Do you know what type of furnace you have in your home? Perhaps you don't because you've recently moved into a new home. Or maybe you just haven't had to deal with any HVAC issues. However, knowing this information is helpful in properly maintaining and extending the life of your furnace. So how do you tell what type of heating system you have? We've researched what to look for, and in this post, we'll go over it with you.
Here are a few steps you can take to determine if you have an electric or gas furnace:
- Find the furnace's location.
- Note the brand and model number of the furnace.
- Unscrew the front panel of the furnace.
Most modern homes will have either a gas or electric furnace. However, these furnaces have the same basic function, which is to produce heat. However, they will produce heat in different ways. Let's take a look at how to discern between these units as well as discuss how they are similar and different.
How to Determine if You Have An Electric or Gas-operated Furnace
1. Find the furnace's location
Go to the location in your home where your furnace is housed. This is usually a utility closet, basement, or attic.
In homes with multiple stories, you may have a furnace in both the attic and the basement. You'll also want to note the location of your water heaters, as the furnaces will typically be located near them.
2. Unscrew the front panel of the furnace
After locating the furnace, remove the front panel using a screwdriver. Most front panels will have about two to four screws holding them in place.
Slide the panel up and away from the unit. When you look inside the unit, you may see a heat exchanger with coils and a bed of blue flames burning on top of them.
This indicates that you have a gas-operated furnace. However, if you don't see a glass window or flames but instead just see a glowing red panel, chances are that you have an electrically-operated furnace.
You may also notice that the furnace emits very little sound. Note that electrical furnaces may still have a pilot light, so don't let that be your main determinant.
3. Note the brand and model number of the furnace
If you can't access your control panel, take a look at the sticker on your furnace. All furnaces come with a sticker either on the back or the side. This sticker has the furnace's make and model details as well as other information regarding its specifications.
The first thing you'll see is the brand and model number of the furnace. It is usually an alphanumeric digit of anywhere from 9 to 15 numbers. Take down the make and model of your unit and look it up online to determine the type of heating system you have.
Can a furnace be both gas and electric?
There are dual-fuel systems that allow a furnace to run on both gas and electricity for energy. This type of technology is used to provide heating and cooling performance using one seamless HVAC system.
These units are typically more expensive. However, they can maximize gas efficiency, cutting down on your heating bills during the colder months of the year.
Does a gas furnace need electricity?
Yes. A gas furnace is fueled by gas as a heat source. However, the appliance will need electricity to operate. For example, the blower motor, fan, fuses, and other essential components run on electricity in a gas furnace.
How does an electric furnace heat?
Electric furnaces use heating elements to produce heat inside of the furnace. The heating element heats a group of tightly-wound coils inside of an enclosed cabinet.
Essentially, it operates very similarly to a hot plate or a toaster, operating under the same overall principle in terms of electrical resistance.
However, some electric furnaces tend to use a pilot light to initiate the heating process. The fire from the pilot light is detected by the sensor. Once detected, the sensor initiates the heating process (which is on a metal plate) for the coils.
Many people prefer electric furnaces over gas-operated furnaces to avoid dealing with common pilot light issues (i.e. not turning on, constantly blowing out, etc.).
However, you'll find that overall, it's cheaper to operate a gas-powered furnace due to the lower cost of gas as a fuel source when compared to electricity.
Is it cheaper to heat with gas or electricity?
Though the upfront cost that you will pay for a gas furnace will be close to that of an electric furnace, the operating cost will tend to be lower. This is because gas is typically cheaper to attain as a fuel source than electricity.
However, electric furnaces tend to last about five years longer than gas furnaces, which is worth considering when you're looking at it from a long-term cost perspective.
How long should an electric furnace last?
It depends on the furniture brand and model. Though, you'll typically find that your average electric furnace will last anywhere from 20 to 30 years, given it is maintained regularly. However, failure to maintain your furnace can cause it to have a shorter life span.
Here are a few ways to tell if your furnace has run its course and needs to be replaced:
The furnace is starting to make noise during operation
If you hear any strange popping, loud clicking, sudden booms, or rattling, it may be a sign that the furnace requires repair or replacement.
While it's normal for a furnace to make sounds during its operation, there shouldn't be any sudden loud thuds or random noises from the unit. A clicking sound usually indicates that there is an issue with the flame sensor in your electric furnace.
If your electric furnace doesn't have a pilot light, then the issue can come from the heat exchanger. A loud boom is usually a sign that there is a severe gas emission issue going on with the furnace. This is usually caused by a slight delay during the ignition process.
And if you notice any lingering smell of gas, you'll want to turn off the unit and contact an HVAC technician as soon as possible. This could mean that the gas is leaking, which is hazardous.
Your home's indoor temperature is fluctuating
Have you noticed wild temperatures swings in your home this winter? Or perhaps you've noticed an increasingly high electric bill over the past couple of winters. Oftentimes, this is a sign that your furnace is starting to go out.
This is especially true once the furnace reaches the 10 or 15-year mark. At this point, the furnace may lose its ability to evenly distribute heat throughout the lower and upper floors of your home, and as a result, it may be overworked to do so.
It's best to replace your furnace before it goes out completely, which can leave you in a cold home until you're able to get a technician to replace the unit.
You're starting to repair the furnace more often
One of the best ways to determine whether or not your furnace needs to be replaced is to take a look at your latest repair costs. Have you spent hundreds of dollars to repair over the last two to three years?
Are you noticing that repairs are required more often? Take a look at the total price of your furnace and the cost of repairs within the last three years.
If the repairs or are starting to total half of the price of the furnace, it may not be worth the fix. In this case, it's best to get a few cold quotes on a new furnace or at least have a consultation with an HVAC Pro about your options.
Wrapping Things Up
We hope this post has helped explain how to differentiate between an electric and gas-operated furnace.
The easiest way to tell if you have a gas or electric furnace is to simply look at the make and model number of the furnace. While gas furnaces may be cheaper to operate, they may have a slightly shorter lifespan than electric units.
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
How Much Does It Cost To Run An Electric Furnace?