crystal_lane80

Natural gas in a home - Yes or No way?

Junk*Salvation
August 13, 2019
last modified: August 13, 2019

I felt certain I wanted to put natural gas lines in our home this time around so that I could have a dual fuel range, & a gas fireplace (& possibly a gas tankless water heater instead of electric). Then, I saw a video yesterday of a home that had caught fire and instead of spreading at a normal speed, it exploded due to the gas lines in the home. This caused me to rethink using gas in our home. Do you have it? Does it worry you? Would you do it again?

Comments (67)

  • Danette

    Love having NG when the power goes out! I can still cook and make COFFEE. And run the fireplace for heat.

  • leela4

    RES we live in eastern WA state (so yes, cold climate) and our electric is generated from the Columbia (primarily) Snake and other NW rivers.

    ETA we have a heat pump. Works well for us and many others that we know around here.

  • M

    You can use heat-pump technology in cold climates too. But depending on just how cold it gets, you might have to invest in a ground-source heat pump. Initial investment is going to be more expensive, but over time this is going to be a very efficient solution.

  • PRO
    Anglophilia

    I don’t think natural gas is going away except in CA.

  • functionthenlook

    I live in a cold climate. Temps will go into the single digits in winter. We have a heat pump and something they call a air handler. Which to me looks like an electric furnace for supplement heat. We have forced air electric heat. I have no complaints with it. Our electricity is mostly produced by coal since it is a local resource.

  • iamtiramisu

    Have it, love it and wouldn’t be without it. Either current lines to the house or access/availability to add a line is a non-negotiable when we have moved - we wouldn’t even consider homes that didn’t have gas either currently in the house or at least available to it but just not hooked up. I would never be without it if/when there is a choice and most people in this area (northeast) convert to gas when possible/available. When we bought our previous home the first thing we did before moving in was rip out the old oil tank, furnace and boiler and replace with gas furnace/water heater and add a line for a gas stove.

  • Junk*Salvation

    Thank you, everyone, for reeling my fears back in. I was looking forward to using gas in our home this time around & am feeling better about the choice again. We will be hooking up to natural gas lines in our town. Again, thank you!!

  • Lady Driver

    We currently have natural gas for the dryer, water heater, range, and a starter for a wood burning fireplace (1960s era idea). We will be switching to an electric stove because of how gas affects indoor air quality.

  • Robbin Capers

    RES, here in my part of rural Alaska we use fuel oil (and wood/pellets) for heat and propane or electric for appliances. Electricity is hydro or diesel generators (no kidding our whole town is run on diesel in the winter).

  • chispa

    Previous house was electric, oil and wood. I really envied my neighbors the winter the power was out for 4 days and they ran things off of their propane tank. They didn't even offer me a warm cup of tea!

    Current house has electric, NG and solar. Will probably do the same for future house, although no NG in that area, so it will be propane instead.

    There isn't one fuel/system that is perfect in every area of the country. Do what best suits your climate, local availability, your needs and budget. Local rates also play a big part. Electric rates can vary significantly from one state/area to another.

  • worthy

    In cold climates, ground source heat pumps still require a supplementary heating system.

    I don’t think natural gas is going away except in CA.

    Depends on the cost of alternative cleaner fuels.

    Montreal, with a very cold winter climate, is banning fuel oil for heating by 2040, natural gas by 2050. Quebec Province already produces more than 96% of its electricity from hydro--giant dam projects throughout the North conceived and begun in the 1960s.

    **

    (And to think I remember Mama stoking our coal furnace with three good shovelfuls at bedtime to take us through those long rural southwest Ohio winters.)

  • M

    In cold climates, ground source heat pumps still require a supplementary heating system.

    If I read that correctly, then you could absolutely size your system so that you don't need any additional heat source. If you do so, you'll end up seriously oversizing your system, but you'll only really need the full capacity on very few rare occasions. So, it is more cost effective for the home owner, to deliberately undersize the system by a little bit and making up the difference with a supplementary heat source.

    Of course, this math depends a lot on the cost of different energy sources. So, if the cost of supplementary heating went up a lot, it might actually be cheaper to build a bigger ground source system.

    Presumably, this differs from market to market and local companies would be able to advise.

