Should I heat with electricity or natural gas?

October 15, 2014

Natural Resources Canada reports that home heating accounts for about 60 per cent of a household’s energy consumption. That means the kind of heating system you choose has a direct influence on your budget. Should you heat with electricity or natural gas? To answer that question, you need to look at a few different factors.

The short-term and the long-term

When it comes time to choose between heating with electricity or natural gas, cost is often the main consideration. It may be helpful to look at the installation cost of the system you prefer as a long-term investment, as long as it promises annual operating costs that you can afford. For example, the installation of electric baseboards is less expensive than that of a gas system; however the price of electricity has gone up in many areas in recent years.

  • The initial investment. To change a system, you’ll have to come up with some capital. You’ll be paying for installation labour costs, the heating system itself, connection to the electricity grid or gas lines, an upgrade to 200-amp service for electric heating, and thermostats.
  • The annual operating expenses. These costs depend on your heating needs, the price of energy and the efficiency of your heating system. Your heating needs depend on the local climate, the size of your house, its degree of insulation and your thermostat settings. You can contact the local gas and electric companies and ask for estimates on average user costs in your area. You may decide that in the end, it’s more economical to upgrade your existing heating system rather than convert to a different energy source.

The pros and cons of electricity and natural gas

  • Many regions in Canada generate hydroelectric power. Water-driven turbines are a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute. For regions that rely on nuclear power-generated electricity, that is a moot question.
  • Electric heating systems come in many forms, such as radiant floor heating, electric furnaces and baseboard heaters. With electricity, there is little risk of explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • The installation of electric baseboard heaters is inexpensive, whereas the price of outfitting a home with radiant floor heating or with an electric or natural gas furnace is much steeper (furnaces require ductwork and radiant heating requires floor modifications). In some regions, the user price of electricity is more stable than that of fossil fuels, including natural gas.
  • Natural gas is more polluting than electricity and in many cases is extracted from the ground via fracking. However, it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and is endorsed by some environmentalists as a preferable alternative to oil fuel. There is an abundance of natural gas reserves, and so prices are not likely to rise exorbitantly any time soon.
  • Appliances fueled by natural gas provide heat and hot water faster than electric appliances, and most can continue to operate during a power outage.
  • Natural gas is usually cheaper than electricity, but the infrastructure that delivers it to homes is not yet in place in many areas, especially outlying regions.

So, should I heat with electricity or natural gas?

In sum, there is no miracle answer. The most appropriate energy source for you depends largely on your home and your neighbourhood. Whichever you choose, you’ll improve your home’s energy efficiency and lower your power bill by beefing up your home’s insulation and installing programmable thermostats.

Should I heat with electricity or natural gas?
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