Is Natural Gas The Best Currently Available Option For Heating Our Homes?

When it comes to the issues of energy and personal consumption, there is no shortage of disagreement and emotional confrontations. Those on one side of the issue believe environmental concerns are legitimate and should be the most important factor in determining who consumes energy and in what form. Those on the other side believe environmental issues have been largely overblown and that cheap, efficient energy is more important.

Gas is now at the centre of that debate thanks to a major shale gas reserve found in north-west England in 2011. The Guardian reported on it in September of that year and immediately set off a firestorm of opposing opinions. Yet regardless of how you might individually feel about the idea of drilling for new gas, the fact remains millions of UK residents use it to heat their homes.

Advantages of Natural Gas

Natural gas has quite a few advantages over other fuels when it comes to home heat. First and foremost is the fact that it is easy to control and, as a result, very safe to use. Many of us use it to power our boilers, heat our water, or even provide fuel for forced air heating.

Some of the other advantages of natural gas are:

  • Extraction - Although there are plenty of critics opposed to the various methods of extracting natural gas, it is relatively easy to do when compared to extracting crude oil. That makes it less expensive for companies to provide and cheaper for the customer to purchase. The prices further controlled by the fact that it does not need refinement like crude oil.
  • Clean - As compared to crude oil, coal, and even most types of wood, natural gas burns extremely cleanly. There aren't nearly the same carbon emissions nor are there most of the pollutants that come from the combustion process with both oil and wood. In addition, the emissions associated with electric heat are twice that of crude oil and three times that of natural gas.
  • Efficient - From the standpoint of the consumer, one of the main advantages of natural gas is its efficiency. For example, an electric water heater must heat up a coil before that heat can be transferred to the water. In order to keep water hot enough, the coil must powered almost continuously. However, because gas is hot as soon as is ignited it can heat the water quicker and then cycle off. Gas-fired boilers are equally efficient as compared to heating your home with crude oil.
  • Less Expensive - In terms of cost, natural gas is a better deal not just for the fuel itself, but also for the equipment. Because gas is so prevalent in the UK, the prices are very reasonable and there are lots of equipment, manufacturers, and installers that work with it. The same cannot be said about some of the other fuel options.

The Fracking Issue

Using natural gas as a home heating fuel was not much of an issue prior to the shale find in 2011. Suddenly the topic was all over the news and at the forefront of the minds of average UK citizens. Those opposed to it claimed that extracting natural gas from shale formations -- via the use of "Fracking" -- poses very serious risks to both humans and the environment.

The basis of these fears is twofold: a huge anti-fracking effort that has been ongoing in the United States for about five years and a 2010 documentary film entitled "Gasland." The film provided the greatest impetus to opposing franking in the UK. Unfortunately, it was largely a hoax from start to finish.

According to Energy in Depth, and industry research and public education organization, the film is easy to debunk because it contains so many outright lies and distortions. And even though EID does have a stake in the industry, their criticisms are not held by them alone. Fox news, RedState.com, and dozens of other media outlets took the creators of "Gasland" to task and proved the film could not be trusted as fact.

Furthermore, fracking has been used in the United States for the better part of 60 years without a single incidence of groundwater contamination or other environmental damage. States like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Oklahoma have been successfully employing in the practice for decades to keep the gas flowing and prices reasonable.

What It Means to the UK Consumer

Despite which side one takes in the fracking argument, it all comes down to this: natural gas provides the safest, cheapest, most efficient way to heat our homes and supply ourselves with hot water. Unless UK residents are prepared to return to the days of cast-iron stoves and limited hot water, we must continue to take advantage of the gas resources under our feet. For the time being, renewable energy is not getting the job done.

On a personal level, it is up to each individual to compare prices on heating fuels and to act accordingly. Those forced to use heating oil because of their equipment or the fact that they are renters must compare oil prices to find the best deal. Those who have the option of using gas need to do the same.

It is possible to purchase both your electricity and gas separately, but why do that? Paying the standard rate for both is completely unnecessary; you can bundle them together and get a dual fuel deal that saves you money in the long run.

The easiest way to compare prices is to use one of the many comparison websites available online. The sites compare prices across the entire industry based on fuel type, geographic location of the consumer, and how the consumer normally pays for utilities. Regardless, a dual fuel plan is better than purchasing each one separately in most cases.