  • D N

    Selfishly, I would much rather have natural gas heat than the available heat pump electric heat. When standing over the outlet in winter (I like to visualize Marilyn Monroe over the subway grill, but I'm afraid it's a lot more prosaic), the difference in temperature of the heated air blown into the house is both notable and important, at least to me.

    We just added a/c to our gas-heated 1923 house, and we declined the option to add on a heat pump to the a/c unit, keeping gas as the backup when the heat pump is overwhelmed. Very possibly short-sighted, but as far as I'm concerned, the next owners can deal with it.

  • M

    For the best and most comfortable experience, get radiant floor heating and add a minisplit heat pump as a supplementary heat source that kicks in for sudden temperature swings.

    You'll never go back to a forced air furnace. It's not even in the same ballpark.

    Traditionally, radiant floors use electric heating for small systems (e.g. individual bathrooms) and boilers for whole house hydronic systems. But I think you can replace the boiler with a ground source



  • vinmarks

    We have a heat pump and propane which is for our range and tankless water heater. In our previous house we had natural gas for range, fireplace and heat.

  • Charles Sweet

    I prefer having gas for at least cooking. I've had high efficiency air and ground source heat pumps both, and prefer gas heat. Which I have now. I would not be scared of having a gas line in the slightest, any more than I would be afraid of being electrocuted by an errant wire.

  • David Cary

    I would challenge anyone to be able to tell the difference between a properly designed heat pump vs a gas furnace. You should never have air blowing on you directly in a way that is noticeable. That is just bad design. You should also not hear the air flow noticeably.

    I have had oil baseboard, NG steam radiators, NG forced air, HP forced air, NG convection air. The design makes all the difference - not the fuel type. A new house should be a tight house which also makes the difference.

    Anyone who insists on a particular type of fuel is being unnecessarily close minded (unless of course you insist on electricity because it is the cleanest).

  • Charles Sweet

    Oh please. If you have forced air, heat pumps always feel "chilly" until the resistance backup heat clicks on. They're great for what they do and I'd do it again in a minute in the right circumstance, but it does make a difference.

  • arch13

    Preferences and questions of safety regarding natural gas are largely regional. I'm in Metro Detroit and natural gas isn't going away anytime soon. In fact our utility has just run all new supply lines in our city. Furthermore, the same utility is switching over the electricity grid from coal-powered generators to NG-powered generators. They're investing in it. I couldn't imagine living without it, but I grew up with it and have always lived with it. As far as safety - I'm far more worried driving in my car on my daily commute than I am about my house blowing up from natural gas. In terms of being green, I believe that passive approaches - ie: proper siting, shading, at the design stage are more compelling than active measures. An all-electric house has to draw that energy from somewhere and in many parts of the country, fossil fuels are feeding the majority of the grid.

  • functionthenlook

    I don't notice the difference in the temp between my forced air heat pump or when the back up heat kicks on. Thermostats don't lie. Maybe it depends on the system and the ductwork.

  • M

    If you have forced air, heat pumps always feel "chilly" until the resistance backup heat clicks on.


    These days, if you install a heat pump system, you should always aim for local air handlers in each part of the house. A modern mini-split design fixes most of the inefficiencies and unpleasantness with older centralized systems.


    Or, as I said, you could install radiant hydronic heat. That's really hard to beat in the way of overall comfort.

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    While regional mileage varies, Natural Gas NG no longer makes financial sense for majority of population in new construction or projects needing to update gas supply line infrastructure. The upfront costs of NG are numerous and mostly hidden in the budget. I think most gas infrastructure for new construction starts ~$1000 but can be more depending on site work.


    Electric heat pumps are cheaper to heat with for most of the population and competitive where not. Situations where NG can have a simple payback of the upfront infrastructure costs suggests inefficient design or construction. Homes that meet current international level energy codes need a fraction of the heat as typical existing housing stock. There are some dated presumptions in this thread mainly surrounding unfamiliarity with current codes and high performance homes.


    Cold climate heat pumps are available that can heat at temps lower than -17F. Heat pump water heaters are available with performance that rival tankless gas. Induction cooktops are preferred over gas by most who give them a chance. Radiant floors can be nice in bathrooms but are often less comfortable than forced air in new, efficient construction due to thermostat response delay.


