Gas can be used to heat a home or other building in a furnace that forces heated air through a vent system, or in a boiler system that heats water or steam, which circulates through radiators or coils. Most homes in the United States use either gas or electricity as a heat source; compared to electricity, gas has both advantages and disadvantages.
Gas heating systems and electric heating systems cost roughly the same amount to install, though gas systems may require additional investment for pipes and venting. Natural gas is almost always less expensive than electricity, making gas furnaces and boilers cheaper to operate than electric ones, even though they use energy less efficiently. This is partly offset by the higher annual maintenance cost of gas systems, which require annual servicing and regular cleaning.
Many gas heating systems can run on either propane or natural gas, while others must undergo some simple modification to switch from one fuel to the other. Where available, natural gas is the less expensive choice, but it requires infrastructure and a distribution network to be in place. Propane tanks, on the other hand, can be installed almost anywhere.
Though they are often cheaper to run, gas furnaces and boilers are less efficient than their electric counterparts when it comes to the percentage of energy inputs converted to usable heat. The federal government mandates minimum efficiency ratings of 75 to 80 percent for gas systems, depending on the type of heater. By comparison, electric heaters have efficiency ratings of 95 to 100 percent. Older, less efficient gas heaters can be retrofitted in several ways to increase efficiency.
Carbon monoxide is a dangerous byproduct of fuel combustion. Electric heaters don't burn anything and are not a carbon monoxide source, but gas heaters make heat by burning gas. In a properly functioning system, the carbon monoxide is vented outside. In the case of blocked filters, vents or heat exchangers, however, carbon monoxide may build up to dangerous levels inside the house. The colorless, odorless gas can cause sickness and even death in high enough concentrations.
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