What Is an Electric Furnace and How Does It Work?

Home basement furnace unit

In recent years, the quest for more sustainable and cost-effective home heating systems has propelled homeowners to explore a plethora of options. Among the contenders, the electric furnace stands out due to its straightforward operation and modest upfront cost. But what is an electric furnace and how does it work? 

In essence, an electric furnace kicks into action by drawing in cold air, warming it over electric heating coils, and ushering the cozy air through your home’s ductwork. With this backdrop, let’s delve deeper into the inner workings and merits of electric furnaces in battling the harsh winter chills.

What Is an Electric Furnace?

An electric furnace is a heating unit designed to provide warmth to your indoor spaces during cold weather. Unlike gas furnaces, which use propane or natural gas as fuel, electric furnaces use electricity to produce heat. This makes them a convenient choice for homeowners who have access to reliable electricity and prefer an alternative to gas heating. Their straightforward design and operation require no gas line or venting system, simplifying installation and reducing maintenance concerns.

How Does an Electric Furnace Work?

Infographic explaining how an electric furnace works.
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Let’s break down the workings of an electric furnace into understandable chunks:

Step 1: Thermostat Triggers the Electric Furnace

The process begins when the thermostat detects a dip in the room temperature, triggering it to send a signal to the electric furnace to spring into action. The thermostat is a crucial component as it sets the desired temperature and communicates with the furnace to maintain this level of warmth within your home.

Step 2: Heating Coils Heat Up

Upon receiving the signal from the thermostat, the heating coils start to warm up. These heating coils, managed by sequencers to ensure a balanced operation, are the core of the electric furnace’s functioning. Similar to how a toaster’s elements heat up, the electric furnace’s heating coils warm up when electricity passes through them. These coils are crafted from materials with high electrical resistance, which is key to their ability to generate heat efficiently.

Step 3: Blower Fan Distributes Warm Air

Once the heating coils reach the desired temperature, the blower fan kicks in. The blower fan draws in cold indoor air and propels it over the heated coils, warming the air in the process. 

After this, the fan continues to play a pivotal role by propelling the now warm air through the ductwork, spreading it throughout your home to raise the indoor temperature. The blower fan ensures that the warm air reaches different areas of your house, making sure every room receives the required warmth.

Step 4: Continuous Monitoring and Adjustment

The thermostat continues to monitor the room temperature diligently. If it detects that the room temperature has dropped below the set point, it sends a signal to reignite the heating process in the furnace, ensuring a consistent level of warmth. This continuous monitoring and prompt communication between the thermostat and the electric furnace maintain a comfortable and warm ambiance in your home even as the outside temperatures plummet.

Important Parts of an Electric Furnace

1. Contactor: The Electrical Bridge

The contactor acts as a bridge for the electrical circuit within your furnace. When the thermostat sends the signal to initiate the heating process, the contactor closes the circuit, allowing electricity to flow to the heating coils. It’s like a gatekeeper that controls the flow of electric current, ensuring that the furnace gets the power it needs to operate only when necessary. This component is pivotal for both the safe and efficient operation of your furnace.

2. Sequencer: The Orderly Conductor

Sequencers are the maestros conducting the furnace’s operation in a methodical and orderly manner. They ensure that the heating coils and blower fan function in a sequenced, staggered manner, promoting energy efficiency. By controlling when each element heats up and when the blower fan kicks in, the sequencer ensures that your furnace doesn’t overload your electrical system or waste energy. It’s about orchestrating the components to work in harmony, making the electric furnace’s operation smooth and efficient.

3. Transformer: The Voltage Regulator

Last but not least, the transformer plays the crucial role of regulating the voltage that reaches the furnace. Electric furnaces require a specific voltage to operate efficiently and safely. The transformer steps down the house’s standard voltage to a lower, more suitable voltage that the furnace can utilize. This ensures that the furnace gets the right amount of power to function effectively, safeguarding both the furnace and your home’s electrical system from any potential harm.

Pros of Electric Furnaces

Cost-effective Installation

Service technician testing a furnace
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One of the significant advantages of electric furnaces is their relatively lower upfront installation cost, especially when pitted against other heating systems, like gas furnaces or heat pumps. The installation process is less complex, demanding fewer materials and labor, which contributes to the cost-saving aspect.

On average, installing an electric furnace costs $3,000

Ease of Maintenance

Repair technician removing furnace service panel
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Electric furnaces are known for their low-maintenance nature. Their design incorporates fewer moving parts, and the absence of gas line connections reduces the potential for leaks or blockages, making routine upkeep less daunting.


One cannot overlook the safety edge that electric furnaces have. They don’t burn fuel, which eliminates the risks associated with combustible gasses, such as carbon monoxide poisoning. This feature indeed provides a certain peace of mind, knowing that your heating system is less likely to turn into a safety hazard.

Long Lifespan

Electric furnaces are hailed for their longevity. They often outlive their gas counterparts, providing a reliable heating solution for an extended period, typically ranging between 20 to 30 years.

Cons of Electric Furnaces

Higher Energy Bills

Electric bill, energy bill and a calculator
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The flip side of the coin reveals that electric furnaces can lead to higher energy bills. The cost of electricity, especially in regions where electric rates are on the higher side, can cause a surge in monthly expenses, making this heating option less appealing.