    A big part of efficiency is blower door proven airtightness and this is where the safety of NG really comes into question. While even leaky homes can backdraft atmospherically vented appliances, it's becoming more clear to those familiar with building science that including ANY indoor combustion in healthy, efficient spaces is problematic.


    NG lines in house fires absolutely increase risk. Gas lines can have small leaks just like water lines and are not always detected. The most common problem to be aware of is backdrafting. While not as dramatic as explosions, it's a life-safety concern and another reason why NG will probably be outlawed eventually.


    NG is increasingly used by electric grid operators over coal, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to pipe it all over the place for burning inside of homes. Electricity is 18% renewable and growing fast. NG is 0% renewable and contaminates other people's well water through fracking.



  • One Devoted Dame

    Is there a way to cook using a wok, without a gas range? My husband often needs an actual flame for various recipes.

  • kudzu9

    Springtime Builders-

    With NG being used in over 60 million homes, the likelihood of it being outlawed is between zero and nil. Hopefully, though, it and all other fossil fuels will be supplanted by renewables, like wind and solar, in the coming decades.

  • Olychick

    I grew up with natural gas and loved cooking with it, but it always terrified me. I can always smell it (the odorant they use in it)- always. So I never felt confident that it wasn't leaking somewhere and had the gas company come out to check too many times. I won't ever have it again, just because of that...the smell leads to fear factor for me.

  • kudzu9

    The whole point of the odiferous chemical added to NG is to alert you to a leak, since NG is odorless. You will smell it when you first turn on a burner because the gas has not ignited yet. That should be reassuring, not fear-inducing. They only time you should be concerned is if the odor is present when you haven't been using the gas.

  • David Cary

    Kudzu9 - while not quite the same scale, gas/diesel cars are getting outlawed from European cities on a time table. How do you propose to stop using fossil fuels without outright bans? Tax so high that people reduce use? Eventually the infrastructure cost is too much for the small number of low volume users and it is essentially banned. Methane is potentially renewable but delivering such a potent greenhouse gas to 60 million homes seems like a bad idea.

    Essentially every house has electricity and electricity can do all that NG can do - except perhaps wok cooking, fireplaces. So the transition is fairly easy - a bit easier than replacing the 100 million cars (in the US).

  • course411

    We had NG in two homes and loved it. Then the natural gas explosions in Lawrence, MA happened. Then I was reminded of the time that a lightning strike at my parents' house damaged the gas line, and they -- who have lost their senses of smell - were saved from injury or worse only by a neighbor who smelled the strong sulfur odor, and called the gas company who immediately evacuated my parents. Then I also remembered a news story of a man who tampered with the gas lines in his house and blew up his estranged wife (and himself!) when she came to retrieve some belongings. I realize anecdotes don't equal data, but I will say that when we moved to a house without NG, I spent only a moment lamenting the fact. I realize now that I feel safer without it.

  • rwiegand

    Many, many more home fires due to electrical wiring than gas. (I'll bet the ratio is 1000:1). Much safer to get rid of the electricity.

    Where we live most of the electricity is generated using gas as the fuel, so converting that energy to electricity and then back to heat can only be a loss in overall efficiency, therefore bad for global warming.

  • arch13

    Feeling safe and safety are different things. I dislike flying, so I feel safer in a car. Flying is a safer mode of transportation.

  • Marta

    What worthy mentioned ^ We also live in a cold climate, and brought a gas line to the house when we moved in. No regrets! We have a dual electric-gas heatpump that is pretty cost-effective (plus AC in the summer), and converted our wood burning fireplace to a gas one last winter (to comply with recent city regulation). I was concerned at first, but we used the fireplace so much during the long and frigid winter! We love it. We also have a gas cooktop, which I like for cooking.

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    Even with site-source conversions, electricity beats gas environmentally for majority of population. Getting rid of electricity is unrealistic. Skipping NG is not only realistic, it's usually better financially.


