For much of the year, Dallas is notoriously hot. The all-time high temperature of 113 was recorded during the heat wave of 1980. Even in January, the coldest month, the average high is 57 degrees. It’s hardly snowshoe weather.
Then again, the average low in January is 37 degrees, and twice in recorded history the temperature dipped to -8. Wait, where did we put our snowshoes?
Clearly these colder temps are a job for a furnace. Maybe we don’t need heat for three-quarters of the year like they do in Montana, but even in Dallas we won’t be comfortable without some heating source.
Electric or Gas Heat?
In order to discuss furnace options available, we have to first discuss heating source. In Dallas, as in the rest of the country, a majority of homes are heated by either natural gas or electricity. But Dallas and the rest of the south skew more towards electric than most of the USA. In a few old homes, you might still find an old oil furnace or a propane tank, although these are rare. Geothermal is also rare and is a different type of heating source, although it is growing in popularity, especially in Highland Park area.
According to the US Energy Information Administration’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey, about half of Texas homes are heated with electricity and electric resistance heating is becoming even more popular. Natural gas is used to heat only about 42 percent of Texas homes. About 2 to 3 percent use propane, and a very small percentage have no heat at all.
Why is Electric Heat So Popular in Texas?
It seems counter-intuitive, that a city and state economy so reliant on natural gas production, wouldn’t have more homes running on natural gas for heat! Although the natural gas industry created Texas boom-towns over the last decade and prices for fuel remain low, installation costs are much higher than electric resistance heating.
A home builder ultimately decides what heat source your home is likely to use. Natural gas heat is popular in select neighborhoods throughout DFW, but requires multiple houses connected for it to be economical during installation. Alternatively, electric resistance heat is cheap and quick to install. This suits the population boom in DFW, as home builders are already swamped with enough projects. So the short answer is, electric heat is more cost effective for the builder and saves time during home construction, making it the most popular heat source.
Downsides of Electric Heat
Although electric heat is cheap during installation, it creates costly utility bills. Natural gas prices have historically been and will continue to be lower than the price of electricity in Texas. However, the cost of each fuel source is only one factor, electric resistance heat is also less efficient. So you pair a pricey heat source with a less efficient electric furnace, and you get high electric bills each month. Heat pumps which can be powered by electricity cut down energy use by 50%. So if you don’t have hookups for heating via natural gas, a heat pump is a cheaper and more efficient option.
Heat pumps and natural gas furnaces do cost more in repairs and maintenance, than electric resistance furnaces, although they are still cheaper than electric. Let’s break down the impact of a majority of Dallasites and Texans relying on electric furnaces for heat.
According to the US Energy Survey data from 2009, the annual electricity cost is $1,801 for each household in Texas. This is among the highest in the country. At 18 percent, air conditioning accounts for a bigger chunk of this amount than in cooler states. The 22 percent of the electricity bill that Texans spend on heating is much smaller than the national average of 41 percent. Although what is still surprising is Texans spend more on heat than on cooling. This is again due to the inefficiency of electric resistance furnaces compared to more energy efficient air conditioners.
Heat Sources in Homes Throughout DFW
In the greater Dallas metro area, the proportion of homes heated by electricity versus homes heated by natural gas varies widely. Factors driving the differences include presence or absence of natural gas lines, costs and home builder preferences. Let’s look at some towns around Dallas. These figures come from city-data.com
In Addison, a whopping 81 percent of homes heat with electricity compared to only 19 percent with utility gas. Price is probably a big driver here. Residential electricity prices average about 11 percent below the national average, while natural gas prices are about 26 percent above.
Electricity wins here, too, at 71 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Carrollton’s homes heat with utility gas and 1 percent use bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas. Carrollton has the same disparity in electricity and natural gas prices vs. the rest of the country as Addison.
Electricity 68 percent, utility gas 31 percent, bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas 1 percent. Same as above about average price differences.
Despite the same disparity between average prices in Coppell and the rest of the US, Coppell has embraced gas heating. Fifty-two percent of homes heat with natural gas, while the other 48 percent use electricity.
The Colony clocks in at 55 percent electricity for heat, 44 percent gas, and 1 percent bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas.
Flower Mound favors gas, with 73 percent of households using it for heat. Twenty-six percent use electricity and the other 1 percent use bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas.
Electricity predominates in Grapevine at 61 percent, compared to 39 percent utility gas and 1 percent no fuel used at all.
Another rare win for natural gas, at 60 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Frisco households heat with electricity, and the remaining 1 percent use bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas.
Electricity wins with 59 percent, gas at 39 percent, and 1 percent use bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas.
Home heating fuels run neck in neck in Plano, with electricity edging out gas, 51 to 48 percent. One percent uses bottled, tank or liquefied petroleum gas.
What’s your furnace situation? If your furnace is more than 10 years old, you might quickly recoup the cost of a new furnace by getting a newer, higher-efficiency model. Wondering if your home is or could be on a natural gas line, and if that would be better? Call us at Lex Air and we’ll help you weigh your Dallas area furnace options.