Heating with electricity

Electric resistance heating converts almost 100% of its energy into heat. Ultimately though, the true efficiency and environmental impact of heating with electricity is determined by the source of its production.

Hydro towers
Hydro towers © Creative Commons

From an ecological standpoint, determining whether or not electricity is an efficient means to heat a home should include the initial production as well. Regarding the burning of fossil fuels, the efficiency is only about 30%. There is also significant loss from transmission lines, so the overall energy efficiency of electric heat varies significantly by location and local source of production.

Types of Electric Resistance Heaters:

Forced-air electric furnace

While cheaper than an oil furnace, this is not a cheap or efficient way to heat with electricity. On top of the cost of the furnace and duct work (which can be quite expensive), operation requires not only generating heat, but energy is also required to distribute that heat throughout your home. Heat loss can occur through ducts in spaces that you don't intend to heat, further reducing overall efficiency.

Electric furnaces will also require regular maintenance, filter replacements and duct cleaning. These costs should also be considered.  Expect a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years.

For the best performance from an electric furnace, appropriate sizing is important and bigger isn't always better. A furnace too large for a given space will finish its heating cycle faster, spending more time in its startup phase rather than its maximum efficiency operating level. And smaller furnaces are cheaper, so it's a win win situation.

Electric baseboard heaters

Electric baseboard heaters have elements that generate heat, which is then distributed through a convection process. Heated air rises through metal fins, while cold air is drawn in through the bottom.

Baseboard heaters can be controlled in a zone system, with thermostats in each room. This can help reduce overall consumption by enabling you to keep temperatures lower in infrequently used areas.

Optimum placement of baseboard heaters is underneath windows, as that is where you will have your greatest heat loss. It is also important that they be installed an inch above floor levels to allow for air intake through the bottom.

Electric radiant floors

Heating cables can be run under both tiles and engineered hardwood. This is not a cheap system to install, but it is efficient and very comfortable. Radiant in-floor heat can also be achieved through hydronic heating systems.