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All-Electric vs. Natural Gas

Planning a new house in Houston, an owner-builder juggles the pros and cons of sticking with natural gas

Posted on May 15 2017 by Scott Gibson

Given a photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. system with a capacity of as much as 8 kilowatts, does it make any sense to include natural gas appliances in a new house, or would an all-electric design be more practical?

That's the question Markus ponders as he plans a new house in Houston, Texas. Although he has natural gas service in the house where he currently lives, the size of his new rooftop solar system could prompt a change of heart.

"It will probably be a 'Pretty Good' house — dense-packed cellulose and exterior rigid foam insulation with an encapsulated attic and targeting an ach50 of less than 3 with an ERVEnergy-recovery ventilator. The part of a balanced ventilation system that captures water vapor and heat from one airstream to condition another. In cold climates, water vapor captured from the outgoing airstream by ERVs can humidify incoming air. In hot-humid climates, ERVs can help maintain (but not reduce) the interior relative humidity as outside air is conditioned by the ERV. system for ventilation," Markus writes in a Q&A post at Green Building Advisor. "I will have a sizable PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. array on the roof — 6 to 8 kW — so I have been debating whether to use natural gas as in my current house for multiple appliances or go all-electric."

Markus finds both pluses and minuses with an all-electric design. The benefits include avoiding a monthly $25 charge for gas; better air quality without the risk of backdraftingIndoor air quality problem in which potentially dangerous combustion gases escape into the house instead of going up the chimney.; the chance to use an induction range for cooking; using a heat-pump water heaterAn appliance that uses an air-source heat pump to heat domestic hot water. Most heat-pump water heaters include an insulated tank equipped with an electric resistance element to provide backup heat whenever hot water demand exceeds the capacity of the heat pump. Since heat-pump water heaters extract heat from the air, they lower the temperature and humidity of the room in which they are installed. to help cool the attic or garage; and not having to run gas lines around the house.

He does, however, point to a few disadvantages. Markus says electrical equipment is "more complicated and less reliable," which could mean more repairs, and natural gas would give the house higher resale value. He likes his gas dryer, and points out that an all-electric house might be a problem in the event of a hurricane.

"Anything I might have not considered here?" he asks. "Anyone else had to make this choice in a cooling-driven climate? Anyone had bad experience with reliability of newer electrical units vs. natural gas ones?" Those are the questions for this Q&A Spotlight.

Electrical equipment is not necessarily problematic

GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com senior editor Martin Holladay commends Markus for his analysis, but he thinks Markus is off base in believing that electrical equipment is more prone to breakdowns than equipment using gas.

"It's simply untrue that ‘electrical equipment is more complicated and less reliable’ than gas equipment," Holladay writes. "I've had a balky gas-fired tankless water heater from Bosch that has driven me crazy for years — it has a pilot light that doesn't want to stay lit. Makes me wish I had a dumb-as-a-rock electric-resistance water heater."

Nor does Holladay understand Markus's preference for a gas clothes dryer. After all, Holladay says, "when you open the door, the clothes are dry, no matter which fuel was used to dry them."

There is another reason that an all-electric design is sensible, Holladay says: "Green builders who look at our current climate crisis, and who want to be part of a global transition away from fossil fuels, generally lean toward all-electric homes equipped with PV."

Installing gas as a hedge

Anon3 thinks Markus should go ahead and run gas lines even if he has no intention of using natural gas. If natural gas lines are installed, the house will be worth more as a resale. "Just don't use it yourself," Anon3 says.

Gas will not only make the house more valuable, Anon3 says, but it's difficult to add after the house has been built. "The inability to have a gas oven can often be a deal-killer for high-end homes," he says. "If this is a $100,000 house, you don't have to worry about this, people expect electric-only at this price point."

John Clark agrees: "Gas hookups will expand your pool of potential buyers, especially if they don't want the PV array on the roof," Clark says.

Stephen Sheehy thinks otherwise. "I disagree with Anon," Sheehy writes. "For resale, people want to be comfortable. They are less likely to care about what fuel keeps them comfortable. Skip the cost of running gas pipes all over the place and build a nice tight house, well insulated, heated and cooled with efficient heat pumps.

"Just my opinion," Sheehy continues, "but I think it makes no sense to spend money installing features you don't want, because some future buyer might want them. If it makes sense to use minisplits for heat and AC, installing ductwork for future gas heating, cooling, and cooking doesn't make sense."

