Electric vs Gas Boiler: Advantages and Disadvantages

Electric boilers are a great alternative to gas boilers if you’re looking for a  low-carbon boiler solution. Both gas heating systems and electric heating can provide you with heating and hot water throughout your home. However, electric boilers rely on electricity from the grid or an electricity-producing alternative, like solar panels. Gas heating systems, on the other hand, run on burning fossil fuels.

Electric boilers are the more eco-friendly option, as no fossil fuels are burned by their operation. Plus, when hooked up with solar panels or running on electricity supplied by renewable energy from a green energy supplier, they can reduce your home’s carbon footprint significantly. Electric boilers are also more efficient and waste less fuel than gas boilers.

However, if you’re relying on electricity from the grid, your energy bills could skyrocket, given that electricity is currently priced much higher than gas.

Alternatively, gas heating systems are cheaper to run. They also provide quicker heating and are better suited to bigger homes. Electric boilers, sometimes, cannot meet the heating and hot water demands of large homes. However, at least with electric boilers, you don’t have to worry about a carbon monoxide leak, as you would with gas heating systems.

Overall, there are pros and cons of each boiler type that you need to consider before making your purchase. This article will further explore these pros and cons and also touch on other areas of interest.

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What is a Gas Boiler?

A gas boiler is a traditional boiler type that burns gas to heat your home. A network of underground pipelines provides gas for homes across Scotland, which is then burned in the combustion chamber of a boiler. The heat created by this burning gas is then transferred to a heat exchanger, while the combustion byproducts are exhausted out of the connected flue or vent.

Another vital part of a gas heating system is the pump/circulator. This component is responsible for moving the heat created in the combustion chamber to your heating distribution system (i.e. the radiators in your house). Gas boilers can provide a continuous level of heat, which can be controlled using the connected thermostat.

There are two main types of gas boilers, which are:

  • Natural gas boilers: Natural gas heating models are the most widely used gas heating system type in Scotland. The fuel for natural gas heating systems is supplied via underground gas reserves.
  • LPG boilers: “Liquid Petroleum Gas” boilers are powered by a fuel mixture of propane and butane. This mixture is kept in a tank in your home. Given that the fuel is stored on-site, LPG boilers are better suited to those who live in remote places and who are not connected to a gas supply network.

As it stands, most homes in the UK are heated using gas boilers. However, as the country readies itself for a net-zero future, the Scottish government have started to prohibit the installation of gas heating systems.

For example, the Building (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023 (New Build Heat Standard) will come into force on the 1st of April 2024. This standard will prohibit the installation of both gas and oil boilers in new commercial and residential buildings.

Electric v Gas Boiler

What is an Electric Boiler?

Electric boilers utilise electricity to generate steam or heat water. It does this by passing an electric current through a heating element. This is where electric boilers differ from gas ones, as the latter requires combustion to produce heat energy. The hot energy produced inside an electric boiler is then sent to your radiators to heat your home, while the hot water is sent to your taps and showers.

There are several electric boiler types, including the following:

  • Combi boilers: Combi boilers create heat for your taps and radiators whenever you turn either of them on. Combi boilers essentially create “on-demand” heating. Due to their on-demand nature, these types of boilers only require a single unit. They don’t need a separate hot water cylinder for storage as they don’t store anything. Combi boilers are, therefore, good for homes with limited space.
  • Heat-only boilers: Heat-only boilers are better for bigger homes and consist of several separate units – including the boiler itself as well as a hot water cylinder. The boiler itself provides heat for your radiators. The boiler also creates hot water and stores it in the hot water cylinder. This hot water storage cylinder then provides hot water to your showers and taps whenever you need it.
  • System boilers: System boilers are similar to heat-only boilers. However, they contain any external parts that would be on a heat-only boiler inside. For example, system pumps have built-in valves, pumps, and expansion vessels. However, these boiler types still feature a separate water cylinder. System boilers have compact designs and greater efficiency than heat-only boilers.

The electricity that powers your electric boiler can either be created in a renewable or non-renewable way. If you opt to receive electricity from a renewable supplier, the electricity will have been created using either wind, solar panels, hydropower, or bioenergy. Non-renewable electricity is created at a natural gas, oil, or coal-fired power plant.

If you get a deal with a renewable electricity supplier, you can make your home totally green. If you opt for a non-renewable energy source, you can make your home partially green. While no fossil fuels are burned in your home, the electricity you use is created through the combustion of fossil fuels. Still, using a non-renewable electricity supply would still make your home greener than using a gas boiler.