    For cooks choosing NG for open flame required recipes, what is the percentage of cooking needing an open flame? For most, I'm guessing fractions of a percent. A good designer should be able to incorporate useful outdoor living space to accommodate a propane appliance. At the very least, choose a cooktop with induction capabilities and use it instead of gas whenever possible.


    As David pointed out earlier parts of CA have already banned NG for new construction and worthy mentioned phase out plans for his region. Like it or not, burning fossil fuels inside of homes will eventually be a thing of the past.


    Unfortunately most of the ~60 million gas appliances are atmospherically vented. This is the most dangerous type for indoor air quality concerns and is the biggest target for life-safety building code improvements. Code required Make-Up-Air for vent hoods over 400CFM is not nearly as effective as eliminating the source of indoor combustion.





  • worthy

    There are no plans by the Ontario government to ban natural gas in Ontario.

    Even the far left Wynne government, stomped into no-party status at the last election, stepped back from that threat.

    Quebec, with its vast developed northern dam projects, is another matter entirely. As is the "Left Coast", i.e., Vancouver, with its mild climate.


    BTW, here's news two days ago of a natural gas explosion in London, Ontario. A hundred homes are still evacuated. Cause: a drunk woman drove into the home. Now there's something that should be banned: alcohol.

  • kudzu9

    I'm supportive of moving away from all fossil fuels, including NG. But claiming that electricity beats NG environmentally is quite a stretch. A large amount of electricity comes from burning fossil fuels to produce that electricity, and a good part of the energy value ends up as waste heat as it is being burned in often old power plants that are inefficient and polluting. In fact, the typical coal-fired plant converts only about 1/3 of the coal energy to electric power. And the Trump administration recently rolled back Clean Power rules that would have helped the U.S. get away from and improve these environmentally damaging plants. As for the bans on NG, like the ones in Berkeley for new construction, it's one thing to limit options for homes that haven't been built and another to deal with 66 million structures that already have it. This is a country that, even after the first OPEC oil embargo almost 50 years ago, has failed to institute many common sense energy and environmental measures, and made fun of a President - Jimmy Carter - for daring to suggest we should practice energy conservation. So, while I'm not arguing that there aren't any negatives to use of NG, no one on this forum needs to worry that the energy police will be confiscating their gas stoves or shutting off their gas supplies in their lifetime.

    I wouldn't have spent most of my professional career working in energy and environmental capacities if I wasn't supportive of reducing the use and impacts of fossil fuels. But those 35 years have also made me less-starry-eyed about how fast such things may happen in the U.S., much less on a world-wide basis.

  • A Fox

    Yes we live in northern Indiana near Chicago. Pretty much every house including all new houses that are within municipal limits are set up to heat with gas. Gas dryers and water heaters are also still typical here. Stove tops are split fairly evenly between electric and gas. Our house actually is currently setup with ground water fed chillers for central air conditioning, so we could in the future replace the chillers with new units that incorporate a heat pump and not use our gas fired steam heat boiler except for in the coldest months, but we aren't ready to take on that cost yet when we have other parts of our house that require attention.


    But if skipping gas were better financial where we live, then you would most likely see more alternative heating systems and less gas furnaces. I just did a quick calculation and assuming that an equivalent number of kilowatt hours of electricity was required to heat a house to the same number of therms of gas, then it would cost 4 times more to heat with electricity. This of course assumes the same efficiency for both units, but it illustrates the general idea.

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    My comments were based on new construction, not existing. Agree that existing combustion appliances will never be outlawed, only certain combustion appliances in new construction.. eventually. Agree it may take awhile.

    A Fox, and others curious about simple fuel costs, this heating fuel cost calculator is helpful for checking local utility markets. More accurate accounting will include something for the monthly, minimum fee charged by gas utilities ($135 per year according to 2015 AGA report). Even in markets where gas still beats electricity, it's tough to payback the added upfront NG infrastructure costs considering efficient construction.


    When people realize it's often more expensive to include NG, old timey love affairs with gas will die out.

