchase and installation costs of electric furnaces are lower than gas furnaces and make them a good option for first-time homeowners in Calgary. However, the running costs can be much higher for electric furnaces. In Calgary’s cold, dry climate, where the lack of humidity in the home can make it feel even colder, this should be a major consideration.
Fit and maintain the right furnace in your home
Whether you choose a gas or electric furnace for your home, a little preventative maintenance can save money on expensive furnace repairs in the long run.
Whatever type of furnace system you have, we will customize a maintenance plan that works for your budget and repair faulty furnaces if necessary.
Call Alpha Plumbing on 403-470-5785 to arrange an honest assessment from a qualified technician.