Malcolm Taylor adds that people buy houses for a variety of reasons, but he can't imagine a buyer passing up an otherwise attractive house because it didn't allow switching energy sources in the future. "I bet the absence of a walk-in closet in the master bedroom has more effect on the marketability of a house than gas stub-outs," he says.

Think twice about a heat-pump water heater

As load management on the grid becomes more sophisticated, consumers may reap some financial rewards from "smart" or "grid-aware" appliances, suggests Dana Dorsett. Plus, conventional water heaters are simpler in design and have fewer moving parts than heat-pump water heaters (HPWHs), making them a potentially better investment.

The wild card in this equation is whether ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the regional grid) can offer financial incentives to homeowners.

"So far, ERCOT doesn't have a capacity market to bid into, but high value frequency and voltage stabilization services are there," Dorsett says. "One such aggregator operating large fleets of residential water heaters as a 'virtual power plant' in the PJM grid region is Mosaic Power."

Because Texas has some of the most creative electricity markets in the country, Dorsett says, someone will be figuring out a way to make money with aggregated distributed resources.

If Markus does choose a heat-pump water heater, Dorsett adds, he would be better off installing it in a conditioned attic rather than in the garage.

"Installing the HPWH in the conditioned attic is better from a whole-house efficiency point of view than putting it in the garage," Dorsett says. "A better-than-code house with a high SEER(SEER) The efficiency of central air conditioners is rated by the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the SEER rating of a unit, the more energy efficient it is. The SEER rating is Btu of cooling output during a typical hot season divided by the total electric energy in watt-hours to run the unit. For residential air conditioners, the federal minimum is 13 SEER. For an Energy Star unit, 14 SEER. Manufacturers sell 18-20 SEER units, but they are expensive. cooling system in Houston will have excess latent loadCooling load that results when moisture in the air changes from a vapor to a liquid (condensation). Latent load puts additional demand on cooling systems in hot-humid climates. to deal with. Installing the HPWH in the attic, inside the pressure boundary of the house, reduces the latent load, directly converting it to sensible heat inside the insulated tank, whereas a dehumidifier delivers it as sensible heat into the room air, raising the cooling load."

Not cooking with gas

Kitchens and kitchen appliances are typically a key selling point in any real estate transaction, but Sheehy doesn't see any particular advantage to gas ovens or gas ranges.

"I've never met a cook who prefers a gas oven to electric," he says. "And once they use an induction cooktop, they all prefer them to gas."

Michael Maines, who has designed a number of high-end kitchens, finds that people who actually cook in their own kitchens prefer electric convection ovens. "They have finer control and more even heat than gas ovens," he says.

Maines also recommends induction cooktops, although he's had trouble convincing cooks (including his wife) to give up their $1,000+ investments in All-Clad cookware in order to save $10 or $20 on energy use in a year.

Non-metallic pots and pans won't work on an induction range, but as Sheehy points out that some All-Clad and its clones will work just fine, as will cast iron. (All-Clad's MC2 line is not magnetic, Maines adds, so the test that Sheehy suggests is probably good advice: "If a magnet sticks to it, it'll work.")

Our expert's opinion

GBA technical director Peter Yost adds these thoughts:

Great discussion, and the sidebar points to some equally useful past GBA articles for this topic. Just a few additional points from me:

All-electric vs. incorporating natural gas: Moving electrons around in a house just seems inherently easier and safer to me; eliminating open-combustion devices is always a wise choice. And with grid-tied PV, those moving electrons are literally a mobile and self-regulating currency for all your energy needs.

Long-term performance of heat-pump water heaters: How many times have HPWHs been introduced to the marketplace? How complicated is it to assess their performance? Should a heat pump be dedicated solely to producing domestic hot water? I sure hope that this time around that HPWH energy performance and service life rise to the occasion, but even if I lived in a mild climate, I would be putting my dollars, time, and head-scratching in other parts of the building.

Induction cooking performance: I am not a chef or even a day-to-day cook, but it would be nice to put this issue to rest. For more on that, see these articles on induction cooking: from The New York Times; from Treehugger; and from Daily Meal.

If we could get every home cook to run a CO2 monitor and hygrometerA device that measures relative humidity of air. Mechanical hygrometers that rely on a coil of thin metal are not terribly accurate; electronic hygrometers available at most electronic or hardware stores are usually accurate to about plus or minus 2 - 3%. when they fire up their gas burners, the invisible costs of cooking with gas might become more apparent. That could help make a stronger case for induction cooktops.


