How to Know if Your House Heater Use Gas or Electric?

what kind of heating system do i have

Some people can quickly tell what type of heating system they have, while others may have no idea what kind of equipment brings heated air to their home. Or maybe you’ve just moved into a new house and haven’t had the chance to determine whether you have an electric or gas furnace

This information will come in handy for homeowners because knowing your home’s heating system helps you maintain your equipment properly. As with most things, proper maintenance is essential in extending the life of your heating system. 

The two most popular options for air heating systems are gas and electric. Both types of heaters can produce heat for your home, but they do so through different means. Do you want to determine what heats your home and what is its power source? Let’s go over the details.  

What is Forced Air Heating?

Most homes nowadays have forced air heating systems, although some still use radiators to produce warm air. This heating system draws in air from your living space, heats it, and blows it back into your home using a blower fan. Forced air heating systems can run on gas or electric power. 

With electric furnaces, the moving air draws heat from high-resistance wires, while gas ignition serves as the heat source for gas furnaces.  

How Does it Work?

Forced air heating systems use air as a medium to transfer heat, and they produce heat through various means. These include burning natural gas, heating propane or oil, and warming up a heating unit using electricity. 

In a gas-powered heating system, a heat exchanger gets warmed up by gas ignition, and moving air absorbs heat from the gas heat exchanger. Meanwhile, an electric heating element increases the temperature of moving air in an electric furnace

Whether your forced air heating system is gas or electric, it works the same way. That is, a fan forces air through the heat exchanger or heating element. The heated air then gets pushed out into your home’s ductwork and is vented or dispersed throughout your living space.  

Common Home Heating Systems

Forced air heating systems, whether gas or electric, are the most preferred heating options in many American homes. In fact, they have become synonymous with home HVAC systems. However, other ways to keep warm air circulating in your living space exist. Let’s look into the other types of heating systems and see which one is in your home.


Most homes in the country use this type of heating system. It operates using natural gas, propane, or electricity. With a furnace, the air is forced through a heat exchanger and is later distributed via a series of ducts and vents throughout the house. 

The components of a furnace include a burner, a heat exchanger, a blower fan, and a flue. You can usually find this equipment in the attic, basement, crawl space, or closet.

Gas-powered furnaces are the most preferred type of heating system for two reasons. One, natural gas is cheaper than electricity, and two, the ductwork used for a gas furnace can also be used for the air conditioning system. 

Heat Pumps and Geothermal Heating Systems

A heat pump can be used not just to heat a home but cool it as well. It uses electricity to transfer heat instead of producing it like an electric or gas furnace. That makes it more energy-efficient because it doesn’t actually generate heat but draws it in and puts it where it’s needed. 

Two components comprise a heat pump, and an indoor and outdoor unit. To warm an area, a heat pump draws the heat from the outside air and transfers it to the refrigerant. The process compresses the coolant and increases its temperature. The coolant then goes into the indoor unit, warming the air that passes through it. This hot air is released into the living space, heating it to a comfortable level.  

Unfortunately, although a heat pump is more energy-efficient than a gas or electric furnace, it’s not often enough to warm homes in areas with freezing winters. Thus, it works best in areas with moderate climates. 

Meanwhile, a geothermal heat pump functions like a conventional heat pump. However, it uses the earth’s temperature to cool or heat your living space instead of relying on the temperature of the outside air. It transfers the ground’s heat into your home during winter and reverses the process come summertime. 

Boiler Heating Systems

While gas or electric furnaces carry heat in warm air, boilers distribute the heat in hot water. First, they convert water into steam. They then send the steam through pipes to provide heat throughout the house. Instead of a fan and duct system, a boiler uses a pump to circulate hot water through pipes to the radiators. 

Like an electric or gas furnace, boilers require a fuel source to operate. They often run on electricity, oil, propane, or gas. In addition to heating a home, boilers can also provide hot water.  

