Gas vs electric boilers – which should you choose?

1 July 2024

Every UK home needs a boiler. It’s the beating heart of the home, providing two key needs – central heating and hot water. Overwhelmingly, gas is the most popular type in this country. In fact, according to Uswitch, 78% of British homes have a gas boiler for their central heating, and 80% of those are combi boilers.

The next biggest type is electric storage heaters, used by just 5% of households, an equal percentage to that of oil. Three per cent use portable gas heaters, and a tiny 1% still use fixed wall-mounted gas fires, a remarkable drop from about 30 years ago. That’s despite the resurgence of the “living flame” gas fire in the past few years.

This stark difference must be partly down to historical use. Gas mains were installed in British towns and cities in the early 1800s, although they were mainly to provide street lighting. Domestic gas and electric supplies reached homes around the same time as each other, in the late Victorian period, but electricity was still a new technology then. 

When people started getting their own gas boilers and using them to heat their homes in the mid-20th century, gas was the natural choice. There was the existing infrastructure, and gas was a by-product of coal mining, in which the UK was a world leader. Gas was also cheaper and it was incentivised by the government. Electricity was expensive and somewhat unreliable until relatively recently.

We’re not living in the 1950s any more, yet people still choose gas over electricity when it comes to heating their homes and water. Modern electricity from nuclear, wind, hydroelectric and solar is clean and safe, so why hasn’t the market followed in that direction? Let’s break down the pros and cons of electric and gas boilers in the home.

Benefits of electric boilers

Electric boilers have been gaining popularity, but still remain a niche option. They do have certain benefits over gas, but as we’ll see below, they’re not always enough to tip the balance for a homeowner or landlord.

High efficiency

One of the standout features of electric boilers is their efficiency. Most electric boilers have an efficiency rate of about 99%, which means nearly all the electricity consumed is converted into heat. In comparison, even the most efficient condensing gas boilers typically range from 89% to 95% efficiency.

Low maintenance and safety

Electric boilers have far fewer moving parts than their gas counterparts. This simplicity translates to a reduced risk of malfunctions and lower maintenance requirements. Since they don’t burn fuel, there’s no risk of carbon monoxide leaks, making them a safer option for your home. Electric boilers generally don’t require an annual service, further cutting down on maintenance costs.

Environmental impact

Electric boilers can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, especially if the electricity powering them comes from renewable sources. The UK’s grid is constantly marching towards greener supplies, to the point where there are occasional days where no fossil fuel is used to power it. It’s worth noting that the grid still isn’t 100% renewable – about 18% of the electricity generated still comes from fossil fuels.

Homes fitted with electric boilers are stepping in the right direction towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions. For those using solar panels or other renewable energy systems, electric boilers can genuinely achieve zero emissions.

Flexibility and installation ease

Electric boilers are generally smaller and more compact than gas boilers, making them easier to install, especially in homes with limited space. They don’t require flue pipes or access to a gas network, making them an option for properties not connected to gas mains, such as many rural properties. This flexibility can also translate to cost savings during installation.

Quiet operation

Electric boilers operate almost silently, which is important to many householders. It’s especially noticeable in flats and smaller homes, where the boiler is likely to be situated closer to living areas.

Benefits of gas boilers

As we mentioned above, gas boilers have long been a staple in many homes, and they continue to offer some real benefits.

Lower running costs

One of the most important advantages of gas boilers is their lower running costs. Natural gas is generally cheaper than electricity on a per-unit basis, making gas boilers a more cost-effective option for heating larger homes or properties with high hot water demand. 

Broad range of power ratings

Gas boilers are available in a wide array of ratings, ranging from 9kW to as high as 150kW. This variety means there’s a gas boiler that can meet almost any central heating and hot water demands, whether you live in a small flat or a sprawling five-bedroom house.

Higher availability

The market for gas boilers is well-established, with many models and brands readily available. This not only provides more choice but also potentially more opportunities to strike a good deal or a boiler that closely matches your specific needs. There’s also a thriving gas installation industry, with thousands of qualified engineers up and down the country. Electric boilers are still quite niche, so it’s harder to find an installer.

Reliability in performance

Gas boilers have a proven track record of reliability built up over decades of refinement. They can deliver consistent heating and hot water, even in larger homes. This reliability, coupled with newer models becoming increasingly efficient, ensures that a gas boiler can meet the demands of a busy household with ease.

Which should you choose?

If you’re deciding between a gas and an electric boiler, all the above factors come into play, but the main ones are your specific heating needs, environmental considerations and budget.

If you prioritise high efficiency and have access to renewable energy sources like solar panels, an electric boiler may be the best fit for you. They offer impressive efficiency rates and minimal maintenance, and are ideal for eco-conscious homeowners, especially those living in smaller homes or off the gas grid. Do note, however, that until the grid goes fully renewable, they’ll still be contributing to your carbon footprint.

If you seek reliability, lower operating costs, and have higher heating and hot water demands, a gas boiler is probably more suitable. They are generally more cost-effective to run and come in a wide range of models to suit a variety of household needs.

Given these facts, we think that on balance, gas boilers win out for the vast majority of homes. That’s borne out by the usage stats, which can’t be solely down to historical reasons. If you’re ready for your next boiler and you’re in the Milton Keynes area, let’s get started on your new gas boiler installation.