Pros and Cons of Heating Your Home With a Gas Furnace

person repairing a gas furnace

You’re in your hygge era. And outfitting your home with a new gas furnace could be the first step to achieving this ultimate coziness — with its fast heating time and reduced energy costs, a gas furnace seems like a win-win. The catch? Safety and air quality concerns, to start. Before going all in on this home heating option, review the pros and cons of heating your home with a gas furnace to see if it’s really a vibe.

But First, How Does a Gas Furnace Work?

Powered by natural gas rather than electricity, this type of heating system extracts cold air from your living spaces, transports it across the furnace’s metal heat exchanger, and then distributes the warmed air back into your home through the blower. How exactly is the natural gas turned into heat? Burners located below the heat exchanger, well, burn, the gas to generate a flame.

To learn more about how a gas furnace heats your home, visit our guide What Is a Gas Furnace and How Does It Work?

The Pros of Gas Furnaces

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Heats Indoor Air Faster Than Electric Furnaces

Without getting too scientific, when gas is heated, its molecules start moving faster, thus increasing the gas’s temperature. As a result, gas heating typically has an output between 120 to 140 degrees, while electric models have an output between 80 and 95 degrees. The higher heat production from your natural gas furnace allows rooms to benefit from the temperature boost much more quickly, making this heating option well-suited for people living in colder climates.

Reduced Overall Energy Costs

Newer furnaces (those that are less than 10 years old) are made with higher energy efficiency in mind — up to 98.5% efficiency, in fact. This means practically all of the fuel source used to create heat does just that, with very little being lost. 

A cost-effective choice for homeowners in colder climates, gas furnaces can save you about $80 per year on energy bills. Per the U.S. Department of Energy, natural gas costs $13.97 per million British Thermal Units (BTUs), while electric home heating costs a whopping $46.19 per million BTUs. 

Further, these high-efficiency, natural gas models can also cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons for homes in these areas. 

Smaller Carbon-Footprint Than Oil Furnaces

While still a fossil fuel, natural gas is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels, including oil (aka kerosene). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas gives off 116.65 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTUs, while oil emits 161.35 pounds of carbon dioxide. Plus, oil is subject to accidental oil spills, which can devastate not only human life but wildlife, too.

Compatible with Existing HVAC Systems

Let’s say you already have a heat pump as your heating and air conditioning system; pair that with a gas furnace, and you’ll have the ultimate, cost-effective setup for your cooling and heating needs. 

During the warmer months, your heat pump will act as an air conditioner, and when temps drop to a certain level, it’ll switch over to provide electric heat. But, if the weather outside gets so frightful the heat pump can’t keep up, your system will automatically switch over to the gas furnace.

The Cons of Gas Furnaces

Shorter Lifespan Than Other Heating Options

If you stick to a regular maintenance schedule, your gas furnace should have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Whereas under the same maintenance conditions, electric furnaces and boilers can last 20 to 30 years, and oil furnaces can last up to 25 years.

Why the difference? Gas furnaces are made up of more parts (think burners, flue pipes, and gas valves), produce buildup (like soot and other particulate matter from the combustion process), and undergo rapid temperature changes (which can wear them down more quickly).

And, speaking of regular tune-ups, gas furnaces come with more annual maintenance requirements in order to last those 15 to 20 years. These requirements include:

  • Inspecting carbon monoxide detectors
  • Cleaning burners, humidifier, vents
  • Checking thermostat
  • Changing air filters
  • Lubricating parts
  • Ensuring heat exchanger is intact/working properly

Here are 10 Ways to Extend The Life of Your Furnace.

Higher Upfront Costs

Compared to an electric furnace, a new gas furnace will cost you more on the front-end, with gas furnace installation costs ranging from $2,883 to $7,367 and electric ones costing between $1,853 and $4,433

That being said, you’ll likely save on operating costs in the long run, as the price of electricity often exceeds the price of natural gas, as mentioned previously.

Safety and Air Quality Concerns

It’s true that natural gas is considered cleaner-burning than the likes of coal and oil, but the fact is, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that’s burned to produce heat. As a result, it releases pollutants like:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methane gas
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Benzene
  • Particulate matter

Not only do these contaminants compromise indoor air quality (a gas leak from a cracked heat exchanger, for example, could cause carbon monoxide poisoning), but they also taint outdoor air because these pollutants are vented outside.

Not the Superior Eco-Friendly Choice

solar water heater installed on a roof
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If you’re looking to go the most eco-conscious route, natural gas isn’t going to top your list. Instead, opt for an electric heat pump or solar heating. An electric heat pump, for example, uses heat that already exists in the environment (the earth, air, or water) and “pumps” it through your home, hence the name. You can also pair your heat pump with a geothermal system, which will draw heat directly from the ground.

With active solar heating, solar panels on your roof (typically liquid-based) will absorb heat from the sun, storing it in a tank until needed. When temps drop, you can turn on your heater, and the liquid will move from the tank to the heat exchanger, sending warm air throughout your living spaces. 

FAQ About Heating Your Home With a Gas Furnace

What’s the difference between a gas furnace, an electric furnace, and a heat pump?

Again, a gas furnace is a type of heating system that runs on natural gas instead of electricity. To heat your indoor air, the natural gas is burned; the warmed air is then sent throughout your home via your HVAC’s ductwork and vents.

An electric furnace, on the other hand, does not burn any fossil fuels. Alternatively, there’s an electric current that passes through the furnace’s heating coils, warming them, and ultimately warming the air that flows over them before being blown throughout your house.

Heat pumps differ from both types of furnaces in that heat pumps don’t create heat at all — they merely move it from one place to another. How? Heat pumps collect heat from air, ground, and/or water sources and pump it into your home.

Will a gas furnace work when there’s a power outage?

Homeowners may think that since their furnace runs on gas, it has no reliance on electricity whatsoever. But, this is not the case. Gas furnaces still have several components that are powered by electricity, including thermostats, blower motors, and relay switches that regulate gas flow. Because of this, your gas furnace will not work during a power outage.

Note: If you have a gas fireplace, it will still work. Any blowers you have in your fireplace won’t, but the fireplace itself will still give off heat.

Is Natural Gas an Eco-Friendly Fuel Source?

Yes and no. When compared to other fossil fuels like oil and coal, natural gas burns cleaner, giving off less carbon dioxide emissions. However, it still releases methane into the air, which, according to scientists, contributes to global warming at a much higher rate than carbon dioxide — about 80 to 90 times higher. Other ways natural gas can negatively impact the environment include:

  • Gas line installation can eradicate forests/homes for wildlife
  • Drilling and production can contaminate water and land; disturb homes for wildlife and people

When to Hire a Professional

Heating options abound, so if you’re finding the selection process a little challenging, hire an HVAC technician near you to help. Besides being able to set up whatever heating system you choose — be it a gas furnace, electric furnace, or heat pump — they’ll also review your needs and advise you on which home heating unit fits your situation best.

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Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler is a writer and editor. And while she hasn't been blessed with DIY skills herself, she is adept at writing and enjoys sharing home improvement tips and pool care guides for the true DIYers out there.