Radiator Heating Systems

A radiator is a type of heating device that is often found in older homes. It usually works with a boiler to warm your living space, but some models may contain electric coils. The steam produced by the boiler passes through the radiator and heats the metal. This heat then radiates throughout the immediate area.   

Package Units Heating Systems

A package unit heating system refers to an HVAC system with both the heating and cooling components in one primary unit. This contrasts with a split system where there’s typically an indoor and outdoor unit.  

This type of system is typically installed on the roof or a slab at the side of the house. It uses gas or electricity to cool or heat the living space and has ductwork connected through the exterior wall or roof to distribute hot or cool air to your home. 

Sources of Heating System

Space heating is one of the most significant expenses in an average American home, and different regions of the country often have particular preferences regarding fuel sources. Nationwide, natural gas heats most homes. However, other fuels dominate in some areas. 


A heating unit that relies on electricity is one of the common ways to heat American homes, with about 37 percent of households in the country using electric power for heating. Although electricity is quite expensive, it’s also easily accessible to many, making it a popular fuel source. 

Using this energy supplier, an electric furnace produces heat with electric heating elements.  

The primary drawback of this fuel source is cost. Moreover, the per kWh price fluctuates constantly, making it hard to predict and budget your monthly power bills


Approximately 48 percent of homes in the country use natural gas, making it the most popular fuel source for heating. Its popularity stems from its cost-effectiveness, as natural gas prices in the US are lower than that for electricity. Gas heaters use a blower motor and air ducts to distribute warm air that is released through registers or grills.  

However, the use of natural gas for heating is declining as more homes are turning to electricity to heat their homes.  

Both Gas & Electric

Although some homes may only have one fuel source, either gas or electricity, most have a dual-fuel setup. This means that the property is powered by more than one fuel type. When it comes to home heating, a dual fuel system may refer to a packaged unit or a split system with two energy sources: the electric heat pump and a gas furnace. 

Using two fuel sources offers an advantage that doesn’t come with single-fuel homes. Electricity and gas often operate more efficiently during particular weather conditions. Thus, having a combination of these two fuel sources in your home can maximize energy efficiency and reduce your power expenses. 

How to Identify Your Source of Heat?

Most homes in the country nowadays use either gas or electricity to generate heat. However, gas and electric furnaces generate heat differently. If you haven’t dealt with any HVAC issues since you moved into your home, you might have yet to have a chance to examine your heating system thoroughly. Determining its fuel source is the best way to familiarize yourself with the equipment that helps make your living space comfortable in all weather. 

Here’s how to go about the process.  

Read the Label on the Furnace

This is the easiest way to determine what fuel your heating system uses. However, you’ll first need to locate your furnace. You can usually find it inside a utility closet, in the attic, or in the basement. Look for the sticker that lists the furnace’s make and model, along with other information regarding its specifications. 

If the information doesn’t specifically indicate the type of furnace, take note of the unit’s brand and model number. It usually comes as an alphanumeric digit of anywhere from 9 to 15 numbers. Look up the brand and model number online to find out what heating system your home has. 

Check for a Gas Line

Depending on where they’re installed, gas heaters have a copper pipe or black cast iron pipe connecting them to your home’s natural gas line or a yellow plastic hose connection. On the other hand, electricity-powered furnaces typically have heavy gauge wiring covered by flexible metal. 

Exhaust Vent

The absence of an exhaust vent is a definitive sign that electricity is your heating system’s fuel source. An exhaust vent is a crucial component of gas-powered furnaces. Its purpose is to ensure that hazardous fumes, such as carbon monoxide, are expelled into the outside environment. 

Unlike gas furnaces, those powered by electricity don’t need exhaust vents because they don’t give off toxic gasses or other byproducts when they operate.  

Electric Heater vs Gas Heater

Although both gas and electric heating systems will provide the warmth you need, they do so in different ways. As such, how much they add to your energy costs also varies. 

