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Types of Efficient Electric Heat for the Home

Consider Options for Efficient Electric Heat

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There are various types of heating including natural or propane gas and oil, but electric heat, though not always the most efficient cost-wise (depending on your electricity rates), is probably the most common - mainly because it is readily available in most areas. And there are some forms of electric heat that are easier to install than others, which is often why electric heating is a popular source of home heat.

It should be noted however, that in many areas, electricity is market-driven and as such, electric heat may be cheaper in some parts of the country, but not in other areas. So whether it is a viable source of heat depends on where you live and your electricity costs.

As for efficiency, it's also possible for an electric furnace to be highly efficient where another is not, and the same appliance installed in two different homes, can also have efficiency differences. A home's structure, format and insulation can greatly affect the overall efficiency and proper distribution of heat through the home.

Since there are many variables that can affect efficiency overall, consumers should ensure that they choose energy-efficient or Energy Star heating products as a first step. Then, look at ways to make your whole home more efficient, to enhance your heating system. Follow up with ways to either reduce your overall heating costs or add more heat to those cool areas of the home, with some form of alternative heating or supplement as needed with portable heaters.

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1. Whole-Home - Main Electric Heating Systems

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There are two main forms of whole-home electric heating systems, forced-air and radiant heating. With forced-air, heat is pushed out from the heat source and with a furnace, the heat is delivered to the rest of the home via a series of ducts. When the heater is smaller, forced air is expelled with the use of a fan, to warm a room.

Radiant heat on the other hand, emits heat which radiates to the room to provide warmth. A network of baseboard, convection or other type of radiant heaters can form a home's main heating system. There are various sizes and models of electric heaters on the market, from wall or ceiling-mounted units to larger furnace and space heaters.

Heat exchangers and heat pumps either as a whole-home unit or combined with air conditioning in a multifunction heat/air exchanger, can be a way of saving in overall outlay for your home's main comfort systems.  

When choosing a main heating system, it's important to buy the proper size of heater rated for the size of your home.  A heating technician can recommend the size of heating system you need, as well as help you choose the best and most suitable type for your particular home and area.

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2. In-Floor Radiant Heating

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Considered one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat a home, in-floor radiant heating must be planned and installed when a home is being built. These heating systems are available in whole-home units and can also be used for smaller projects such as bathroom floors.

They do require professional installation but this type of heating is well worth considering for a new development. Supply and installation is generally through heating specialists or home renovation centers.

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3. Baseboard Electric Heating

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Also called zone heaters, the most common type of room heating units are baseboard heaters, which require a 220-volt installation.  You can install one in every room, to heat your entire home. Though you'll need a qualified electrician to install them, no ducting or furnace is required for baseboard heaters, which makes it an ideal heating source for some homes. 

These types of heaters come either with onboard adjustable or wall-mounted thermostats to control the heat.  They are called baseboard heaters since the installation places it on the floor, at the base of the wall. 

Baseboard heaters are available in various sizes and limited colors.  These 220-volt heaters are more energy efficient to heat a room than portable heaters.

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4. Convection Heaters - Energy Efficient Baseboard Heaters

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Though they are often referred to as a type of baseboard heating, convection heaters have differences in heating technology and there can be some installation differences.

They require 220-volt installation, the same as traditional baseboard heaters. The main feature of convection heaters is their energy efficiency when compared to traditional baseboard models.

They use up to 30% less electricity to heat a room. Some convection heaters have a low profile design similar to traditional baseboard heaters and it can be difficult to tell them apart.

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5. Portable Room Heaters

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When it comes to electric heaters, portable tends to refer more to the ease of plugging these heaters into a standard wall outlet and being able to transfer them to another room as needed.

Heaters with oscillating features are the most popular to quickly heat up a room and ceiling-mounted radiant heaters are ideal for a home shop or garage.

While most portable heaters generally are rated for heating a small room, there are some that can be adequate for larger spaces. Portable heaters are generally not as energy efficient as 220-volt baseboard or convection heaters, but the key word is portability and they are very convenient when you need to add a little more heat to make a room comfortable or while renovating.

To better manage high energy bills, it has been proven that turning down your central heating system slightly and supplementing with a space or portable heater can result in some energy savings. Read more about heaters including how to size one for your space, in my:

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6. Portable Infrared Heaters

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There's a new breed of heaters on the market, that use an infrared technology to produce heat and many models have a design that gives them the appearance of a side table, rather than a heater. This style enables them to fit right in with the room and furnishings.

Though bulkier and heavier making transfer more difficult, these heaters are considered portable and usually have wheels so they can be relocated if needed.

While some are more energy efficient, most are touted as being the most efficient when it comes to electric heating. However, there are mixed opinions as to whether they are as efficient as they claim to be and at this time, there is insufficient data to support their energy efficiency.

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7. Electric Fireplaces - Decorative Yet Functional

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Though some could argue as to their efficiency, electric fireplaces have become very popular in recent years. Their biggest draw is style - they can add a focal point to any room where a standard plug-in is available.

Convenience is what makes them practical, to add warmth to any room, at the touch of a remote. There's no doubt that electric fireplaces also add atmosphere to a room.

They are available in either compact portable models or as freestanding, traditional-looking fireplaces complete with mantel and storage. When buying an electric fireplace, either size it small for ease of transfer where you need it, or choose a physical size to fit in well with the room. If heating is an important factor, the fireplace heater's BTU's should be rated for the size of the room.

Housewares >> Cooling & Heating  >> Heating >>

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