  • A Fox

    Well yes, if you aren't going to use much natural gas, it certainly doesn't make as much sense financially to have it. I once had an apartment where I was paying $20 a month just for my gas stove with all of the minimum fees. We on the other hand are pretty high energy users with our January and February bills each including about 600 therms of gas use (old house, single pane windows, uninstalled brick walls, 0-6 inches of attic insulation until we recently added more). I'd have to double check with my utility bill when I get home, but I think I figured the 3-4 times more for electricity correctly. 600 therms cost us $400 while 1700 kWh electric costs us $200. 1700 kWh is approximately only 60 therms. So heating with electricity under existing circumstances with our current utility rate structure would be significantly more expensive.


    As far as upfront costs, if our existing local markets were making gas more expensive, it seems like we wouldn't be seeing builders installing gas furnaces in all of their projects with alternate electric systems being the rare exception. I know some of this could be due to local customs, or lack of readily available alternates, but I'm not quite buying that your argument currently applies everywhere. If electricity locally became cheaper and installation of electric systems became more affordable I could see that changing.

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    Things are changing, especially for higher performance construction or those meeting current international code minimums. It looks like that math is comparing to electric resistance, not heat pump technology. The Maine based heating cost calculator, a colder climate than Chicago, is assuming a COP of 2.93 (293% efficiency) with ductless. Most of the population can expect even better efficiency.

  • One Devoted Dame

    Soooo... If we need a flame for cooking, it's either gas or an indoor fire pit, correct? Which is better for indoor air quality? :-D (I'm kidding!)

    Great discussion!

  • A Fox

    True, things are definitely changing, and I don't want to be a naysayer, because I do believe that greater efficiency and smarter energy use are very positive things. Just from what I have seen and experienced we aren't quite there yet in many places for whatever reason, even if it's just that electric heat would scare away many Midwestern home buyers because they expect it to be more expensive.

  • A Fox

    Well that and not having faith that they will have enough heat when the high temperature is -15 deg F outside for 3 days straight, which seems to happen every 4-5 years now.

  • Olychick

    Here in the PNW we have pretty inexpensive electricity because of hydro electric dams. But the environmental costs of those are still being discovered and some dams are being taken down. The other producer is nuclear power, which no one will EVER convince me is safer...Just the half-life of the waste is enough to make it seem crazy to me. We have no evidence that it can be safely stored until it's no longer toxic.

    I would think that with all the open land/sunshine in the midwest that solar panels would be an easy sell. If not to individuals paying to install them, then why not to utilities to provide them to customers?

  • kudzu9

    Olychick-

    Solar panels are good things, but they don't produce energy when it's dark, and they produce less energy in the winter when the days are shorter and the skies can be more overcast. So, to get maximum feasibility you need to have large battery storage cells and integration with utility systems. They're one piece of our future energy puzzle.

  • David Cary

    The original question is searchable.

    In the United States - 100 people roughly die each year from electrical fires (2014-2016) data. There have been 250 NG deaths in the last 20 years - so 10 a year.

    You can't live without electricity so NG is adding 10% to the risk which is incredibly small obviously. Not the 1000:1 that someone suggested.

    And of course, most electrical fires are in older houses. NG is tougher to say since it is often based on the age of the nearby pipeline.

    Kudzu - renewables are cheaper than FF now as compared to most of your career. Additionally every reasonable party has realized we have a problem - those like the US military, the intelligence community, the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs. Essentially everyone who isn't beholden to the power oil has or isn't trying to hasten the rapture - unfortunately that is still a pretty large group but decreasing with each calendar year.

  • kudzu9

    David- I'm aware that some renewables are economically competitive, especially when you remove the subsidies fossil fields receive. Unfortunately, the powers that be aren't going to give up their grip on traditional energy markets any time soon, as this recent story about new coal mining in Australia shows: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/climate/coal-adani-india-australia.html?searchResultPosition=1

    While the U.S. will hopefully continue to make progress in substituting renewables for fossil fuels, developing nations are growing and have a large appetite for these energy sources we are starting to move away from.

  • A Fox

    RE: solar potential in the Midwest. We can actually get very little sunshine in the winter and early spring and sometimes can go a month at a time without hardly seeing the sun. The upper Midwest is the second worst place for solar potential after the Pacific Northwest. Even so, apparently with photovoltaics becoming more affordable and efficient and the amount of sun that we do have, it's becoming more viable to use them as an alternative energy source.