The UK is currently aiming to be net zero by 2050. For this reason, UK governments are encouraging homeowners to switch from gas heating systems to electric ones.

The Main Differences Between a Gas Boiler & Electric Boiler

We already briefly explored the pros and cons of electric boilers vs gas boiler models. So, here’s a more in-depth look at what makes a heating run by gas system a better choice than an electric boiler:

More models available

Gas boilers have existed for much longer than electric boilers. This means that you have a wide range of gas heating systems to choose from. It also means you’re far less likely to find that your boiler of choice is out of stock. You have greater freedom to browse through different boiler models and sellers to find the right model and price for your home.

Gas boilers are cheaper

If you’re looking at buying a brand-new boiler, you’ll find that gas boilers have the cheapest prices and the most diverse range of models. This means it’ll be far easier to find a budget gas heating system than it would to find a budget electric boiler.

Cheaper running costs

Gas can be over half as cheap as electricity per kWh. While electric boilers are far more energy efficient, gas wins in terms of running costs due to the significantly cheaper price of gas. Electricity is currently subject to levies and taxes, while gas isn’t. This has made the difference between the cost of gas and the price of electricity quite significant. Gas often appears to be the cheapest heating option.

They’re capable of heating bigger homes

Gas boilers do a better job of providing heating and hot water for bigger homes. This boiler type has a high heat output, meaning it can effectively heat bigger-capacity homes. Gas heating systems tend to have a heat output of 35 kW as standard.

As a general rule for bigger homes, for each radiator you have in your home, you should add an extra 1.5 kW. So, a standard gas heating system has the power to cover around 23 radiators!

Gas can also heat water quicker than electricity can, meaning gas boilers can heat a home quickly. Overall, a gas heating system ensures that every room in your house is quickly and evenly heated.

Electric boilers, on the other hand, come with a lower heat capacity than gas heating systems. Generally, they have a heat capacity that falls between 5 kW and 15 kW. This is why gas boilers are considered the better option for bigger homes, as electric boilers are only really suitable for smaller homes.

boiler installers

What Are the Advantages of an Electric Boiler?

Looking at electric boilers, the main advantages are as follows:

Potential for zero emissions

A standard electric boiler won’t burn any fossil fuels in your home, so it won’t release any emissions. However, some degree of fossil fuels will be burned to create the electricity used from the grid. While this lowers your overall carbon emissions, it doesn’t make your home 100% carbon neutral.

In order to do this, you’d have to power your electric boiler will a zero-emissions power source. This could be done by having your electricity provided by a carbon-neutral provider or having solar panels fitted on your roof to provide your own electricity supply.

Easy installation

The installation of an electric boiler is normally easier than that of a gas boiler. Generally, it should only take an electric boiler engineer 1-3 days to successfully install an electric boiler into a home that’s never had an electric boiler before. If you’re swapping an old electric boiler for a new one, the process should only take around 4-6 hours.

Given the amount of parts involved in installing a gas boiler, it can sometimes take as long as 4 days to install one. Although the amount of time it takes to install is influenced by the house itself, the boiler make and model, and the skill level of the engineer, it normally takes longer to install a gas heating system than it does an electric boiler.

Cheaper installation

Electric boilers are generally easier to install than gas boilers because you don’t need to set up the gas supply. It can be complicated to set up a gas line running to your gas boiler, which can extend the amount of time it takes to set up a gas heating system. With gas heating systems, you also have to install a flue and chimney to expel the combustion byproducts.

Electric boilers don’t require gas and don’t create any byproducts that need to be expelled, which makes setting them up far easier than gas boilers.

For this reason, you may find that installing an electric boiler is cheaper than installing a gas boiler. However, you may still need to pay to have your old gas boiler removed. This could drive up the overall cost of installing your electric boiler.

Compact design

Electric boilers tend to take up far less space than gas-powered heating systems. If you get a combi boiler, you only need to make space for a single unit. For all electric boilers, you don’t need to make room for flues and chimneys, as there are no fumes created. This makes them better suited to smaller homes or homes with complicated layouts.

Less maintenance required

Electric boilers have a limited amount of components that need to be serviced. Gas heating systems, on the other hand, feature burners and pilot lights that need to be serviced frequently.

While annual servicing is still recommended, the risk of a component of your electric boiler needing to be repaired is low. There are fewer moving parts on an electric boiler than there are on a gas heating system, meaning that there’s less risk of things breaking and needing to be repaired.

Quiet operation

Electric boilers are also quieter than the likes of gas or oil boilers. They don’t burn any fuel, so don’t create any loud noises throughout the day or in the middle of the night. Plus, they contain far fewer parts than gas boilers, meaning fewer parts can hit against each other and make noise.

