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Air source heat pumps compared to natural gas? Is natural gas really cheaper?

bfw577 | Posted in General Questions on

It seems the comparison is always about the cost and that natural gas is cheaper. I agree its cheaper on paper but what about the other not often talked about savings especially the environmental impact that nobody seems to talk about?

Here in New England almost all our gas is from the Marcellus formation in PA/OH extracted through fracking which is reaking havoc on the environment there. I have a friend in PA that has been dealing with a  polluted well most likely from fracking.

Why is nobody talking about the other benefits such as…

Completely eliminating the risk of a gas leak/explosion and venting and carbon monoxide. Or in my case the risk of storing 275 gallons of heating oil in my basement.

Reliability/redundancy . My Mini spits have required nothing but filter and coil cleanings.  I  have 3 12k  1 to 1 units so even if one fails I still have heat. They have been running 24/7 non stop with no issues.  In the 5 years I used my oil furnace it failed to fire just about every winter, often at the worst time.

The natural gas connection charge would be $26 dollars a month here before I used any actual gas here. I can run my mini splits for a couple winter months off that yearly charge alone.

I was lucky that when I installed my solar panels 4 years ago and they sized them off the previous owners electric use so I had a ton of excess capacity. I installed mini splits to use up the excess capacity and my experience has been that this is the way to go.

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  1. jwasilko | | #1

    We are in MA with a town electric utility, and for us at around $0.11 kWh, heat pumps are cheaper than natural gas down to 15F. At that point we switch back to gas.

    1. bfw577 | | #5

      How much cheaper though? I think if you ran the numbers its pretty close. Natural Gas is still pretty expensive in New England. You have to think about other hiden costs and especially the environmental impact.

      Have you looked into solar? Even the Massachusetts municipal electric utilities have some really good incentives at around $1+ a watt.

      1. jwasilko | | #9

        We do have solar, so that is one reason our overall/average rates are low. My all-in average rate (including the value of power we sell back) is $0.1085/kWh.

        We're also on a Time of Use rate, where we pay around $0.17/kWh during 12-7 weekdays, but around $0.11/kWh all other hours.

        Those costs/rate doesn't include our Renewable energy credits, of which we get around $3000 a year. We're starting our 4th year of 10 years where we get paid on RECs.

        To your question of "How much cheaper", I don't yet have good data. December was our first full month with the heat pumps, and 2019 and 2018 had similar HDDs. Our combined gas/electric bills were $101 cheaper in December.

        I haven't looked up HDD data for Jan/Feb, but our combined bills for those two months were $140 and $227 cheaper. We also did insulation and duct sealing work in January that will make it hard to compare, sadly.

  2. 730d | | #2

    For You.

  3. krom | | #3

    The math is pretty easy, as long as you know how much heat you need..
    Lets be honest, the risk of a fuel oil tank in your basement is basically 0. Far more risk of electrical fire killing you than a tank of fuel oil.
    Natural gas is at least explosive, so there is a minuscule chance that it could kill you, but again I'd wager that an electrical fire is far more likely.

    If you want to be honest about comparing costs, you have to factor in the solar panel cost as part of the upfront equipment costs of your minisplits.

    1. bfw577 | | #4

      I disagree. A mini split with the compressor located outside on its own dedicated circuit breaker is in my opinion much safer than having a fossil fuel heating source with active combustion inside your home. I think most would agree. I have first hand experience with a fuel oil fired furnace that malfunctioned. I still find black soot years later.

      Natural gas leaks with explosions and deaths happen.

      1. krom | | #8

        You are free to disagree, but the facts don't support your opinion.
        "Electrical failures or malfunctions were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016"
        And soot from a improperly maintained furnace, has less than nothing to do with your claim of danger from a fuel oil tank.
        Also you have done nothing at all to support any of your claims of safety, or cost.

  4. walta100 | | #6

    In term of dollars and cents city gas is almost always the low cost choice when available today.

    Having a house with gas heating and no other gas appliances gets expensive paying the minimum charges all summer is a poor choice. I know I did so for a lot of years, never did find a good way to vent a gas water heater in that house.

    The safety argument is pretty weak given the low number of deaths and when they do happen are most often related to preventable causes.

