Some people might say that the phrase “energy efficient electric heaters” is an oxymoron. However, learning about electric heating systems–and how to use them to best effect–can end up saving you a lot of money and making your home much more comfortable.
Here are six things to know when you are exploring electric heating for your home that will help you manage your energy costs.
1) If you’re looking to install a central heating system, check out the eco label. In the US, the Energy Star label tells you the level of an appliance’s energy efficiency, and ensures it meets minimum efficiency standards. You will find the label on larger scale HVAC systems, boilers, forced air heating systems and the like. You can save thousands of dollars in energy costs over the life of the heater simply by buying an Energy Star certified heating system.
2) Have a whole house heating system already? A digital programmable thermostat is your friend. These little devices let you vary the temperature in your house to suit your lifestyle. So, for example, you can program the heat to be low while at work but kick up the temperature an hour before you get home. Or you can turn the heat down while taking a long winter’s nap but have it go higher an hour before you wake up.
Simply installing a programmable thermostat will make the most inefficient heating system more energy efficient.
3) Have electric forced air central heating? Clean and insulate. This kind of heating system moves air through ductwork and vents to carry heated air to the rooms of your home. One of the common problems with this type of electric heater is that there is often heat loss due to uninsulated ducts and vents. Another problem is that ducts can become filled with dust and debris, causing blockages and even equipment malfunction. It’s important to maintain your system at least once a year for maximum energy efficiency. Look for a company that specializes in duct cleaning and insulation.
4) Have a boiler and radiators? Insulate even more. If you have a system with an electric boiler (or gas) and radiators in each room, you have some definite energy efficiency challenges. This type of system can be expensive to use as it requires an electric pump to heat the water or oil in the boiler, then an electric pump to move that water/oil through the house to provide radiant heat in the rooms.
The problem with this type of electric heater is how much heat is lost as the liquid travels from the boiler to each individual room. If there is inadequate insulation to the pipes, a lot of heat loss can occur, especially if the pipes travel through un-insulated areas. You’re talking a lot of square feet of surface area for pipes.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure that every piece of visible pipe is insulated–especially in the basement where it’s usually coldest. If the pipes travel through walls and floors, then make sure the area they enter into is sealed as best as possible.
That all said, this is the kind of heat that I have in my house, and it is second to none as far as I’m concerned in terms of comfort. I just accept the challenge of always finding new bits of pipe to insulate as I work on various home improvement projects, and I’m saving my pennies for a new Energy Star boiler.
5) Electric baseboard heaters? Let the air flow. These heaters use a combination of conduction and convection to heat a room. Conduction transfers the heat from the element to the air around it. Convection occurs when that heated air near the element rises and cold air rushes in from below to take its place.
The biggest challenge with baseboard heaters is in the placement of the heater. If you’re installing them for the first time, try to avoid installing them below windows, since temperature variance near the window may interfere with proper conduction and convection relative to the rest of the room. Make sure that the baseboard heater is placed against a wall that is kept clear of clutter and mess to allow for free and easy air flow throughout the room.
6) Portable electric heater? Maximize small spaces. Sorry, but there are no Energy Star labels on portable heaters (as far as I know). They can be very expensive to use for heat as they often use anywhere between 1000 and 2500 watts.
There are two types of portable electric heaters: convection and radiant. Convection heaters work a lot like a baseboard heater, but many also include a fan which is used to direct the heat into a particular area. Radiant heaters, on the other hand, use a reflective surface to direct the heat from a heating element or bulb. This kind of heat is an “infrared” heat, which only affects solid objects such as people and furniture (and which unfortunately often causes fires).
So how can you turn an energy hog into an energy asset? Simple: close the door and stay in one heated room. I don’t know exact figures, but I bet that would beat the energy use of any whole-house system. If you tend to spend the majority of your day in one place, such as a home office, then one little heater can save you a lot of money.
This can also work, by the way, with whole house systems. I have a radiator in my home office. When I plan to work at home, I keep the office door shut at night and in the early morning, trapping the heat in the room. As the temperature on the programmable thermostat plummets through the workday, my office remains warm and toasty for hours without the need for additional heat.
Final thoughts: no matter what kind of heating system you use, the best way to have the most energy efficient electric heaters possible is simple. Reduce air leaks wherever you can. Insulate outlet boxes on outside walls. Seal and caulk windows. Control drafts with a draft-stop on the bottom of the door, or along the sides. That, combined with the information above, will ensure that you are getting the most efficient electric heat that you can.