    I'm seeing slightly different statistics than David on electrical and natural gas home fires. It looks like there could be as many as 500 deaths caused by electrical home fires each year, with over 50,000 total fires, meanwhile roughly 2500 home fires are started by natural gas. The number of at home natural gas related deaths was a little less clear. I saw the 10 per year number, but that seemed to include all natural gas fire, not just in homes, and that wouldn't account for other natural gas deaths. Though in either case while the probability may not be as little as 1000:1, the chances of a natural gas fire as compared to the total number of dwelling units in the United States is about .002% each year.


    Also another factor in the sustainability equation: currently most of the power in our area is produced with coal. Until that changes, which is hopefully in the near future, it could be considered more environmentally friendly to continue heating with natural gas.

  • mle0782

    So the two real questions here are 1) how do you cook? Can you live without a gas range? 2) where do you live? In many geographic regions of the US, the majority of homes in the area are one or the other for very different reasons. I have lived in urban east coast where although gas cost less no gas would be feasible and no big deal because electric service is rarely out. I also have lived in south (Tennessee) where everyone has only electric and it goes out ALL the time because of storms (wind, occasional snow and lots of ice). Admittedly, the climate is more temperate in the south but you had to be prepared to be without power—as in people would install a wood fueled heat stove to heat part of house when power went out in winter for several days. Currently, I am in the Midwest in an area where almost anyone who isn’t in the sticks has natural gas heat—it is not only much less expensive to heat with here but essential when we lose power. We don’t lose power as much as TN, but with all this violent weather in the last few years people are starting to install permanent natural gas-powered generators so that when electric is out you don’t have pipes freeze in winter. My friend in Austin, TX, on the other hand, installed solar panels because their AC electricity bills were so high and they never use their furnace!

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    In the part of TN I live(d), power outages are so rare they are barely worth planning for. Computer backup battery is easy. Nationally, renewables have passed coal. The best way to participate in the renewable market is to specify an all-electric home, preferably net-zero or better. There is no % of renewable gas.

    Rate of deaths is nothing compared to low level CO exposure of backdrafting gas appliances. From my earlier medical link on backdrafting:

    "These studies have shown that exhaust fans operated simultaneously with fireplaces depressurize houses by 3 to 8 Pa on average. The CO indoor concentrations due to spillage, as reported in these studies, generally have been lower than 5 ppm. However, such low CO concentrations do not necessarily imply that a potential problem associated with backdrafting does not exist."

    Those types of pressures are easy for leaky houses to hit. In efficient houses with effective spot ventilation, pressures can go much higher.

    Backdrafting happens in millions of homes. Most backdrafting exposure is low dose and rarely diagnosed. It's debatable about how big of a problem it is. Something that's not debatable; if you build without indoor combustion appliances, you eliminate the risk of backdrafting.

  • Jerrod

    My city(Philadelphia) advertises that they had the first Natural Gas utility in the country. I don't know if that's correct but the entire city is piped for Natural Gas, The get it you have to call the gas company and they will connect you to the gas lines. It is cheaper than our electricity which is runs about 15 cents per KWH plus a service charge.


    I heat with Natural Gas, have a Natural Gas whole house water heater, have a Natural Gas dryer, and also have a dual fuel range so that you can cook with gas, and bake with electric, plus a convection oven. The convection oven with it's separate heat source and fan is great. I am not a fan of the cook top. It is hot, and wait until summer when it gets hotter. It is this way even with central air conditioning. When you cook and turn on the burner you can immediately feel the heat coming off from the pan buy holding your hand several inches to the side. Hold it over the pan and you feel more. The is not true with any electric stove I have had.


    In the summer the kitchen gets hot from this cook top. Looking back I would much rather have an induction cook top with and electric stove. Induction responds just as fast as gas does.

  • PRO
    Springtime Builders

    Jerrod, according to this heating fuel cost calculator, with NG in Phily at $1.21 per therm and electricity at 15 cents per KWH it's actually cheaper to heat with electricity if using ductless or high efficiency heat pumps.


    Rheem Prestige or Steibel Eltron Accelera heat pump water heaters would probably be cheaper to heat water with and you would get beneficial de-humidified air, instead of the risk of backdrafted combustion exhaust.

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