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Is Electric Resistance Heat Efficient?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Joanne in Alaska is on the line with an electric-heating question. What can we do for you today?

    JOANNE: Well, I have purchased a money pit next door to my home and it’s a five-unit complex that was built around 1901.

    TOM: OK.

    JOANNE: And it has this heating system – I’m from New Orleans, originally, so knowing about heating systems is not my forte.

    TOM: Yeah, well, now that you live in Alaska, you’d better learn quick, huh?

    JOANNE: I’m working on it. But the house I lived in had oil heat; this is a wall-mounted – it’s about 4 feet by 20 or 24 inches.

    TOM: Right.

    JOANNE: The surface of it looks like warming trays that you use – a buffet, you know? It’s like a (inaudible at 0:05:29) thing and is this still made? I have one glass that’s broken. They do have wall-mounted thermostats. What is the efficiency of this kind of heat? Is it ridiculous or …?

    TOM: It’s not. It is ridiculous. I mean it’s – first of all, it’s electric heat, so – it’s electric-resistance heat. They’re just using the glass as the heat exchanger, so to speak. And I’ve seen these before and they sort of hang off walls and the air is supposed to pass through behind them and sort of create this convective loop.

    JOANNE: Right.

    TOM: And will they work? Yeah, they work but they’re very expensive. Are there any other heating options for you there?

    JOANNE: Well, electric is my only option in these units. They’re all electric, so is there a more efficient electric type of heat?

    TOM: Well, a heat pump – electric heat pump – would be the most efficient but I think in Alaska, I’d probably rule that out. The climate is just too raw for that. So, no, I guess you’re going to be stuck with resistance heat.

    Now, if they’re broken – you mentioned that one was broken?

    JOANNE: Yeah, the glass on one of them is broken.

    TOM: Well, if the glass is broken, I guess it’s potentially unsafe. Depends on how the heating coil is distributed inside that glass. If you did have to replace them, you can buy new glass wall-panel heaters. And actually, some of them can look kind of stylish. Some of the new ones look almost like a flat-screen TV; they’re black and sort of modern-looking.

    JOANNE: Is that better than the baseboard heat? I see a lot of people here use these baseboard heaters.

    TOM: Yeah, they’re all electric heat, yeah. The only advantage is that you’re able to control the heat of each individual room separately that way, so you have a bit more control. But it will be expensive to run.

    JOANNE: Mm-hmm. OK. So the best alternative would be to put in oil or something to bring a different kind of heat in.

    TOM: Well, that’s right. If the fuel was available, you would be almost always better off with oil, propane or gas than electric.

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