Better for those who live in remote locations

If you live far away from towns and cities, your home may not be able to connect to the gas network. Those who live in remote locations can benefit from electric boilers as connecting them to the main gas network is not a requirement.

Installation Costs: Electric vs Gas Boilers

When it comes to calculating installation costs, you need to consider both the amount you have to pay for the boiler itself as well as how much you’d have to pay for the physical labour of installing it.

Generally, quality gas boilers are priced the same as quality electric boilers. Gas heating systems tend to be priced between £1,500 and £3,000. Alternatively, electric boilers can reach prices of up to £4,500. So, the most premium electric boiler costs more than the most premium gas boiler.

In addition to this, if you’re on a budget, it would be far easier to find a cheap quality gas heating system than it would to find a cheap electric boiler. This is because there are more gas boilers on the market than there are electric boilers.

However, the price you pay for the boiler also depends on the size, make, and model you opt for.

Whether you choose a gas or electric boiler, you’ll also have to pay for a professional boiler engineer to come out to your home and fit it.

A typical boiler installation costs between £2,000 and £4,500. The price you pay depends on the complexity of the boiler installation and how many days it takes to complete the project. Given that they generally take fewer days to install, it tends to be cheaper to install an electric boiler.

Running Costs: Electric vs Gas Boilers

Gas heating systems are currently cheaper to run than electric boilers. Based on data provided by the Energy Saving Trust, the average fuel price is higher for electricity than it is for gas in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Based on the most recent data, gas costs around 6.9 pence per kWh, and has a standing charge of £108.11 per year. On the other hand, electricity costs 27.35 pence per kWh. In addition to this, a standing charge of £194.80 is also required.

Even if you use an Economy 7 tariff, you will still have to pay more for electricity than you would have to for gas. For off-peak electricity usage, you still have to pay 16.35 pence per kWh.

Overall, the price you’d have to pay to run an electric boiler far exceeds the amount you would have to pay to run a gas boiler.

On top of paying to run your gas/electric boiler, you will also have to consider maintenance costs.

In terms of breakdown risks, a gas boiler is far more likely to break down than an electric boiler. This is because gas heating systems have more moving parts than electric boilers, which means more things can go wrong. While you shouldn’t assume that an electric boiler will never break down, it’s just less likely to do so, on paper.

Gas Boiler

Which Is Cheaper Overall?

As it stands, gas boilers can work out cheaper than electric boilers. While they may be more expensive to install, gas boiler running costs are far lower, making them more viable in the long term. However, as the Scottish government continues to encourage gas boiler users to switch to electric boilers, the price of the latter will likely get cheaper overall.

Additionally, gas boilers are more likely to break down and need parts replaced. So, a gas heating system may end up costing you more should it frequently break.

Which is the Most Efficient Boiler?

Electric boilers are more efficient than gas heating systems. Electric boilers deliver somewhere between 99% and 100% efficiency, while gas boilers can normally only provide around 93% efficiency. This means that every time you use a gas boiler, a good degree of energy is wasted. Whereas, with an electric boiler, almost all the energy created is used.

This somewhat makes up for the fact that electric boilers are more expensive to run than gas heating systems. At least all the energy you’re paying for is directly powering your home heating system.

Alternatives to Gas and Electric Boilers

If you don’t want a gas or an electric boiler installed, there are several environmentally sound heating solutions you could have installed as an alternative. The main gas and electric boiler alternatives are as follows:

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are one of the best means of generating heat power for your home while relying only on renewable energy sources. Heat pumps extract heat energy from either the air, ground, or water, depending on the type of heat pump you have installed.

The only real problem with heat pumps is that they do require a small amount of electricity to operate – although, not as much as an electric boiler requires. This electricity requirement can sometimes make heat pumps slightly more expensive to run than gas heating systems.

Hopefully, to make low-carbon heating solutions more viable to more people, the cost of electricity will be lowered.

Here’s more information on the main heat pumps you can have installed in Scotland:

Air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are the most common heat pump type in Scotland. This easy-to-install pump absorbs heat from the outside via a fan. It then uses the absorbed heat to warm a refrigerant, turning it into a gas. This gas is then compressed and pumped around your home.

Interestingly, air source heat pumps can function accordingly in the winter. They only require a small amount of heat from the air to work. Normally, the residual heat energy left over from warmer months is enough to keep an air source heat pump operating through the colder months.

