When the weather’s miserable outside, nothing beats a warm and cosy home. But a toasty home comes at a cost – especially as the bulk of most people’s energy bills goes on heating and hot water.

Heating’s also one of the areas where you can make the biggest savings on your home’s carbon footprint. So it’s important to make sure your heating system isn’t just cheap to run, but energy-efficient too.

But does that mean you should go with gas or electricity? Is electric or gas heat cheaper? In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between heating with gas vs. electric. And weigh up the pros and cons of electric vs. gas heating, to help you decide which is best for your home.

Electric vs. gas heating: which is best?

When the weather’s miserable outside, nothing beats a warm and cosy home. But a toasty home comes at a cost – especially as the bulk of most people’s energy bills goes on heating and hot water.

Heating’s also one of the areas where you can make the biggest savings on your home’s carbon footprint. So it’s important to make sure your heating system isn’t just cheap to run, but energy-efficient too.

But does that mean you should go with gas or electricity? Is electric or gas heat cheaper? In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between heating with gas vs. electric. And weigh up the pros and cons of electric vs. gas heating, to help you decide which is best for your home.

Electric vs. gas heating: what’s the difference?

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth explaining the main differences between using gas, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), oil and electricity to heat your home.

Gas-based systems (and LPG or oil-based systems) usually rely on a boiler to burn the fuel and heat water. This water is then circulated through radiators or in pipes under the floor to heat the home. As the floors or radiators warm up, they heat up the air in your rooms through what’s known as convection.

There’s more variety in electrical heating systems. While modern gas systems use a central boiler (hence the phrase ‘central heating’); electric systems traditionally rely on separate heating appliances in each room. This might be a simple plug-in fan or bar heater. Or a more sophisticated network of storage heaters that run on cheap off-peak electricity.

warm modern home with lights on

Gas or electric fireplace?

Most homes are unlikely to use a fireplace as their main source of heating. So whether you go for a gas vs. electric fireplace is likely to be based on other factors - such as the look of the fireplace, your home’s style and, of course, your budget.

Gas vs. electric fireplace pros and cons:

Gas fireplace:

ProsCons
Higher heat output: often 3-5 kW – so they give off more heat[1]Higher installation costs: needs to be installed by a Gas Safe engineer
Lower running costs: gas is cheaper than electricityNeeds regular servicing and maintenance – including gas safety checks

Electric fireplace:

ProsCons
Cheaper and easier to install: no pipework or chimney requiredLower heat output: typically up to 2 kW[2]
Usually cheaper to buyHigher running costs: electricity is more expensive than gas

Electric vs. gas heating for hot water

There’s a difference too, between electric vs. gas heating, when it comes to heating hot water. Homes without hot water storage tanks typically use a ‘combi’ gas boiler to heat water on demand. These literally fire up when you turn on the hot tap. You can get something similar in homes that rely on electricity for heating and hot water. Either via an electric boiler[3] or devices like an electric shower.

In other homes, gas or electric boilers circulate hot water into a storage tank, making sure there’s a ready supply when you need it. This tank usually also has an electric element, a bit like a giant kettle. And this ‘immersion heater’ is often used to provide back-up heat for a gas system. But it can also provide all the hot water in homes without a boiler.

Cooking with gas vs. electric

You can have a gas hob and oven even if you have electric heating – so long as you have a gas supply into the house. And you can use electricity for cooking, whether you have electric or gas heating.

With cooking, it’s more a question of preference… Most chefs allegedly prefer cooking with gas vs. electric. But if you’re the one who cleans up the kitchen after cooking, you might prefer the simplicity of an electric hob!

What about heat pump and hybrid systems?

Typically, the way we generate heat or hot water is by burning fuel (like gas or oil) – or using electricity. But newer, more-efficient technologies work differently.

Ground-source heat pumps (GSHP) and air-source heat pumps (ASHP) get heat directly from the ground or the outside air and transfer it into the house. Much like a fridge working in reverse. And because heat is only being moved – not generated – this way, much less power is needed.

A heat pump system can also provide hot water. But because heat pump technology works best at lower temperatures, you often need a bigger hot water tank to get hot water from this type of system too.

