Determining If Your HVAC is Gas or Electric | Your HVAC Guide

September 6, 2020

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New homeowners should familiarize themselves with how a home’s HVAC system operates, and if their own furnace is gas or electric. Gas and electric HVAC systems need different maintenance tasks and repairs, and you’ll also need to know how your furnace operates when it’s time to order a new appliance!

To determine if your HVAC system is gas or electric, first turn up the thermostat enough so that the furnace cycles on. Next, check the unit itself. Gas HVAC units typically make a slight “whooshing” noise as they operate. Gas units also have a small window in the front behind which is a flame that warms the air circulating through your home. Electric furnaces typically don’t have a window and don’t create that same “whooshing” sound.

While learning about your home’s HVAC system isn’t always the most enjoyable part of home ownership, it can mean keeping your furnace and air conditioner in good working order throughout the year. It’s also helpful to note some signs of needed HVAC repair, so you know when to call an HVAC contractor near you.

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A homeowner might also wonder the best HVAC system for a home and when it’s time to shop for a replacement furnace or air conditioner. You can then discuss this information with an HVAC repair company as needed, and know you’re making the right decisions for your home’s heating and cooling needs.

A Homeowner’s Quick Guide to Their HVAC System

Knowing the basics of HVAC systems and how a gas furnace differs from electric ensures you can keep your system in good working order and schedule timely repairs. Your HVAC repair contractor can also explain details of your home’s system in particular, and provide added tips for regular maintenance and even for lowering your overall utility costs!

  • Most homes use forced air systems, which takes hot or cold air and forces it through metal ducts located throughout the home.
  • Forced air systems use blowers to force air through the ducts. One common reason for needing a new furnace is a blower failure; as it nears the end of its expected lifespan, that blower simply wears out and then fails.
  • Your home’s furnace is typically the largest part of the HVAC system and is often located in the basement, or a closet off the kitchen or bathroom for home’s without a basement.
  • A gas furnace uses natural oil or propane to maintain that flame you see behind that small front window.
  • Electric furnaces use an electric coil or other heating element to heat air.
  • Inside a furnace is a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger adds heat to air coming in from what is called the combustion chamber.
  • The furnace also contains an evaporator coil, containing a refrigerant used to cool down air when the thermostat is set to a lower temperature.
  • Outside the home is a condensing unit, filled with refrigerant gas. When this refrigerant is cooled, it is pumped to the evaporator coil to be turned into a gas again.
  • Refrigerant tubes run between the furnace and central air conditioner, carrying the refrigerant back and forth to the furnace and central air unit.

Air filtration systems, built-in dehumidifiers, ductwork and registers, and your home’s thermostat are also considered part of the HVAC system.

Which is Best, a Gas or Electric Furnace?

Both gas and electric furnaces have advantages and disadvantages; knowing their differences can ensure you choose the right one for your heating and cooling needs, and budget! Consider this quick guide to what might make gas or electric the best choice for your home.

  • When deciding between gas or electric furnaces for your home, first note if your city or county supplies natural gas to your area. If not, you might need to purchase propane from an outside company. While propane is often cheaper than electricity, note any expected fees for a propane tank installation on your property if needed.
  • Gas furnaces are typically safe but there is a risk of gas leak and, in rare cases, explosion. If you do choose a gas furnace, you’ll want to clean and maintain is as needed to decrease this risk.
  • Gas furnaces require plumbing, or pipes leading from the gas source to the furnace itself. If your home is not already outfitted with gas plumbing, you would need to have this installed with your new furnace.
  • While electricity itself doesn’t give off fumes and emissions, power plants creating that electricity do! However, electric furnaces typically use more of their power for producing heat, making them more energy-efficient.
  • Gas furnaces usually heat a home faster and are able to reach higher temperatures than electric furnaces. For many homes this is a minimal concern but if you have a large home and live in an area with harsh winters, a gas furnace might ensure your comfort more readily than an electric.

One last note; if you think you might sell your home sometime down the road, consult with a real estate agent or property appraiser before deciding on a gas or electric furnace. He or she will often know if potential buyers in your area prefer one option over the other, and how your choice might affect your home’s salability.

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Which is Easier to Maintain, a Gas or Electric Furnace?

Maintaining a furnace helps reduce needed repairs and can even increase its expected lifespan. Regular maintenance also helps ensure your furnace will work as needed so you’re not without heat unexpectedly during a bitterly cold winter!

Moving parts inside of furnaces attract dust and other debris, so regular cleaning is vital for both gas and electric models. Many of those moving parts are connected by rubber hoses; inspecting these for wear and tear and replacing them as needed prevents premature breakage and having your furnace shutdown.

A furnace repair contractor might check the wiring to an electric furnace, looking for signs of fraying or other damage. For both gas and electric models, wiring is checked to the home’s thermostat and the thermostat itself is typically calibrated.

Gas furnaces need the added step of pilot light cleaning. Gas feeds that small flame you see behind the front window of a gas furnace through a valve that often traps dirt, dust, and other debris. A furnace maintenance contractor typically uses a pipe cleaner to remove debris from that valve, allowing for a cleaner burn and less risk of the light going out and the furnace refusing to cycle on.

Don’t Overlook Signs of Needed HVAC Repair!

Scheduling timely HVAC repair keeps those needed fixes from getting more extensive and costlier, and ensures your home is comfortable year-round. However, many homeowners put off needed HVAC repair simply because they’re not familiar with signs that the home’s AC or furnace are breaking down! A furnace and air conditioner can still cycle on and seem to work as needed even though they need repairs, which is why it’s good to note some indications that it’s time to call an HVAC repair company near you.

Odd and especially loud noises often indicate a broken or damaged part inside a furnace or air conditioner. When parts break or come loose they might grind against other parts, creating loud thumping or bumping sounds. Squealing also typically indicates worn bearings needing replacing.

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It’s also vital that a homeowner not overlook a furnace or air conditioner that cycles off before the home is heated or cooled properly, and if the home still feels overly humid during summertime. Damaged parts and especially worn wiring can interfere with an HVAC system communicating with the thermostat properly; the air conditioner can then cycle off before it removes humidity along with heat. Damaged parts might also simply wear down as the appliance works, shutting it off prematurely.

Sudden spikes in your energy costs can also indicate that your home’s HVAC system is working harder than it should, a sure sign that it needs repairs or parts replacement! If you notice higher electric bills or that a gas furnace seems to be burning through the propane faster than usual, it’s time to call an HVAC repair company near you for a full inspection and needed repairs.

What to Look For When Buying a New HVAC System

A new residential HVAC installation is often a costly investment for homeowners, which is why you want to ensure you choose the right system for your home! One factor to consider is an appliance SEER or seasonal energy efficient ratio rating. The higher the SEER rating, the more energy-efficient the appliance.

The size of your new HVAC system is also important; never assume that a larger, more powerful appliance is always better! A larger AC system might cool a home too quickly, before it can remove humidity, so you’re left with a cold yet clammy home. An oversized furnace can also mean wasting energy to power that system.

An undersized HVAC system might also struggle to heat and cool your home properly, also wasting energy and spiking your utility costs. You might also have a very uncomfortable home during the hottest and coldest days throughout the year! If you’re unsure the right size residential HVAC unit for your home, consult with a furnace and air conditioning installation contractor near you.

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