Oil Heat vs. Electric Baseboard: Which is Best?

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    LESLIE: Amber in New Hampshire is on the line with some heating questions. How can we help you?

    AMBER: Hi. I was wondering if it was worth the expense of converting an oil-heat system with baseboard heat to an electric baseboard-heating system for a three-unit apartment building.

    TOM: Wow. Are you independently wealthy, Amber?

    AMBER: No. No.

    TOM: It’s going to be really, really expensive to heat with electric if you’re right now heating with an oil-fired hot-water boiler. Hot-water heat is clearly the best heat and it would be a tragedy for you to eliminate that.

    Now, I’m guessing that – are you asking this question because you want the tenants of those apartments to pay their own electric bills and cover the heat?

    AMBER: Yes. Because right now, it’s all – yeah, it’s all metered separately. Now, I have some electric, so I figured right now they’ve got the windows open and the oil heat is cranking. And they’re conscientious but I think that – it’s an older building and it’s – the oil tank is starting to show its age and will need to be replaced and then the boiler will be replaced.

    TOM: Yeah, right.

    AMBER: I’m thinking long-term maintenance is probably less.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, I hear you but it’s going to be a lot more expensive. I wouldn’t be – in New Hampshire, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up paying $500, $600 a month in electric bills per unit. Because it’s just very, very expensive to use electric heat.

    So, I would encourage you to keep the hot-water heat. I would encourage you to make sure it’s zoned separately for each unit. If you have really old equipment, it would be worth replacing that equipment with new ENERGY STAR-rated equipment. If you’re going to have to replace the tank anyway, you do that at the same time. The efficiency today of new units compared to those that are even sometimes 10 years old, let alone those that are 20 or 30 years old, is astronomically more efficient, the new stuff that’s out there today.

    So, I would never tell you to ditch the hot-water baseboard. There’s got to be a better way to solve this, in terms of people wasting your heat that you’re paying for with your hard-earned dollars. Maybe you have to control the temperature in the units and make it so they can’t change that temperature. And this way, they’ll never be opening those windows again.

    There’s some imbalance there. You’ve got deal with the actual imbalance issue. But I don’t think tearing out all of that good, hot-water baseboard system and replacing with electric is the answer for you.

    AMBER: Would gas – I mean would it make sense to change to gas? I don’t know.

    TOM: Yeah, I would get an option with gas. Gas is more desirable than oil, so you definitely can get an option for that and compare prices. But I would never get rid of the hot water, ever.

    AMBER: OK. Because someone else is talking about split-heat systems. I said, “Well, they need to have built-in air conditioning, as well, so they’re going to pop in air conditioners in their windows.”

    TOM: Well, then they can pay the electric bill for the air conditioning. You can split the electric and let them pay for the air. I don’t see any reason that can’t be done.

    AMBER: OK. Well, that’s true, too, and have the in-wall – I guess they call like a “split system” or something. I don’t know what that is but …

    TOM: If it’s electric-powered and you have the electricity split among those apartments, then they’re paying for the air conditioning.

    AMBER: Right. So right now, they put the window air conditioners in, if you know what I’m saying.

    TOM: They’ve got to plug that in and they’re paying the electric bill. So, one way or the other, whether it’s a built-in unit or not, if it’s electric, they should be paying for

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