Review Types, Costs and Pros and Cons
Electric heat is often described as efficient, which is technically but not practically true. Electric heaters do convert 100 percent of the energy in electricity to heat. However, because most electricity is produced inefficiently using coal, gas or oil (which convert less than one-third of the energy into electricity), electricity tends to be the most expensive heating method.
For some people, however, electric heat is the only choice. If that is the case, it’s best to understand all of your options and make an informed decision about what type of electric heater is best.
Generally, electric heat can be provided by a centralized system such as an electric furnace or heat pump, or by heaters in each room. Room heaters include baseboard heaters, wall heaters and space heaters, among others.
Centralized Systems – Electric Furnaces and Heat Pumps
Electric furnaces heat the air by moving it over a group of electric resistance coils. That warm air is then distributed throughout the house via duct work. Electric furnaces are far less efficient than gas, oil or propane furnaces. And some of the heat is lost as it is distributed throughout the ducts.
Electric heat pumps are far more energy efficient. They use about half the electricity. However, they do not provide enough heat in very cold climates. And because they’re more expensive upfront, the investment doesn’t make sense in very hot climates where heating systems are rarely used.
Electric Wall Heaters
Electric wall heaters are a great way to provide supplemental heat in small rooms. They are usually installed on interior walls, often recessed in the wall cavity. Wall heaters are usually convection heaters that use a fan to move air through the heater, although some models operate by radiant heat. Most units have a built-in thermostat.
Electric Baseboard Heaters
Electric baseboard heaters are designed for zone heating. They are controlled by a thermostat in each room, and they are usually installed on exterior walls right underneath a window. The method of heating is non-motorized convection. Electric baseboard heaters can be effective if you purchase a quality model, but cheaper versions are noisy and ineffective. Before purchasing an electric baseboard heater, always compare features and warranties.
Electric Thermal Storage
Thermal storage heaters store electric heat at night to be used in the daytime hours. This is only useful is your electric company structures its rates so that electricity costs more during the day (peak demand) and less at night. Some utilities operate this way and others don’t. Most thermal storage heaters are standalone resistance heaters, but some are incorporated into central heating systems.
Electric Toe-Kick Heaters
Toe-kick heaters are designed for supplemental heat in very small spaces, including underneath bathroom cabinets (hence the name). Some models have a built-in thermostat; others do not. The bonus with these heaters? They’re hardly noticeable.
Electric Cove Heaters
These use radiant or infrared heat, which is a comfortable form of heat because it warms objects, not the air. These heaters are can be placed anywhere because the radiant heat will find and warm objects no matter where the heater is located.
Electric Space Heaters
These plug-in models are used to provide supplemental heat. They are portable, so they can be transferred from one room to another. Space heaters are only efficient when used to supplement heat in a single room or on a temporary basis – they are not a whole-house or permanent solution. Space heaters can also be dangerous: They cause 25,000 fires and 300 death per year in the United States, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.