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Natural Gas vs. Electric for Heating Your Multi Unit Condo Building

by Patti Althoff - Siwicki | Sep 12, 2019 | Property Manager, HVAC, Facility Manager, Rooftop Unit, Heating, HVAC Installation, Commercial Building, boiler | 0 Comments

heating options for your multi unit property

Do you know the best way to heat your multi-family property? For most apartment buildings, condos and co-ops, the choice boils down to natural gas, heating oil or electricity. In order to determine the best way to heat your multi-unit residential building, it’s important to look at a number of factors, including utility costs, costs to install and city codes and regulations.

The Future of Natural Gas and Heating Oil

When it comes to looking at the future viability of using natural gas and/or heating oil for your building’s boilers, furnaces and heating equipment, it’s important to look at current trends, especially bans on the use of heating oil and natural gas. For example, you might be shocked to find out that Berkley, California banned natural gas in new building construction, starting on January 1, 2020, and they are the first city to ban natural gas. The goal is to reduce the city’s net emissions to 0 by the year 2050.

New York has also banned some petroleum products from use in heating equipment. In 2015, New York banned the use of Number 6 heating oil, and they are looking to ban Number 4 heating oil in the near future. The good news for most buildings in New York is that the owners anticipated a future ban on Number 4 oil and either switched to Number 2 heating oil or natural gas, which are both cleaner-burning than Number 6 and 4 heating oils.

The takeaway is that more cities could adopt these bans on fossil fuels in order to cut back on city-wide emissions, so it is an important consideration when choosing which type of fuel to use for heating your property in the winter.

Natural Gas VS. Heating Oil for Heating Equipment Operation

The first consideration when choosing natural gas or electricity for your Chicago building’s heating equipment is the cost to install. Gas heating equipment tends to cost more upfront than the equivalent electric heating options, including boilers, rooftop systems, furnaces, space heaters and heat pumps. The gas equipment costs can also cost more if the building does not have any preexisting natural gas lines.

Monthly Utility Costs

Another factor in choosing new equipment is the cost of the fuel type. According to SFGate, electricity across the United States costs about 11.7 cents per kilowatt, and for each kilowatt consumed, roughly 3,400 BTUs of heat are produced.

Gas heat is calculated in Therms, which costs an average of .80 cents per hour. For those utilizing natural gas, they can expect roughly 100,000 BTUs for every therm. This means that natural gas heating equipment costs less to operate per month than the equivalent electric heating system.

Environmental Friendliness

When bans and restrictions are placed on the type of fossil fuel used, it’s generally due to environmental concerns and lowering a city or state’s carbon footprint and their reliance on non-renewable energy sources. For many individuals, business owners and property managers, this means using electricity instead of natural gas or heating oil.

However, it’s important to understand that electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, usually coal or natural gas. The exception to this rule is if the electric plant is powered by a nuclear reactor, which doesn't involve fossil fuels but comes with its own hazards, like a reactor meltdown, or if the power plant is hydroelectric, which means the generators that facilitate the production of electricity are powered by the movement of water. The bad news is that all of these powerplants are only about 30 percent efficient, which means that only 30 percent of the fuel used is converted into electricity. However, natural gas power plants that utilize a combined cycle have been known to achieve 60 percent fuel efficiency.

When it comes to the method of power production on a global scale, nuclear power accounts for 10 percent of the global electricity production, coal products account for 39 percent, hydroelectric power plants account for 16 percent and natural gas accounts for 23 percent.

Of course, when the choice for a heating fuel is between electricity and natural gas, electricity tends to produce a more environmentally friendly building than one that uses natural gas, according to Greenbiz, which may make it easier to achieve building Energy Star ratings and LEED certifications.

Gas Versus Electric Heating Pros and Cons Overview

When it comes to definitively choosing the right method of heating for your building, it’s important to also look at the various pros and cons of electric and gas heating.

Gas Heating Pros

Natural gas heat is one of the two fuels that are primarily used within the city. Heating oil is not typically used in Chicago.

  • Costs less per month to operate natural gas heating equipment

  • Gas heat results in faster heating of indoor spaces

  • Natural gas heating is allowed in Chicago

Gas Heating Cons

While gas heat is more cost-effective per month, it does have a few drawbacks that should be taken into consideration when choosing a fuel type.

  • Equipment is more expensive to purchase

  • Unmaintained units can lead to carbon monoxide being released in the air

  • Higher maintenance costs

  • Units don’t last as long as electric heating units

Electric Heating Pros

Electric heat is typically the choice of buildings who want to simplify their power bills and improve their building’s environmental friendliness.

  • Electric furnaces, heat pumps and space heaters cost less to install

  • Less maintenance than a gas unit

  • Lowers the building’s carbon footprint

Electric Heating Cons

To spite the numerous benefits of using electric heat, it still has a few drawbacks that are important to take into consideration before making a purchase decision.

  • Higher energy costs when compared to gas heat

  • Slower heating of indoor spaces

  • Electric power plants still use fossil fuels to create electricity

Choosing the Right Heating Equipment with Help from Althoff, Serving Chicago

When it comes to choosing the right heating equipment for your new or existing multi-unit tenant building in Chicago, you can trust us to research all the available equipment, calculate your heating needs and recommend the best options for your building. In general, this means that we will recommend at least three systems, including an affordable option that meets Chicago's energy-efficiency standards and benchmarking objectives, a moderately priced slightly more energy-efficient model and a higher-priced ultra-energy-efficient model. We can also create custom heating solutions for your building that work with your existing BAS system and zoned heating systems.

To learn more about how we can help you choose the right heating system for your Chicago building, call us at 800-225-2443.

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