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How to Buy an Electric Furnace

Updated Mar 4, 2014
By Megan Headley

Electric furnaces use electricity as the only source of fuel to heat and distribute air throughout a home. While these furnaces are highly efficient in the sense that, unlike gas or oil furnaces, they transform 100-percent of their fuel into heat, electricity is generally among the more expensive heating options, making their efficient operation generally costly for the homeowner.

While all types electric furnaces are high efficiency, HVAC Contractor Joe Dalbey of Joe's Heating and Cooling in Urbandale, Iowa, notes there may not be a better or worse option when it comes to selecting an electric furnace. "Since electric furnaces all have the same basic heating components, they all convert heat into the home extremely effectively and offer the same level of efficiency. It just comes down to how homeowners want to heat their home," Dalbey says.

How It Works

Electric furnaces employ internal blowers that move air over anywhere from three to seven heated “elements,” or electric resistance coils. These elements are sized based on their kilowatts of power consumption.

These heating elements generally activate in stages, which prevents an overload to the electrical system. The limit controller, a sort of internal thermostat, prevents overheating, in some cases by shutting off the furnace, such as in the case of a blower failure. Like other furnace types, electric furnaces rely on ductwork to distribute heat throughout the home.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of using electricity to heat your home includes its safe, clean-burning operation as compared to oil- or gas-burning furnaces. In addition, these units’ low upfront cost and the wide availability of electricity in remote areas can attract homeowners to electric furnaces.

However, electricity typically is much more expensive as a fuel source than natural gas and other home heating methods. On top of that, DOE points out that electric furnaces are more expensive to operate even when compared to other electric resistance systems—such as baseboard heaters, wall heaters and electric thermal storage—because of the amount of heat lost as the air moves through your home’s ducts.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric furnaces tend to be the heat source of choice in areas where electricity is the only option and the dry climate results in primarily hot or mixed temperatures. In other climates, per DOE, the heat pump becomes the heater of choice since it can reduce electricity use by as much as 50 percent compared to an electric furnace.

Types of Electric Furnaces

Electric furnaces are available in a variety of sizes to heat homes of nearly any size. In addition, many duel furnaces use some form of electric furnace. For example, an oil-electric furnace uses the electric elements during the majority of the furnace use, while the oil fuel is used during peak heating times in order to lower costs.

In addition, electric furnaces often are paired with heat pumps, air handlers or added as the eating component to an air conditioner.

Costs of Electric Furnaces

According to various online reports, the upfront cost of an electric furnace averages around $600 to $700, moving closer to $2,000 for installation of the products. According to the FurnaceCompare.com 2013 Price Guide, a gas furnace, without installation, can range in price anywhere from $400 to $3,400, while an oil furnace can start at $1,100 and move as high as $3,900. The comparatively low upfront cost of the electric furnace can make it particularly attractive to homeowners in suitable climates.

While electric furnaces maintain high efficiency and have a lower upfront unit price than other options, operating prices can vary greatly depending on the part of the country in which you live and your electricity costs, as well as the size of the home you are heating. To roughly determine the cost of operating an electric furnace, determine the cost for a kilowatt per hour from your utility bill. Then, use the kilowatts per hour it takes to heat your home (found by looking at your current utility bill) and multiply it by the cost per kilowatt to determine the heating cost per hour. You also can simplify this process by using an online energy use calculator.

Installing an Electric Furnace

As with any type of furnace, proper installation and sizing is essential to the longevity and performance of the unit. Finding the size needed of an electric furnace can be done by following the basic calculations performed for sizing gas or oil furnaces.

  1. First, use the FurnaceCompare.com sizing calculator to estimate the BTU needed for your home.
  2. Next, divide the results by 3,400 (1 kw produces 3,400 BTUs of heat) to convert the needed-heat to kilowatts

While this provides a rough estimate of the size furnace you will need, it is advisable to have a contractor perform a load calculation to determine the exact size unit necessary for your home.

For help finding a qualified service technician to install you electric furnace, see our tips on how to find a contractor in your area.

Electric Furnace Brands

Popular electric furnace manufacturers include:

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