Another option is a hybrid system. These combine the best of old and new technologies by pairing a heat pump with a conventional gas, LPG or oil boiler. So the heat pump provides most of the heating and hot water. But the boiler kicks in – when it’s particularly chilly outside, for instance – to keep your home warm and toasty.

Do you rely on oil or LPG for your heating? Say goodbye to the inconvenience of oil deliveries and unpredictable oil prices. Find out how with a hybrid heat pump system.

Radiators, storage heaters or underfloor heating?

It's not just a case of considering the different ways to heat your home: from oil to gas and electricity. You also need to consider how you spread the heat around your home – whether you use radiators, storage heaters or underfloor heating.

Radiators come in all shapes and sizes. But what they all have in common is that they’re usually water-filled, metal panels connected to a central heating system. And you typically have one in each room you want to heat.

Storage heaters are a type of electric radiator. They contain special types of bricks (made from materials, like clay) that store a lot of heat. So they generate heat overnight when electricity is cheapest. And then gradually release this throughout the next day.

Gas or electric underfloor heating relies on a series of pipes, or electric heating elements (like that found in a kettle), placed under the entire floor of a room. In water-based systems, the heat comes from a range of sources – like a boiler or heat pump. In electric systems, the elements simply heat up when switched on.

Underfloor heating has the advantage of covering a huge surface area. So it doesn’t need to get as hot but gives out an even, warm temperature. This makes underfloor heating a great match for heat pumps. As these are better at providing low, consistent heat, rather than very hot temperatures[4].

Is gas or electric cheaper?

Gas or electric heating system costs break down into two types of cost: the installation and running costs. So let’s look at both, to compare electric heating vs. gas cost. Whether you live in a 2-bed flat or five-bedroom house.

Looking at gas installation costs first… The typical cost of installing a gas-fired central heating system – including a boiler, radiators, controls and pipes – can be anything from £3,000 to £4,500[5].

How much does electric heating cost? Low cost electric heating is much cheaper, with basic electric heaters starting at less than £20 each. the cost of an electric heating system increases if you’re looking at putting modern-day storage heaters in. These cost around £400 each – and you’ll usually need one in each room.

 

Get a fixed price quote for a new boiler – including installation, controls and more – from our partner, BOXT.

How much does electric heating cost to run?

When it comes to electric heating running costs… On the face of it, the gas vs. electric heating cost is much cheaper. A single kilowatt-hour (kWh) unit of gas costs around 4p, whereas the average price for a kWh of electricity is more than 16p[6]. This doesn’t mean that electric heating running costs are four times those of gas, however!

So, is electric or gas heat cheaper?

Using off-peak electricity, conventional electric heating may cost about twice as much[7] as gas heating to run.

And here’s why: electric heaters are essentially 100% efficient[8]. In other words, all the electricity they use is turned to heat. The same isn’t true of a gas or oil-fired central heating system. Even an A-rated boiler wastes about 10% of the energy in its fuel. Some additional heat may be lost from the pipework. While a small amount of electricity is needed to run the boiler and its pumps.

Cost-efficient electric heating

Low-cost electric heating systems can often be timed to take advantage of off-peak tariffs too. An off-peak period is when the average cost for 1kWh of electricity is less than 10p.

And you can buy smart controls to manage your home’s heating from your phone. So you don’t even need to be in to turn it on or off. But can switch off the electric heating system from your sun lounger on holiday. Or schedule it to come on for when you return home.

What about the installation and running costs of heat pumps?

The running costs of gas and electric heating are much closer when you look at a ground-source heat pump (GSHP) or air-source heat pump (ASHP) system.

A well-designed heat pump installation may have a coefficient of performance (CoP) of 3.5 or better. This sounds complicated, but what it simply means, is that for every unit of energy it uses, it produces 3.5 units of heat[9].

This makes it about four times more efficient than gas central heating! And, based on standard tariffs, potentially slightly cheaper on price. So a heat pump system could prove considerably less expensive to run if it’s mostly using cheaper, off-peak electricity.

Heat pumps are comparatively expensive to install, however. But the good news is that some of this cost can be recouped through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This government-funded scheme pays you for the renewable heat produced by a heat pump system during its first seven years. Find out more about the RHI scheme.

Is electric vs. gas heating better for the environment?

Cost isn’t the only deciding factor when considering heating with gas vs. electric. There’s also the very important issue of the environmental impact of your heating.

