1.1.2. Electric Home Heating Systems
Most electricity is produced from oil, gas, or coal generators that convert only about 30% of the fuel´s energy into electricity. Because of electricity´s generation and transmission losses, electric heat is often considerably more expensive than heat produced in the home with combustion appliances, such as Natural Gas, Propane, and Oil Furnaces.
Despite this energy source´s apparent cost penalty, several types of Electric Heating Systems remain popular, primarily due to their relative ease of installation and use:
Electric Resistance Home Heating Systems
Zonal heaters distribute electric resistance heat more efficiently than electric furnaces, because room temperatures may be set according to occupancy. In addition, zonal heaters have no ducts that can lose heat before it reaches the room to be heated. However, a Central Electric Furnace offers the advantage of easily accommodating a Central Cooling System, because the air conditioner can share the furnace ducting.
Electric Baseboard Home Heating Systems
Baseboard heaters contain electric heating elements encased in metal pipes. The pipes, surrounded by aluminum fins to aid heat transfer, run the length of the baseboard heater´s housing, or cabinet. As air within the heater is warmed, it rises into the room, and cooler air is convectively drawn into the bottom of the heater. Some heat is also radiated from the pipe, fins, and housing.
Baseboard heaters are usually installed underneath windows. There, the heater´s rising warm air counteracts falling cool air from the cold window glass. Baseboard heaters are seldom located on interior walls because standard heating practice is to supply heat at the home´s perimeter where the greatest heat loss occurs.
The quality of baseboard heaters varies considerably. Cheaper models can be noisy and often give poor temperature control. Look for labels from Underwriter´s Laboratories (UL) and the National Electrical Manufacturer´s Association (NEMA). Compare warranties of the different models you are considering.
Electric Wall Home Heating Systems
Electric Wall Heating Systems are usually installed on interior walls, because installing them in an exterior wall makes that wall difficult to insulate.
Electric Radiant Home Heating Systems
There are several types of Electric Radiant Heaters. The most common are Electric Heating Cables embedded in floors or ceilings. Other radiant heating systems use special gypsum ceiling panels equipped with factory-embedded heating cables. Newer ceiling-mounted radiant panels made of metal provide radiant heat faster than other types because they contain less material to warm up.
Radiant Heat offers draft-free heating that is easily zoned. Unlike other heating systems, it occupies no interior space. This allows you complete freedom to place furniture without worrying about impeding airflow from floor registers or baseboard heaters.
Manufacturers claim that radiant heat can provide comfort similar to other systems at lower indoor air temperatures, saving around 5% of space heating costs. Critics of radiant heat say that it can be difficult to control air temperature with a thermostat. The large heat-storage capacity of the concrete or plaster surrounding the heating cables may result in greater-than-normal fluctuations in the room air temperature, since it takes quite a while to heat up the storage mass. Also, some occupants complain about their heads being too warm in rooms that utilize ceiling radiant heat.
Supplying heat at the ceiling or floor, which are locations that typically border the outdoors or unheated spaces, can result in greater heat losses. For example, if there are any flaws in a heated concrete slab or gaps in the ceiling insulation above heating elements, there may be significant heat loss.
Electric Space Heaters
These heaters may have fans to circulate heated air and may also be designed to transfer some of their heat by radiation. All of these heaters must be given adequate clearance to allow air to circulate safely.
Portable space heaters, as well as many built-in space heaters for small rooms, have built-in thermostats. Larger rooms heated with built-in electric space heaters should have low-voltage thermostats installed in an area that maintains the room´s average temperature.
Electric Home Furnaces
Blowers (large fans) in electric furnaces move air over a group of three to seven electric resistance coils, called elements, which are each rated at 5 kilowatts. The furnace´s heating elements activate in stages to avoid overloading the home´s electrical system, and a built-in thermostat called a Limit Controller prevents overheating. This limit controller may shut the furnace off if the blower fails or if a dirty filter is blocking airflow.
Electric Thermal Storage Units
Some storage systems attempt to use the ground underneath homes for thermal storage of heat from electric resistance cables. However, this requires painstaking installation of insulation underneath concrete slabs and all around the heating elements to minimize major heat losses to the earth. Ground storage also makes it difficult for thermostats to control indoor temperatures.
Thermostats for Electric Home Heating Systems
Thermostats are classified as Line Voltage Thermostats or Low Voltage Thermostats, depending on whether the heater´s electric current flows through them. Automatic Setback Thermostats include an integrated clock, to enable automatic heat control.
Line Voltage Thermostats - represent the simplest type of thermostat, most often used to control baseboard and radiant electric heating systems. The electricity that it controls flows through it - much like a light switch.
Line voltage Thermostats can be either Built-In or Remote. Built-in, line voltage thermostats are attached directly to the heater and are subjected to temperature extremes. Therefore, they often do not sense room temperatures accurately. While portable electric heaters must have built-in thermostats, baseboard or radiant heaters provide better room comfort when controlled by remote thermostats.
Line voltage thermostats, installed on interior walls, are more accurate because they measure the temperature of the air of the occupied space rather than the temperature at the heater itself.
Low Voltage Thermostats - are used to control electric furnaces and heat pumps, as well as allowing improved temperature control for baseboard and radiant heaters situated in large rooms.
Low voltage thermostats require a transformer to reduce the line voltage, and a relay (remote-controlled switch) to turn the heater on and off. Low-voltage thermostats are always installed in remote locations, rather than being integrated into the heater.
Low voltage thermostats control temperature more precisely than line-voltage thermostats. They are therefore preferred for larger rooms, heated by radiant panels or electric baseboard heaters, because they produce better comfort.
Automatic Setback Thermostats - Automatic setback thermostats combine a clock and a thermostat to control your heating system automatically. They are convenient and very effective at saving energy. If your family has a regular schedule of being at home and away, a setback thermostat could save you 5% to 20% of your heating and cooling costs depending on the duration of setback periods and the degrees of temperature setback.
Automatic setback thermostats can be used to control all types of electric heat. For baseboard and radiant heat, line voltage setback thermostats are available. These are either programmed with a clock or they require the user to push a button at regular intervals to avoid the setback temperature (usually 10 - 15oF).
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