To some people, knowing the difference between a gas furnace and electric furnace is common knowledge; however, there are other people who may not have been exposed to such detail in their life, through no fault of their own, and as such are not totally confident in how they know if they have a gas furnace or electric furnace. Plus, other people might give you the wrong information, which is actually quite common.

This article will explain the differences between the two types of furnaces, as well as educate on heating in general.

electric element

Forced air heating

Nowadays, most living spaces have forced air heating systems, although you might still be able to find radiator heated living spaces.

Forced air heating can be from both gas and electricity. The difference between these is that the gas-powered heating system uses a heat exchanger and burner that produces hear, whereas the electric-powered heating systems use an electric element, which is similar to an electric radiator.

While different in heat production, both heating systems use a fan to force air through the heat exchanger or electric element. The air then heats up as it passes through. The now hot air travels through your ducts and into rooms via the vents.

Detailed info on how both gas and electric forced air heating systems work

Your thermostat is like the first line of defence or spotter if you will. When the thermostat recognizes that the living space needs heat, it sends a signal to the furnace that the furnace needs to start generating heat.

A silicon nitride igniter then activates the gas-powered burners, which then ignites gas jets, and heat is created in a combustion chamber. The heat then travels to the heat exchanger, where air blows it around and through the heat exchanger, which is usually a series of steel chambers. The heated air then gets blown into the ductwork by the blower fans, and you feel the heat come through the vents.

However, an electric-powered furnace does not have burners or a combustion chamber. Electric furnaces will have an array of heating elements in the cabinet, which are sets of electric coils. The coils burn hot when they have an electric current run through them. The more heat you need, the more the heating elements will turn on. As with the gas-powered furnaces, the blower fans then distribute the warmed air throughout the ductwork and into the room vents.

Steps to determine gas furnace or electric furnace

Step 1

Go over to your thermostat and turn up the temperature on your forced air heating system. You need to have the warm air circulating, so that you can check whether your furnace is gas or electric powered.

Step 2

Go to where your heating system is located. Normally in Winnipeg, this is in the basement. However, if you live in an apartment with its own heating system, you might find this in a closet or on a wall somewhere.

When in doubt, you can always follow your duct system. Remember to always be safe, so using your eyes and not your hands is a good way to stay safe.

You should be able to see several metal ducts going in and out of the heating unit.

Step 3

Now to check the heating unit to determine whether it is gas powered or electric powered. Remember, a gas furnace uses a burner to produce heat. If it is a gas furnace, there will be a small window on the front of the furnace where you should see a blue glowing flame. You should also be able to hear the noise from the gas burner.

Electric powered furnaces do not have a glass window with a blue flame and do not make any noise when idle.

Other ways to tell if you have a gas furnace or electric furnace

Sometimes, due to different factors such as age or mobility issues, people can’t perform the steps above. Therefore, we’re going to go over other ways to tell if you have a gas furnace or electric furnace.

Read the labels on the furnace

Here is an option that you should or could do before anything else. This is one of those ‘obvious’ things that are so obvious they get looked over.

Read the labels for any indication of gas or electricity. Perhaps you could do an internet search for the brand name and model number.

Check for a gas line

If you are able to identify what a gas line looks like, you should be able to tell which heating system you have based on whether there is a gas line going into it or not.

Gas furnaces, depending on when they were installed and by whom, may have a black cast iron pipe or copper pipe connecting the furnace to your natural gas line, or a yellow plastic hose connection.

Electric furnaces may have a heavy gauge wiring covered by flexible metal, sometimes called romex.

Exhaust vent

Check to see if you have an exhaust vent. If you don’t, it’s because there is no gas-powered heating system to vent.

Are you looking to get a gas furnace or electric furnace installed?

Get in touch with us here at Dean’s Plumbing & Heating. We offer reasonable rates, guaranteed workmanship and flexible scheduling.

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