What is the Most Efficient Electric Heater?
Using the most efficient electric heater will help cut down on heating costs.
When it comes to heating our homes, more and more people are choosing an efficient electric heater over natural gas. If you’re wondering what kind to install and have a solar array, the question becomes a bit easier to answer: if you go electric, you can use the energy you generate to actually run your heater!
If you’re in the market for an upgrade, how do you know what to look for in a new heater? What are the different types, and which one is the most efficient electric heater? Let’s take a look to answer all these questions!
How an electric heater works
An electric heater is composed of wires which provide electrical resistance. When powered by grid electricity or your solar panels, an electrical current passes through these wires, allowing the resistance to generate energy in the form of heat. Central electric heating systems, baseboard heating, and space heaters all function with this general design.
Many products claim “100% efficiency”
When a company claims their heater is 100% efficient, is it true? Technically speaking, the answer could be yes: electrical resistance converts 100% of the received electricity into heat.
You may be thinking, “Great! I’m going green and helping save the planet!” However, even though the electrical appliance itself is 100% efficient, you also need to consider where the electricity powering your heater comes from.
Analyzing data from the EIA, we see that electricity generated from power plants utilizing coal are able to convert around 33% of the energy stored within the source, with natural gas coming in at around 43% efficient. As electricity travels from the plant to your home, it’ll lose a little more.
Solar panels, on the other hand, typically have an efficiency rate of around 24%-32%, depending on the panels you use. So even if you are using a 100% efficient electric appliance, the energy it receives is not so efficient.
So, back to the question of which is the most efficient electric heater – there isn’t one. All electric heaters will be able to produce its heat with 100% efficiency, but depending on your circumstances, some may be better suited than others. Let’s go into more detail below so you can decide what’s right for you.
Central electric heating: furnace & boiler
There are two main types of central electric heating systems: an electric furnace or an electric boiler. The electric furnace uses electrical resistance to generate warm air, which it then forces through a duct system throughout the house via a fan. If you have vents in all of your rooms, chances are you have either an electric or a natural gas furnace.
The electric boiler functions much like the furnace, except instead of pushing hot air through a vent system, the heat generated through electrical resistance is used to heat water, hence the term “boiler”. This heated water is then pumped through pipes to radiators in each room, where the heat ‘radiates’ out into the room.
Besides a furnace or boiler, you could have a baseboard heating system. Instead of heat generated at one central location (like a large furnace or boiler), baseboard heaters only heat up the room they’re in, so you’ll need several if you live in a medium- or large-sized home.
Baseboard heaters produce heat through convection and conduction.When a heated surface (such as a baseboard heater) transfers its heat directly to surrounding air, it is utilizing conduction – the movement of heat from one surface to another. When the nearby air heats up, it rises, allowing the cold air underneath to take its place and move the heated air around. This is known as convection.
When compared to a central heating system, it is less expensive to run a baseboard heater. However, because baseboard heaters are installed at the base of a wall, you can experience heat loss if your walls are poorly insulated. Baseboard heaters also are known to create moisture on windows due to there being less circulation than with a central heating unit.
Portable space heaters: convection and radiant
Many people also have space heaters to help heat up their homes. These heaters use either convection or infrared radiation. However, there is an elevated risk of fires, so be careful if you use one! They can also draw quite a bit of power, which may also be an issue depending on the wiring of your fuse or circuit breaker.
Portable convection heaters function much the same way as the baseboard heaters mentioned above, except they employ a fan to help direct heat in a specific direction.
There are also portable radiant heaters. They have a structure similar to a light bulb, with a heating surface enclosed within a tube. Behind the tube is a reflective material which, you guessed it, reflects the heat out and in front of the heater.
This isn’t radiation that will kill you. It is more like a hot piece of charcoal for a grill. Even if it’s not red hot, you can still feel the heat produced – this is infrared radiation. In the same way, this kind of space heater emits its energy to heat nearby objects and surroundings. They are useful for heating a specific area, but not an entire room.
Time-of-use billing and heat management
If you utilize electric heating, you may be paying for electricity at different rates throughout the day. This is known as time-of-use billing. Essentially, electricity is more expensive the more it is needed within the community.
Take cold winter nights for example. When everyone is using their heaters to stay warm, the electricity use would be at a peak, so utilities can charge more for it. The same can be said for the standard work day hours when industrial zones and commercial businesses are open. A department store would need plenty of electricity to function!
If you have solar power with battery back-up, you can use the power you generated while the sun was shining to counter the price of electricity. If you don’t have that option, you can use a storage heater, which traps heat by using an absorbent material like bricks or ceramics located inside the heater. They can stock up on heat when electricity is cheap, then you can use it during a peak time when electricity is more expensive.
An automatic storage heater will have a thermostat that can be set to heat a room consistently, storing heat and releasing it on its own. There are also manual storage heaters, where you decide when and how much heat to release, though generally, automatics are more efficient unless you’re very attentive.
It is also possible to incorporate heat sinks throughout your home to help with the heating and cooling processes. This is a form of ‘passive’ heating. Nothing is ‘actively’ producing heat, the heat comes from your home’s design and materials.
Bricks, rocks, and even water can all be used as heat sinks. If you have a large fireplace, the bricks themselves will naturally distribute the heat to the nearby air. Once the air temperature drops, the heat from the bricks will want to escape and be drawn back into the colder air, helping a home stay warm. For another example, check out this Colorado home’s ingenious use of gravel and water as heat sinks.
What can you do to lower heating costs?
First off, if you’re on a time-of-use rate, then heat when it’s cheap!
Regardless of what type of rate you’re on, there are many tips to decrease your energy use when heating your home:
- Simply set your thermostat a bit lower so you use less electricity (and put on a nice sweater)
- Create heat sinks throughout your home
Best electric space heaters
To end the article, we thought we’d take a second a look at a few of the best electric space heaters on the market today. Each of these has a 1,500-watt heating element, great reviews, and a solid reputation!
Dyson AM09 Fan Heater
- Cost: $$$
- Wattage: 1,500 watts
If you’ve ever vacuumed your house or dried your hands with the blower in the bathroom, you are probably familiar with the ever-popular Dyson. The ultra-modern, sleek look will certainly draw some people in, as well as the great reviews for this portable heater.
Due to the unique design and fan, the Dyson puts out very consistent heat over a wide area. Even with the industry-standard 1,500-watt heating element, this allows the device to more evenly heat the room than more simple designs with a simple heating coil and fan. Of course, you’re also going to pay for this high quality!
Holmes Bathroom Heater
- Cost: $
- Wattage: 1,500 watts
If you’re looking for a portable, low-cost heater for the bathroom or anywhere else, try out this simple Holmes space heater. With a programmable thermostat, timer, and clock (we said it was simple, right?), it’s pretty easy to set up and get going.
At 1,500 watts, this little heater will pump out as much as the much-more expensive Dyson product above, but it obviously has less bells and whistles and, presumably, a lower build quality. Still, with thousands of excellent reviews on Amazon, you know you’re getting a quality product at a very low price-point.
The Lasko 6462
- Cost: $$
- Wattage: 1,500 watts
A medium-priced space heater with excellent reviews. Though this heater lacks features that the other heaters enjoy – namely automatic shut-off if it tips over and a timer – it does have its advantages.
Its unique design allows it to swivel from 0 to 360 degrees, providing you with even heat throughout the room. If you’re looking for a powerful, mid-priced space heater that should last quite a while, take a look at the Lasko.
For more information on how to ensure you are heating your home efficiently, check out our posts regarding energy saving curtains, solar panel efficiency and how to monitor the efficiency and output of your solar panels.