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Image Credits:

  1. Moerschy via Pixabay

1.
May 15, 2017 11:44 AM ET

Contaminants
by Malcolm Taylor

"If we could get every home cook to run a CO2 monitor and hygrometer when they fire up their gas burners, the invisible costs of cooking with gas might become more apparent."

Im glad Peter Yost brought this up. It's an important point that got missed in the original discussion.


2.
May 15, 2017 11:54 AM ET

Clad Cookware
by Robert Lepage

Most stainless steel clad cookware is induction compatible; one of the layers of stainless steel is typically ferritic.


3.
May 15, 2017 11:59 AM ET

@Robert. You're absolutely correct.
by John Clark

Anodized aluminum cookware is really the only type of cookware that's most prevalent and not induction friendly.


4.
May 15, 2017 12:55 PM ET

Edited May 15, 2017 12:55 PM ET.

All-Clad clarification
by Michael M

Most, but not all, All-Clad cookware is induction capable. I have an induction cooktop and All-Clad "Stainless Steel" collection. Works perfectly. From All-Clad FAQ page: "The following All-Clad collections are induction capable - Stainless Steel, d5, d7, Copper Core, B1, HA1"

I built a new home in Florida a year ago. Going all electric was an excellent decision.
Induction cooktop took only a few days to get used to -- and I was a 'cook with gas only' person. I much prefer induction now. And it's particularly a no-brainer in a warm climate.
I installed a simple electric hot water heater in the unconditioned garage, where it's a balmy 92 degrees at the moment. House is 2,100 sf, two levels. Average elec bill: $68/month, May 1 2016 to May 1 2017.


5.
May 15, 2017 3:21 PM ET

Induction
by stephen sheehy

Anyone on the fence can buy a cheap single burner induction bookshop for about $50 and try it out. The built in ones are quieter and have more settings and more power, but the cheap ones will give a good sense of how they work


6.
May 15, 2017 3:24 PM ET

Auto-correct alert!
by Martin Holladay

Bookshop = cooktop?


7.
May 15, 2017 3:47 PM ET

Edited May 15, 2017 3:49 PM ET.

I would design it to be all
by Alan B

I would design it to be all electric because fossil fuels will be phased out at some point, better to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
Gas and oil are dead men walking, they have no future

That said running gas to the house is fine, just leave it unused so no $25 a month cost. If money is no object run the lines to all appliance locations, for resale (but if your thinking resale is so important why build a custom house?)

You can also do both, run a meter to the house, don't connect but don't run lines inside but design the place so it can be retrofitted someday easily if you want it, make cavities for running lines easily openable to run them in the design.

Its ironic that technology wise electric is more reliable, but today gas has more durability because dangerous by nature gas safety requires durability to be marketable and electric is easy to still be safe yet designed to fail. Put simply gas fails you have fire/explosion/death/lawsuits so has to be safe, electric fails blow a fuse, hence designing it with low durability is more profitable (planned obsolescence).

All that said i agree with going electric only, in future batteries will cost less then the grid, so your house with its efficiency and panels and some cheap batteries can probably be its own self contained and powered unit, which you can never achieve with gas, it is not cost effective to produce it to power your house independently, its dug out of the ground and produces carbon which will become more and more vilified in the future.


8.
May 15, 2017 4:49 PM ET

I used a small $60 portable
by Michael M

I used a small $60 portable induction unit for a time, to investigate. It won me over. But be aware that a 10" diameter saute pan on a 6" diameter induction hob, is a 6" saute pan, period. Different than both electric and gas in that regard. Lots of demo videos on YouTube.


9.
May 15, 2017 5:12 PM ET

Other advantages of induction
by Michael M

Other advantages of induction ...
Besides the current safety features, touch controls, and built in timers, in the past year they already have and will continue to get smarter, smaller, and cheaper:
"Fisher&Paykel Induction Cooktop 24" 4 Zone with SmartZone"


10.
May 15, 2017 8:13 PM ET

Don't worship at the alter of resale value.
by Donald Endsley

Yes resale value is important, but profitability is more so. Running a gas line that is not going to be used sinks more money into a project, and that money is not recouped at resale. Where I am (foothills of NC) there are two advantages to gas: water heating and cooktops. With Induction you get the advantages of gas without the massive ventilation needs. Gas still has a sales advantage as you can get almost endless hot water, but that sales advantage does not translate into a high enough price to justify a gas water heater on it's own.