Which system or fuel source should you choose? Let’s look at how these two heating systems stack up against each other. 


An electricity-powered heating system is a clear winner when it comes to ease of installation. Gas heaters require piping for the heated water and proper ventilation for the harmful emissions that come from warming the water. This often requires the services of a professional. Moreover, because of the more complicated installation process, it can take days before your system is up and running. 

In contrast, electric heater installation needs less invasive construction. If you’re using a portable heater, you won’t even have to renovate any portion of your home. You can just plug your heater in the appropriate socket, and it’s good to go. 


Modern electric furnaces generally require no maintenance unless some component breaks down. They do need regular check-ups to make sure everything is in top working condition.  

On the other hand, gas-powered heating systems consist of several mechanical components that should operate properly to avoid any issues. These components are prone to wear and tear, making a breakdown inevitable. Moreover, gas furnaces have to get rid of combustion gasses, so regular maintenance is necessary to prevent safety risks. 


We mentioned that gas-powered heaters have several mechanical components. This makes it more likely for the system to need servicing. Electric heaters don’t have those failure-prone components. No wonder they last two times longer than gas heaters. 

A gas heater can last about 10 to 20 years, while an electric-powered one has a lifespan of around 20 to 30 years. 


If we talk about the fuel source cost, gas furnaces are the more cost-effective of the 2 types of systems. That’s because natural gas is 2 to 3 times cheaper than electricity. Also, gas heaters can warm your living space faster than electric ones and are generally hotter. That means these devices can generate more heat in the same amount of time. 

However, if you factor in the installation and maintenance costs, it lessens the advantage of gas furnaces when it comes to cost efficiency. 


Gas heating systems are less safe than electric-powered ones because they produce carbon monoxide during the heating process. That’s why they need special venting to eliminate the toxic fumes.  

In contrast, electric heating systems don’t burn fuel to generate heat, so they don’t emit harmful gasses.  

Importance of Knowing Your Source of Heat

Knowing what type of equipment you have in your home is always a good idea, especially when some risks are involved. This is particularly important when it comes to your heating system. One of the main reasons why you need to determine if your heater is gas or electric is so you can take the appropriate safety precautions related to the appliance in use. 

An open flame burns inside gas heaters that can pose some risks when the unit isn’t regularly inspected. An improperly maintained gas heater can cause fires. In fact, the National Fire Protection Agency states that heating devices are the leading cause of fires in US homes. Installing equipment like smoke detectors would be wise no matter your system’s heat source, but it is more important if you have one that runs on gas. 

Also, knowing that you have a gas-powered heating system can prompt you to invest in a carbon monoxide detector because of the potential for gas leaks. 


How Do You Turn On Forced Air Heating?

To turn on your forced air heating system, you simply need to set the thermostat to your desired temperature. This signals the furnace, which opens a valve that delivers fuel to the burners and turns on the blower. Meanwhile, the pilot light activates the burner. 

How Do I Know What Type of Heating I Have?

A simple way of determining what type of heating you have is by looking through the small window at the front panel of your unit. If you see a blue flame, you have a gas furnace.  

Do You Need Electricity to Run Gas Heat?

Yes, you do. Although gas heaters use natural gas for fuel, their other components require electricity. As such, a gas heater won’t run without electricity. 

Can I Change from Gas Central Heating to Electric?

Switching from gas to electric heating won’t be a problem. However, you can’t convert a gas unit to an electric-powered one, so you’ll have to remove some parts of the heating system and install new ones that are compatible with electric heating. You might also need to change the electrical wiring that goes into your furnace. 


Knowing if your heating system runs on gas or electricity can help you determine what steps to take to ensure your safety. Gas-powered furnaces require venting, and you might also want to install a carbon monoxide detector. 

Fortunately, determining whether you have electric or gas heating is relatively straightforward. You can also switch from one fuel source to another, although that will usually require the services of a professional. 

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