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps are more expensive and, therefore, less common throughout the country. Instead of collecting heat from the air, these heat pumps absorb energy from the ground, where temperatures are stable. Due to this temperature stability, ground-source heat pumps tend to be more reliable than air-source heat pumps.

The reason they’re expensive to install is that a lot more work is required to go into the setting up of a ground source heat pump. A trench needs to be dug for the ground loop, which is required to be buried between 75 and 200 metres deep.

Because of this, some homes are unsuitable for ground source pumps. You need a sufficient level of outdoor space for them to fit accordingly.

Water source heat pumps

Water-source heat pumps are closer to ground-source models than they are to air-source models. Instead of burying the heat conductor underground, it is submerged in a nearby body of water. Like below ground level, water of a certain depth can provide a consistent heat level for a home.

The problem with water-source heat pumps is that your home needs to be close enough to a large outdoor body of water for them to work. Due to the extensive amount of piping and installation jobs that need to be completed to set up a water source pump, this eco-friendly heating solution also tends to be one of the most expensive.

Solar thermal/panels

You could invest in solar hot water. Solar thermal panels use sunlight to heat a fluid stored within the system. This fluid is normally a combination of water and antifreeze. As this fluid circulates the system, heat is transferred to a storage tank. The heat stored in this tank can then be used to heat your home.

Using solar thermal panels is a great way to reduce your energy consumption and effectively make your home heating system self-sufficient.

Alternatively, you could have solar panels installed in your home to create a renewable source of energy. Instead of paying for expensive electricity from the grid, you could create your electricity using roof-fitted solar panels. You could then use this electricity to power an electric boiler or a heat pump – whichever additional heating solution you choose!

However, solar panels of any kind have a big upfront cost, which could set you back initially. However, the amount of money you’d save on electricity, in the long run, would make this a worthwhile investment.

Biomass boilers

Biomass boilers work by burning pellets, logs, chips, and other plant-based materials. The heat generated by the burning of these materials can then be used to heat the central heating and hot water in your home.

If you’re not connected to the gas mains or you live in a rural area, a biomass boiler could be a good heating solution. Especially if you live near the woods and have ready access to materials you could use to burn. Biomass boilers are considered to be renewable heating systems and, when sustainably managed, can be made carbon neutral.

heat pump alternative to boiler

Can I Replace My Gas Boiler with an Electric Boiler?

Yes, it’s easy to replace your gas boiler with an electric boiler. The heating and hot water plumping that’s currently connected to your gas heating system can be reconnected to your new electric boiler. There is no need for a wide-scale plumbing renovation to take place.

You can choose to have the electric boiler fitted in the same place as your gas boiler or choose a new location entirely. Given that electric boilers tend to come more compact and with fewer connected parts, you have greater flexibility in terms of where you want to store them in your home.

However, the now redundant parts – such as the gas line, flue, etc. – will all need to be capped off by a Gas Safe engineer. This will add to the cost of swapping out your old gas heating system for a new electric one.

Gas boilers are set to be phased out in the coming years, so you should definitely consider switching to a low-carbon heating solution. Electric and gas heating systems can be relatively easily swapped around, so opting for an electric boiler is a good idea.

FAQs

Electric boilers are the future and are a better option than gas boilers. Gas heating systems aren’t as efficient as electric boilers. They also create high carbon emissions. Gas boilers are slowly being phased out in the UK, meaning it will become difficult for you to buy new parts for your gas heating system or get it replaced. Switching to an electric boiler is a way of future-proofing your home.

The cost of switching between a gas and an electric boiler would be somewhere between £2,500 and £4,500. This includes the cost of buying an electric boiler as well as the installation costs. However, the price you pay for your electric boiler can exceed £4,500.

It all comes down to the model of electric boiler you opt for, as well as how difficult it is for the installer to remove the hot water tank and cold water storage.

It is generally cheaper to heat water with gas than it is with electricity. The reduced running costs of gas heating systems are due to the long-existing infrastructure of gas supply in the UK. Most homes still use gas over electricity, which keeps the price low. Additionally, electricity prices are high due to the amount it costs energy providers to make it and the fact that electricity is less energy-dense than gas.

If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to gas and coal boilers, then an electric boiler would be a good option. If you’re installing solar panels, it would definitely be recommended to get an electric boiler, as this would make your home totally green. Electric boilers are also safer, produce less noise, and are more compact than gas and oil boilers.

No, condensing boilers are known for their high efficiency levels, often reaching around 90% to 99% efficiency. In contrast, non-condensing boilers can only achieve up to 78% efficiency. The advanced technology in condensing boilers allows them to capture and reuse heat, reducing energy waste and ensuring a smaller carbon footprint.