The two main deciding factors here are if you are using gas to heat and/or cook with. If you are comfortable in meeting your resale dollar amount without those two (which is highly likely in your market) then skip gas altogether, the money saved equals more money into your pocket.


11.
May 15, 2017 9:44 PM ET

Consider how electricity is generated & emergencies
by c l

For environmental considerations it is not clear to me that electricity has any advantage. For example in Georgia, 39% of electricity is from gas (so that portion is neutral), 29% is from coal (probably the worst), 26% is from nuclear, and 6% from renewables. So an all electric house uses those same percentages.

For emergency considerations the writer mentioned, a direct vent natural gas heater will provide hot water in an emergency, and you could get heat from a direct vent gas fireplace. (You don't need a gas oven to cook - presumably an outdoor grill would be fine). So gas definitely has an advantage there that can only be partially overcome with a battery powerwall.

For the cost consideration, the $25 or so monthly cost to serve for gas works out to about $300/year, before any usage costs. As electricity is more expensive than natural gas, that cost approximately offsets the higher cost to provide the same energy via electricity, so at this time, essentially a wash. Since gas can also meet some basic emergency needs, you don't need to invest in an emergency generator, or PV with battery. I do acknowledge either of those would provide wider functionality in an emergency, but perhaps not as much heat...

For the resale consideration, yes there are many people who simply will not consider a house that does not have gas cooking. Set it up so you can offer to install gas to the cooking area before resale.

What about flipping the equation: Instead of planning for future ability to install gas, what are the costs of planning for future ability to convert from partial gas/electric to all electric? That would be triggered by lower cost/higher capacity PV and battery for the emergency situation, less coal sourcing for grid power source, and more reliable and affordable mini splits, etc.


12.
May 16, 2017 8:09 AM ET

Most homes don't have batteries @ c l
by Dana Dorsett

Most existing homes don't have batteries, nor backup generators. Nobody has to invest in emergency generation, and most peole don't.

In the event of a hurricane, gas furnaces and many gas water heaters don't work without electricity. Manually lighting gas cooking appliances can work, but it takes a similar amount of investment to make the house somewhat self sufficient in an emergency situation whether all-electric or gas. The up-charge for inverters capable of producing at least some AC power during daylight hours isn't large, and a portable gasoline generator capable of running all critical circuits is under a grand. Last time I looked Houston was still in the first-world, with first-world type grid reliability. But in a category 4 hurricane event everybody is going to be in rough shape, gas or not. Designing a grid attached house in Houston to be a self-islanding micro-grid would be a bit silly ( or some sort of political statement) whether gas or all-electric.

Electricity is not universally more expensive than natural gas when leveraged by heat pumps, nor is it as directly efficient as electricity in the induction cooktop case.

The grid mix in Georgia or anywhere else is a moving target, but trending toward lower carbon, whereas gas isn't getting any greener (except at the margins, now that methane emissions regulations have passed muster in the US Senate, where repeal of those regulations failed recently failed.) The subject of this blog is considering 6- 8kw of PV on the roof, which would offsetting the mid-day local grid mix with clean lo-carb power.


13.
May 16, 2017 10:53 AM ET

From someone who prefers gas.
by John Clark

Back in 1998 when we were looking for and bought a new home having gas option was a requirement. Our home was wired for both (cooking, heating, hot water, laundry).

Cooking was more enjoyable with instantaneous control of heat on a gas range (surpassed only by induction), gas clothes dryer would dry faster, gas furnace would start pushing warm air faster, never had problems with hot water. Best of all is that these appliances are simple and reliable.

My parents had all electric in the 1980's and ice storms would knock out power for days at a time. That was a miserable existence.

Today, I'd probably go all electric if I had a PV array in a backyard.


14.
May 17, 2017 11:09 AM ET

Edited May 17, 2017 11:50 AM ET.

Go all electric
by Ed Dunn

I was nearly tarred and feathered in 2009 when I suggested that PV would replace thermal solar and NG. The ones who protested the most were folks who had been heavily invested in solar thermal since the beginnings in the 70s.
Having removed a couple of systems, it was clear that pv powered hot water was the future. I now make hot water with a Stiebel Eltron tankless and a grid tied 2.8KW PV system. Next, up, all electric cove heaters (most of my heat comes from the sun along with a tight, well insulated envelope) and an electric car.
Right now you can get a 3 year old Nissan Leaf for under $8k. Batteries are getting way cheap and much better. No reason to stick to the fossil fuels.
Actually I have been on a vendetta to shut down the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant since before it was built. Currently there is no plan for what to do with the waste generated there or any other plant in the world. That wast remains active for several hundred thousand years. What does it cost to guard that stuff for that long?