Less Heat

Electric furnaces are often perceived as less potent in their heat output compared to gas furnaces. This might not be the ideal scenario for those residing in colder climates, where a robust heating system is crucial to combat the harsh temperatures.

Efficiency Dilemma

Although electric furnaces often boast high-efficiency ratings in terms of AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency), the cost-effectiveness gets murky when the high cost of electricity steps into the equation. The high efficiency doesn’t always translate to lower heating bills, a factor worth pondering.

Environmental Impact

Woman holding soil with a leaf, half green half burnt out due to climate change
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The environmental footprint of an electric furnace is intricately tied to the source of electricity. If the electricity comes from fossil fuels, the environmental impact is negative. However, this concern is mitigated if the source is renewable energy like solar or wind power.

The Electric Furnace Versus Alternatives

Choosing a heating system for your home is akin to selecting a long-term companion. This choice will impact not only the warmth and comfort of your abode but also your energy bills and carbon footprint. Let’s glance through the narrative of heating options available alongside the electric furnace.

Electric Furnace

Perfectly tailored for milder climates, electric furnaces triumph with their easy installation, hassle-free maintenance, and safer operation devoid of combustion-related risks.

Gas Furnace

Suited for the harsher cold climates, gas furnaces boast a robust heating performance. However, the higher upfront cost, necessity of a gas line connection, and the potential risks associated with gas combustion are factors to consider.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are the eco-conscious choice, especially when powered by renewable energy sources. The versatility of providing both heating and cooling makes them a commendable option for a comprehensive HVAC solution.

Which Furnace is Right for You? 

The right furnace will not only keep your home cozy but also align with your lifestyle, financial situation, and environmental ethos. Here’s a structured approach to help you unveil the most fitting furnace for your home:


  • Milder Climates: If you reside in an area with milder winters, an electric furnace might suffice, providing adequate warmth without overwhelming your energy bills.
  • Harsher Climates: In regions where winters are harsh, a gas furnace or heat pump could be more appropriate due to their higher heat output and efficiency in colder temperatures.

Financial Considerations

  • Upfront Costs: Assess the upfront installation costs of electric, gas, and heat pumps. Electric furnaces generally have lower initial costs, making them an attractive option for those on a tight budget.
  • Operational Costs: Consider the cost of electricity and natural gas in your area. Although electric furnaces are high-efficiency, the cost of electricity can make them less cost-effective compared to gas furnaces.

Maintenance and Longevity

Technician repairing gas furnace
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  • Maintenance Ease: Electric furnaces win in the low maintenance category, while gas furnaces require regular check-ups to ensure safe operation.
  • Lifespan: Electric furnaces tend to have a longer lifespan compared to gas furnaces, providing a prolonged heating solution.

Environmental Concerns

Look into the environmental impact of your heating choice. If your electricity source is renewable, an electric furnace or heat pump could be a more eco-friendly option.

Space and Installation Requirements

Evaluate the space available for installation. Gas furnaces may require additional space and arrangements for venting and gas lines, while electric furnaces and heat pumps may have less demanding installation requirements.

FAQ About Electric Furnaces

Are there any incentives or rebates available for upgrading to a more efficient furnace?

Yes, many regions offer incentives, rebates, or tax credits for upgrading to a high-efficiency furnace or incorporating renewable energy sources into your heating system. It’s advisable to check with local utility companies or governmental energy departments for available programs.

Can electric furnaces work in conjunction with central air conditioning systems?

Absolutely! Electric furnaces can work seamlessly with central air conditioning systems to provide a comprehensive HVAC solution for your home. The same ductwork and blower fan used to distribute warm air in winters can be utilized for cool air distribution in summers.

How does the size of an electric furnace affect its performance?

The size of the electric furnace, usually measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units), is pivotal for its performance. An adequately sized furnace ensures effective heating of your home without overworking the system, thus maintaining energy efficiency and providing consistent comfort.

Is converting from a gas furnace to an electric furnace a wise decision?

The wisdom in converting from a gas furnace to an electric furnace largely depends on individual circumstances, such as local fuel costs, the condition of the existing gas furnace, and personal preferences regarding safety and environmental impact. A thorough cost-benefit analysis and professional consultation can help in making an informed decision.

Seek HVAC Expertise When In Doubt

Embarking on a journey to replace or upgrade your heating system can be daunting. While electric furnaces offer a plethora of benefits, consulting with a local HVAC professional can help tailor a solution that aligns with your home’s needs and your budget. Engaging with experts not only enlightens you about the potential of electric furnaces but ensures a seamless installation experience, propelling you swiftly towards a warm and snug abode.

As you mull over the promise of cozy winters offered by electric furnaces, remember that a well-informed decision, complemented by professional guidance, can translate to years of comfortable and cost-effective heating.

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Rela Catucod

Rela Catucod is a dedicated writer with a love for DIY projects. Her hands-on approach to home improvement means she's always eager to learn and share how to fix common household issues. From patching up walls to unclogging drains, Rela enjoys empowering others with practical home solutions.