Switching from Oil to Gas

The clear benefits of natural gas have many oil users considering making the switch when their current equipment needs to be replaced. That may be a good idea in some circumstances. On the other hand, it may not be possible depending on where you live. Here are some things you need to know about switching:

  • Gas Lines - In order to use natural gas for home heating a house needs to be connected to a gas line. That's not a problem in major metropolitan areas and mid-size towns, but out in the country it is a definite problem. Homes without access to gas lines are better off staying with oil or switching to LPG (propane).
  • Equipment Upgrades - It is possible to upgrade existing equipment to burn gas rather than heating oil. However, depending on the age of your equipment this may not necessarily be the best option. If you do decide to upgrade then make sure the work is done only by experienced and certified technician.
  • New Equipment - People switching from heating oil and natural gas most often buy new equipment. The good news is that the prevalence of natural gas in the UK has made equipment very affordable. Moreover, with today's high efficiency boilers and water heaters, the money you save will eventually pay for the expense of the new equipment.
  • Current Providers - When the home is on heating oil, the resident must keep track of how much oil is in the tank and order a refill when necessary. However, natural gas is supplied directly by energy providers through gas pipelines. When a customer switches from oil to gas it becomes imperative to check the rate with the current gas provider and then compare prices against other energy suppliers. It is possible to get a better deal by switching both utilities to the same company.
  • Tariffs - Switching from heating oil to natural gas will, of course, mean higher bills coming from utility provider. To keep those bills as low as possible it is helpful to know what tariff you are currently on and whether or not another tariff might offer you a better deal. If you're on a prepayment meter this will not lie to you as you only have one tariff option.

The Biomass Option

An alternative to both natural gas and heating oil is the biomass. Do not be frightened by the name. Biomass is just a polite way of saying you are burning wood. This used to be one of the most prevalent ways of heating UK homes along with traditional coal. Nevertheless, the use of both has fallen over the last few decades for a number of reasons.

The biggest difference between burning wood and natural gas is the density of both products. Obviously, natural gas burns very efficiently and at high temperatures. Moreover, because it is delivered through municipal gas lines, it requires no storage space in your home. The same cannot be said about wood.

Woods used in home heating are relatively low density; you have to burn a lot of it if you plan to use it as your main heat source. This also means that you will need plenty of storage space. If you don't mind the hassle, it is certainly an option.

Conclusion

It is no secret that natural gas is the most popular form of heating fuel use in the UK. It should be obvious why. It offers a great fuel that is efficient, effective, clean, and cost friendly. Let's hope it stays that way.

If you would like more information about natural gas as a home heating source, we have provided some links below. The more you are informed, the more you are able to make an intelligent decision on your source of heating fuel and your position on the controversial topics surrounding natural gas.

British Geological Survey - One of the first names in scientific data when it comes to natural gas and other fossil fuels. This page is a good starting point to increase your knowledge on the topic.

GOV.UK -This is a good site to visit if you are into statistics and scientific data. Here you will find number of publications issued by a variety of sources discussing gas usage in the UK, prices, and other relevant information.

EDF Energy - The UK power provider does a good job explaining the reality of natural gas use both in the short and long terms. They do so in language that is easy to understand.

If you are ready to begin comparing gas rates among UK providers, it's time to visit some comparison websites that make the job easy and fast. Keep in mind it might be less expensive for you to combine both your electric and gas with a single provider. Here are the links so you can get started:

Go Compare - Here you can compare gas prices separately or combined with your electricity for a dual fuel program. While you are there, you can enter for a chance to win free home insurance.

Money Supermarket - This site claims 20% of those who compare gas prices through them save as much as £200. Before you begin your comparison, be sure to read the helpful information they provide.

Confused.com - A site offering comparisons on gas prices, electric prices, and dual fuel. You can also compare green energy and other options at the same time.

Compare the Market - All you need to compare gas prices on the site is some information regarding where you live, what your current tariff is, and how you currently pay for your energy. Answer a few questions and you're on your way.

Tesco Compare - Compare gas and electric prices here along with reading tips and tricks, FAQs, and import information about tariffs. Quotes on gas prices are provided through the Energy Shop.

uSwitch.com - By providing your postcode and your e-mail address you will have access to multiple gas quotes through this website. If you prefer to talk to a representative, they provide a free number you can call.

Money.co.uk - More than 20 different gas service options are compared on this site in an easy-to-read grid. The site provides information about green options, price promise policies, online billing, and more.

Totally Money - A site offering comparisons of gas only, electric only, or dual fuel. Prices come from well-known companies like British Gas, Npower, EDF, Scottish Power, and E.ON.

Money Saving Expert - Among a wealth of guides related to consumer spending this site shows you how to find cheap prices on gas. Included is a list of current deals some of the power companies have running. Before you make a choice this is one site you must visit.