15.
May 17, 2017 1:01 PM ET

Thanks for all the feedback
by N/A N/A

I really appreciated all this input to my original question - lots of excellent points. I decided in the end to go the all-electric route but put in a single internal gas line for the cook top (without connecting it up) to help resale should that ever prove necessary.

I've managed to win my wife over on the induction cook top (also thanks to a Professional Chef friend's recommendation to her) and I'll take the chance on the HPHW in the attic!

The nice thing about PV is I can always add a battery in the future as prices continue to decline should it prove worthwhile.

Regards,

Markus


16.
May 17, 2017 2:15 PM ET

Edited May 18, 2017 2:18 PM ET.

Natural Disasters - California Perspective
by Bill Burke

Here are estimated times for restoration of service after a major earthquake, from this publication from the City of San Francisco:
Lifelines Interdependency Study at http://sfgov.org/esip/sites/default/files/Documents/homepage/LifelineCou...

Natural Gas:
If gas transmission service is lost, restoration could not begin for 3 weeks (due to necessary integrity testing before re-pressurizing the lines). For a M7.9 San Andreas earthquake, PG&E estimates that it could take up to 6 months for full restoration in San Francisco. Compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling sources would also have limited capacity for the extent of the outage, and rationing restrictions would need to be applied. (Estimates depend on many variables outside PG&E’s control. Service may be restored earlier or later, depending upon the state of the transmission system and availability of qualified personnel.)

Electricity:
Even if the transmission system is undamaged, the electric distribution system throughout San Francisco could be subject to rotating outages following a major earthquake. Much of San Francisco’s electric distribution system is underground and challenging to repair. For a M7.9 San Andreas earthquake, PG&E estimates power restoration in San Francisco would be at 25% within 48 hours, 95% within one week, and 100% within one month following the earthquake. (Estimates depend on many variables outside PG&E’s control. Service may be restored earlier or later, depending upon the state of the transmission system and availability of qualified personnel.)

PG&E is Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility that provides service to much of Northern California. Assuming your house here remains habitable structurally, an all electric home sounds pretty good! Plus, our Renewable Portfolio Standard calls for 30% renewable energy by 2020 (we've already reached that goal in Northern California) and 50% by 2030.


17.
May 17, 2017 3:29 PM ET

most points have been made but one
by Curt Lyons

No one mentioned using a solar clothes drying system, aka a laundry line. I recently read that if GE had given everyone that switched from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs a laundry line instead, there would have been a vast decrease in energy usage.

Otherwise, I really appreciated this question since I am also planning to build a future house without a gas line run to it, and I am a gas stove cook. My consolation is to buy a propane grill that has a burner, so I can at least still heat up my tortillas over fire. The thousands saved on not running a gas line will go toward the PV system.


18.
May 18, 2017 4:20 AM ET

We went the all-electric route
by Troy Farwell

We have a 10 kW system (Portland, Oregon) that generates a little over 11,000 kWh annually. We decided to go all electric, even though we have natural gas at our property line. We have a high-efficiency heat pump and hybrid water heaters. The house is fairly well insulated and air sealed, by adding an additional layer composed of a rain screen and siding over the existing plywood sheathing / siding (cheapo), and lots of cellulose to the attic. We did add a pellet stove to keep the daylight basement a bit warmer in the winter.

We've been with this set-up for 3 years, and I'm very happy with it - basically net zero.


19.
May 18, 2017 2:31 PM ET

Really hard to turn your back
by Mai Tai

Really hard to turn your back completely on natural gas in Ontario, Canada. I will be bringing it in the new build, at least for heating/bbq/generator duties. Hard to beat it for generator fuel.

After reading about the indoor air quality issues posed by natural gas stoves, I will be going induction. Still on the fence for the dryer, it will depend on cost. Most likely will end up with a resistance lectric dryer, as they are widely available and foolproof. Heat pump dryers are just not there yet, at least from a reliability point of view.

Our government is trying to tax it so it is on par with their ludicrous electricty prices, but it is still cheaper as of today. In any even I will pay the 35$ connection charge as a safety, so I know if the grid goes down the generator will take up the slack.


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