Now that most of the country is well into the colder months of winter, it’s likely that your heating bill is at an all-time high. Unsurprisingly, heating a house typically uses more energy than any other system in the home, typically making up nearly 30% of your utility costs.

One of the best ways to better control your utility costs? Choosing the right heating system for your home. Whether you’re replacing a furnace or building a new home, the two most popular heat sources are natural gas and electric furnaces. In this article, we’ll take a look at both of these options to help you determine which one is best for your home.

Both natural gas and electric furnaces work using a forced-air heating system. When the temperature dips below the heat point set on the thermostat, a signal is sent to the furnace unit. With a gas furnace, the signal causes the pilot light to ignite the main burner of the heat exchanger which then draws heat from the main burner and circulates it around the home. With an electric furnace, an electric ignition will receive the thermostat signal and activate the electric heating elements.

How does gas heat work?

Natural gas is the most popular home heating method in the U.S., used by 47% of households. This is due largely to the fact that it’s often more affordable than electric heating.

Natural gas is also often considered to be relatively environmentally friendly: it burns cleaner than coal and releases fewer carbon monoxide emissions. (Though the burning process might be cleaner, the extraction process is not. Natural gas consists largely of methane and other hydrocarbons. During extraction—which usually involves fracking—methane is often released.)

If you’re thinking about going with a natural gas furnace, you’ll also want to make sure you have a suitable place to install it. Natural gas furnaces need to be flued so they can ventilate outside either via a vent in the wall or chimney. Typically, a utility room or garage with an exterior wall is the best place for a natural gas furnace. You’ll also need to ensure that you have access to a natural gas main line.

When functioning properly, a natural gas furnace is completely safe but it’s important to ensure all safety precautions are followed when installing the system. You’ll also want to make sure carbon monoxide alarms are installed and working—they’ll alert you if there’s a leak in the system.

How does electric heat work?

Electric is another popular choice for heating, second to natural gas with 36% of U.S. households relying on it for heat. Since they don’t need to be vented, electric systems are easier and less expensive to install, but may cost more in the long run: it usually costs more to heat a home with an electric furnace, so you could be spending more over time. It’s worth noting that electric furnaces also run quieter.

A new electric furnace and installation costs anywhere from $2,000 to $7,600, while a gas furnace and installation runs between $3,800 and $10,000.

Electricity has a reputation for being expensive—and it can be. But in moderate climates, it’s a viable, affordable option. Even if you don’t opt for an electric furnace, you may want to consider a high-efficiency electric heat pump. Some of these models are tremendously efficient and cost-effective, which makes a good case for electricity in home heating.

What does it cost to heat a home?

Using electricity to heat your home is typically more expensive than natural gas. According to home improvement website Modernize, operating a gas furnace is about 63% cheaper than an electric furnace when heating an average-sized home. But it’s important to note that the cost varies considerably from state to state, and year to year: prices for both natural gas and electricity regularly fluctuate.

For smaller homes or temperate and warmer climates, electric heat could be a viable option. For larger homes or areas where the temperature regularly drops into freezing digits, natural gas might be more cost-effective.

Either way, consider a zoned heating system to allow more control over heat distribution within your home. Turn the heat up where and when you need it, down where and when you don't. This can lead to significant savings.

Also consider the heat delivery system you’d like to use. If you’re using a furnace, whether natural gas or electricity, you have options regarding the system that will move the heat around your home. You can use forced air, ducts (the most common system in the U.S), or radiant heating, which can be installed as floor, ceiling, or wall panels.

Is gas heat or electric heat better for my home?

It depends on a number of factors, including the cost of installation and price of natural gas and electricity in your state. Whether or not you have access to a natural gas line and ventilation will also impact your decision.

Ready to heat the home of your dreams? Get started today.