The origins of this debate are entrenched in history. Gas was originally used exclusively for lighting purposes, but that changed shortly after World War II, as thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines were created, connecting cities with supplies of gas for other purposes. With this came the development of gas-powered home furnaces, oven ranges, clothes dryers, and water heaters. Since then, homeowners have often had a choice between electric and gas appliances.
Generally speaking, gas is more efficient than electricity for generating heat. For example, turning on a gas range means getting an instant flame, whereas electricity has to warm up before being hot enough to cook on. Water heaters, too, respond quicker to gas heat. Gas powered refrigerators are also far more efficient than those fueled by electricity, but are considerably more expensive to purchase and somewhat difficult to find.
Not every home has natural gas hookups. In fact, while just about every building has access to electricity, installing natural gas service can be expensive if it is even available. Homeowners who do not have access to natural gas can opt for bottled propane gas, which must be delivered.
Naturally, the operating costs of electric vs. gas appliances is going to vary based on location. As of 2006, overall numbers indicated that gas had a slight edge on average both with clothes dryers (36 cents per load for electric vs. 34 cents per load for gas dryers) and kitchen ranges combination ($56 a year for electric, $42 for gas). Electricity will only save money over gas if there is no nearby source of natural gas or if propane delivery service is difficult (such as in remote areas).
There are risks with both types of energy. Gas is highly combustible, particularly propane gas, and gas leaks can also poison the air. Additionally, the byproducts of burning gas can be harmful to breathe, and even deadly to some pets such as birds. Electric appliances require very high voltages that can cause fires and shocks. Electricity is also extremely dangerous near water, such as near kitchen sinks or in laundry rooms.