Gas is a fossil fuel. So burning it to generate heat releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This is why heating is the biggest source[10] of CO2 from most homes, outweighing any other CO2-emitting activities, like driving or flying.

In fact, heating our homes is responsible for around 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions[11]. It’s why the Government has said that from 2025, new properties won’t be allowed to have gas boilers. And if we’re to help the UK reach its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050, it’s clear those of us in older properties need to eventually switch to alternative ways of heating too.

Bear in mind that using electricity to heat your home can contribute to CO2 emissions too. Since we still use gas to generate about 40% of electricity. But the good news is that renewables – like solar and wind power – generated almost as much electricity as gas last year: a record 37%[12]. So if you combine electric home heating with a 100% renewable electricity tariff, you know that your heating will be carbon-free.

Electric heater on a wall

Gas vs. electric conversion

So if you want to make the switch from gas to electricity, how do you go about it? Whatever your current set-up – whether you’re using a combi, conventional or back boiler – you’ll need to remove the existing central heating system (boiler, pipes and radiators). But the good news is electric heaters are quick and easy to install. There aren’t any pipes or flues to connect, for a start. So your system will be up and running in no time at all.

Gas vs. electric boiler?

If you’re removing your old gas boiler, you’ll want to consider how you heat the water in your home. Electric boilers are one option. They work much like a kettle with the heating element inside warming up the water. And they’re also quick and easy to install – like electric heaters, there isn’t any pipework or gas work required to connect up the system.

But given the higher running cost of electricity, it’s worth reviewing other hot water options too. Solar water heating systems (also known as solar thermal systems), for instance, use the sun’s (free) energy to provide hot water. Heat pumps are another option. These use heat from the outdoor air to provide hot water. Read more about air source heat pumps.

If you’re sticking with gas but need a new boiler, take a look at our boiler replacement guide.

So what’s best for you: electric vs. gas heating?

They each have their strengths. While simple electric heating is cheaper to install, it can be more expensive to run. Heat pump systems are much more efficient and can cost less to use – particularly on off-peak electricity – but they have higher installation costs.

But, it’s not just the cost you need to consider. The environmental impact of your home heating is a big factor now too. And burning gas, oil or LPG has one unavoidable drawback: it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s quite plausible that fossil fuel heating systems might be banned altogether to help the government meet its net-zero targets by 2050. And this could pave the way for a new generation of efficient heat pump systems – powered by electricity from renewable and low-carbon sources – ultimately becoming the way we heat our homes in the future.

Read these tips on how to make your home heating more efficient. Or consider alternatives to your gas and oil heating with an air source heat pump or hybrid air source heat pump system.

Sources:

[1] https://www.realflame.co.uk/blog/is-a-gas-fireplace-worth-it/

[2] https://www.dimplex.co.uk/electric-fires-buyers-guide

[3] https://www.electric-heatingcompany.co.uk/electric-boilers/

[4] https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/renewable-energy/heat/air-source-heat pumps

[5] https://www.boilerguide.co.uk/articles/how-much-cost-install-central-heating and https://heatingforce.co.uk/blog/cost-installing-central-heating/

[6] https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/about-us/our-calculations

[7] Gas price of 4.17p per kWh vs off-peak electricity at 9.76p (via Energy Saving Trust). Assuming gas efficiency of 90%, multiply unit cost by 1.11 to get 4.63p for a gas kWh – roughly half the price.

[8] Centre for Sustainable Energy: Electric room heaters

[9] https://www.thegreenage.co.uk/cheaper-heat-home-gas-electricity/

[10] https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/blog/significant-changes-are-coming-uk-heating-market

[11] It’s surprisingly hard to find a single authoritative figure. This 2012 report says that heat accounts for 32% of all greenhouse gases (table 1), and that domestic heating represents 48% of this (table 2), giving 15.4%. This is in the same ballpark, saying that (in 2014) households were responsible for 40% of UK emissions, of which heating represented 29%. This works out at 11.6% of the total, but electricity is rapidly getting far greener, which is inflating the heating figure over time (their prediction is that it will be 42% of domestic emissions by 2030).

[12] UK Energy Statistics, 2019 & Q4 2019 press notice from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy