EIA: Electricity gaining ground on home heating front

September 25, 2014 By    

Natural gas has long been the dominant choice as the primary heating fuel in the residential sector. Lately, though, electricity has been gaining market share while propane, natural gas, distillate fuel oil and kerosene have declined.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of the national change in heating fuel choice can be attributed to population migrations farther west and south. But even within census regions, electricity has been gaining market share at the expense of natural gas. The Northeast is the exception, EIA says, as both natural gas and electricity have been increasing while distillate fuel oil and kerosene have declined.

In the Midwest, natural gas heats most homes. The Midwest also has the highest percentage of homes heated by propane, EIA says, although both natural gas and propane have lost market share to electricity since 2005. The South is the only census region where electricity is the main space-heating fuel in the majority of homes. Heating fuel preferences in the West largely mirror the national average, EIA adds, although households in the West are more likely to use wood as their primary heating fuel or to report not using heating equipment at all.

In addition, EIA data show that homes built since 1970 use electricity and natural gas as their main heating fuel in about equal proportions. Often, the choice of heating fuel in new construction has long-term implications, as fuel switching can be expensive. In addition to buying new equipment and removing old equipment, ductwork, pipes, flues, pumps and fans may need to be installed or removed.

Space heating is the largest portion of household energy use in most areas of the country, according to EIA, and the choice of main heating fuel also influences the fuels chosen for other end uses such as water heating, cooking, and clothes drying. EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey collects data on fuels used for these purposes, which account for about 65 percent of 2014 residential delivered energy consumption. The most recent survey data show that homes using natural gas as their main space heating fuel are more likely to also use natural gas for other purposes.

Nationally, only 20 percent of clothes dryers use natural gas, but in homes with natural gas as their main space heating fuel, that percentage increases to 34 percent. Of the homes using electricity as their primary heating fuel, about 96 percent used electric clothes dryers.

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