When homeowners are converting a detached garage into living space, building an extension that isn’t reachable with ductwork, discover an oil or gas connection isn’t an option, or the room they need to heat is very small and rarely used, they turn to electric heating options. Bottom line, except in rare circumstances, electric heat is always more expensive and less efficient and environmentally friendly than other options. If you are able to use oil or gas, we highly encourage you to do so. Using electric heat may be initially less expensive, but it never pays in the long run.
If electric heat is your only choice there are some different options available: electric resistance heating, electric heat pumps, and electric furnaces.
Electric resistance heating
Electric resistance heating is less efficient and more expensive that other methods, but it is the most common form of electric heat used. It works by running electricity through coils or other elements to create heat. The portable space heater is a great example of electric resistance heating. Others include:
- Baseboard heaters. This is another common electric resistance heating method still found in many homes today. These are easy to spot because they line the bottom of walls, and are normally located under windows. Baseboard heaters do a great job with zone heating—meaning only heating the areas in your home or space you want heated. This is because they normally have the thermostat directly attached to the side of the heater and can be turned on or off at site. It is important to keep these heaters clean and free of dust and debris because they often collect dust which prevents the free flow of heat.
- Electric wall heaters. Electric wall heaters use a fan to draw in the air around it, push that air over the heating element, and then push the heated air back into the environment. These heaters work quickly and are directly connected to the electricity, so you do not need to plug them in. They are normally inexpensive, easy to install, and are another good zone-heating option. With that said, they can be very noisy, are not aesthetically pleasing (think future home value), and again are not energy-smart. Still, they are a good option for a space that is hard to reach with traditional options.
- Radiant heat. This option is normally found in the floors, ceilings, or walls. Copper or nichrome wires are zigzagged through a heat conducting mat. That mat is then positioned under the flooring, above the ceiling, or in the walls. Heat then radiates through the mat into the room and heats the air. This type of heating is ideal for bathrooms with tile floors or walls. This is another good zone heating option, but it can take 30 to 60 minutes for the room to successfully heat up. This heating option can be connected to a thermostat or be operated with the flip of a switch. It is relatively cheap to install during renovation.
Electric Heat pumps
Electric Heat pumps are another electrical heating option worth considering. The thermodynamics are a bit complicated, but what is important to understand is that a heat pumps takes heat from outside (even if it is cold) and disperses it in the space. People are often confused by this phenomenon (how can cold air be used to heat the home?), but the same phenomenon happens (in reverse) when an air conditioner draws in warm air from outside and uses it to cool the home. Heat pumps do work! And because they are more energy efficient, they are quickly becoming the most popular electric heating choice. The U.S. Department of Energy has documented that when compared with electrical resistance heating, heat pumps can “easily cut electricity use by 50%.” In fact, an electric heat pump can be more energy efficient than a gas furnace.
The last option worth considering is the electric furnace. An electric furnace uses electric resistance coils, but air is then blown over those coils and transferred through a duct system in the home. Electric furnaces are easy and cheap to install, but also the most expensive option when it comes to energy costs. This is because heat is lost in the ductwork and therefore more energy is needed to both create and distribute the heat. It is true that electrical furnaces have a longer life span, are quieter, do note emit carbon monoxide, and may be the better option in dry and hot climates. However, in most climates, a gas or oil furnace will be more efficient, less expensive to run, and do a better job heating the home.
There are many options when it comes to heating and cooling. To make the best decision you need to consider the size of the space, climate, initial investment, energy costs, safety, and purpose of the space. For example, if you are renovating the space above the garage with the intention of using it as a yoga studio, electric radiant floor heating would be a very attractive option (with lots of insulation). However, if you are trying to heat a rarely used covered porch converted into a guest room, baseboard heating or a heat pump may be the better option. Regardless, insulation will always be a huge priority when using electric heat.
There is a lot to consider when picking a heating system. If you have questions, we have the right answers. Call Liberty Plumbing today and let us help you make the right heating choice for your home or project.