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Q&A Spotlight

All-Electric vs. Natural Gas

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

A sizable array of photovoltaic panels is part of the plan as Markus draws up details for a new house in Houston, Texas. The PV system is giving him the option of going all electric and skipping the natural gas service he currently has.
Image Credit: Moerschy via Pixabay

Given a photovoltaic 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 ERV system for ventilation,” Markus writes in a Q&A post at Green Building Advisor. “I will have a sizable PV 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 backdrafting; the chance to use an induction range for cooking; using a heat-pump water heater 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.…

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25 Comments

  1. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #1

    Contaminants
    "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. Robert Lepage | | #2

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

  3. John Clark | | #3

    @Robert. You're absolutely correct.
    Anodized aluminum cookware is really the only type of cookware that's most prevalent and not induction friendly.

  4. Michael M | | #4

    All-Clad clarification
    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. Stephen Sheehy | | #5

    Induction
    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. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Auto-correct alert!
    Bookshop = cooktop?

  7. Alan B | | #7

    I would design it to be all
    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. Michael M | | #8

    I used a small $60 portable
    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. Michael M | | #9

    Other advantages of induction
    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. Donald Endsley | | #10

    Don't worship at the alter of resale value.
    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. C L | | #11

    Consider how electricity is generated & emergencies
    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. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #12

    Most homes don't have batteries @ c l
    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. John Clark | | #13

    From someone who prefers gas.
    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. Ed Dunn | | #14

    Go all electric
    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. Markus Theobald | | #15

    Thanks for all the feedback
    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. Curt Lyons | | #16

    most points have been made but one
    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.

  17. Troy Farwell | | #17

    We went the all-electric route
    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.

  18. Bill Burke | | #18

    Natural Disasters - California Perspective
    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/LifelineCouncil%20Interdependency%20Study_FINAL.pdf

    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.

  19. Mai Tai | | #19

    Really hard to turn your back
    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.

  20. Mike Horgan | | #20

    A bit late to this particular conversation, but hopefully some will pick up on this.

    Out here in California where our town has just become a member of a carbon-free electrical supplier (Monterey Bay Community Power), the idea of moving to all-electric homes has come front-and-center.

    Just quickly, something we've done here during the discussion of gas-homes having higher resale value is we have been asking community members under the age of 40 whether they would have perference to purchasing an all-electric home in the future or a fossil-fuel powered home in the future.

    If you are talking about resale value and taking into account selling the home again to buyers in their 60's within the next few years, the resale-value argument is potentially valid; they like gas, they want gas, and they will get gas because that's what they know and want, all-else be damned. However, ask the massive population of future home-buyers under the age of 40 for their preference, and you won't find many - if any - who would prefer a fossil-fuel-powered home to that of an all-electric home. There's the greater resale population.

    1. beedigs | | #22

      thanks for sharing!

  21. Mike Kolder | | #21

    Its all about whats cheaper at the time. Ive installed many NG furnaces in homes that were heated with inefficient resistance heaters embedded in the ceiling because electric was cheaper "at that time".

    Just like fed and bank interest rates. When the stock market is doing well rates go up enticing you back to the bank. But when the market is down, rates also go down pushing you back into the market. As soon as people gravitate towards whats cheaper, the utility company pulls the plug making it more expensive.

  22. beedigs | | #23

    what about the potential for EMFs using an induction cooktop?

  23. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #24

    beedigs,

    If you want to go down that rabbit hole:
    https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/emfs-and-human-health

    1. beedigs | | #25

      EMFs may cause health issues, so yes, I do want to go down that hole LOL..thanks for providing the link

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