    General I see this argument from people who have an agenda that includes a ban on the use of natural gas for non economic reasons.


  5. etekberg | | #7

    Sounds to me like you have your mind made up.
    Also seems that you are expressing an opinion and pretending it is a question. What is the point?

  6. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #10

    I would expect heat pumps to be cheaper to operate in most cases unless you either have very high electric rates or very low average outdoor temperatures for long periods of time. More typical conditions should allow the heat pump to operate in a range where it’s going to pretty efficient. If you’re trying to avoid natural gas though, be aware that a very large percentage of the electrical generation in the US is natural gas fueled. Natural gas has been displacing coal for years now do to lower emissions and lower costs.

    Regarding safety, most fires are started by electrical problems. I doubt there is much real difference in operational safety between gas, oil, or heat pump heating systems.

    Fracking is not “wreaking havoc on the environment”. Your friends water well was likely polluted prior to any natural gas exploration. A typical water well may be up to a few hundred feet deep, but usually somewhere in the 100-200 foot range. My own water well is about 140 feet deep. The typical Marcellus gas well is well over a mile deep, FAR below the aquifer feeding water wells. Many water wells in gas/oil regions have naturally occurring issues due to the stuff that is in the ground naturally, which includes the “my water catches on fire” issues you occasionally hear about. The gas and water containing formations in the ground are not the same.

    Back when my dad was still involved in environmental law, he had seen people with polluted wells try to sue oil and gas producers as a way to get money. The wells were always found to have problems predating any oil or gas exploration in the area, and oftentimes natural gas would be found to naturally seep into some water wells.

    There is a lot of misinformation out there about this stuff. Don’t believe activists that have an agenda. Fracking is basically pumping water down into the wells, pressurizing the water to carry a shockwave that crunches up the shale to connect many small fissures together to allow more efficient extraction of the natural gas that is already there. It’s not magic, and it’s not anything nefarious.


  7. richmass62 | | #11

    A couple of caveats here... If you purchase grid power the cost is around 11 cents in Ma plus ~13 cents/kw for transmission costs. So electric is a bit pricey.

    Also the cost of natural gas is higher in the summer per therm because national grid has a minimum charge of around $9 a month. We pay an extra $50 or so a year because we use so little gas in the winter...

    We do have solar but the panels arent enough to meet the load... Only around 70% of it right now.

  8. rhl_ | | #12

    For us the cost of electricity is 3x gas. Also our gas boiler has a COP of at most .95 So if the cop is greater than 3*.95 than a heat pump is more dollar efficient.

  9. _jt | | #13

    I am in the same boat but my boilers are old so closer to 0.8 efficiency + efficiency losses that probably cost another 0.1 or 0.2. Same basic concept though. This year December and Jan electricity matched my old gas bill while Sept, Oct, Nov, Mar, Apr have been a lot less and in a cool May in NJ heating costs are negligible.

  10. wmf | | #14

    I want to comment on an older post concerning 'fracking not wreaking havoc on the environment' . My career has spanned over 40 years chasing and characterizing groundwater contamination in many different media and over time spans up to 1000's of years. My agenda is preservation of usable groundwater. I have learned that there is no such thing as perfect isolation and separation. Groundwater moves through all earth materials, the differences being mostly a matter of rate. Generalizing, that problem wells in Pennsylvania had prior contamination that then worsened in many cases probably reflects the prior connection between the deeper gas-bearing formation and near surface groundwater supply formation - weaknesses in the separation. Connections are often very hard to trace, but consider the physics - groundwater moves according to head difference and hydraulic conductivity - wherever it is driven. Just like heat flow constantly being discussed here regarding insulation. The end result for groundwater quality is just a function of mass flow rates. And fracking is prone to many avenues for making connections, mostly uncontrolled. Fracking will provide my profession with work into the far future.

  11. mikeolder | | #15

    Sorry, I'm not buying it even paying only 13 cent a kwh..

    LP and propane have been the "go to" for a long time, and now all of a sudden not around here? Even if heat pumps were actually just as efficient, I would never rely on a heat pump for all my heating needs. Maybe supplemental, but heat pumps in cold cold climates don't cut it anyway..

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