Electric heating- house in the country (can't do natural gas)

farmhousegirlMay 12, 2014

Our builder suggested an electric furnace rather than propane or oil. We would do a backup propane furnace. We are building out in the country with no access to natural gas supply. Since propane and oil are so ungodly expensive (and sometimes in shortage), would electric be a viable option these days?

The builder actually built his home (5000 square ft.) and is all electric. He said his electric bill averages about $600 per month. He said he insulates really well and the electric does a fine job and is more economical than the propane/oil options.

Thoughts?

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virgilcarter

Ground source heat pump may be a better long term heating and cooling system if all electric is your choice. Back up emergency heat can also be electric built into the heat pump. If your area has power outages you may wish to install a backup generator and circuitry for power to key circuits, or else a whole house back up system.

For an all electric house, you will want to be sure that your house is very efficient in terms of insulation of your exterior envelope and strategies to deal with heat gain/loss. If you aren't familiar with energy efficient house design, you should spend a lot of time reviewing these strategies for a building's envelope and systems. There's lots of information here and on the Internet.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 8:36PM
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ineffablespace

Any possibility of doing some photovoltaic panels to help generate some of the electricity?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 8:44PM
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energy_rater_la

whats your location?

have you considered heat pump?
geo thermal is nice...but pricy in my area.

I hope you are investing in air sealing of house as it
is built. stopping air infiltration & mastic sealing ductwork
are things that are easily during building stages.

where are you in your build?

southface inst has great air sealing pdf's on their site..
just do a site search.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 9:03PM
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dekeoboe

I would die if my electric bill was $600 a month. I look for a better way to heat and cool.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:03PM
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robin0919

This is a very BIG elect bill...!! How much is the kw in your area? We have a 1600sf house and all elect. Our 'average' is around $85.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:13PM
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lavender_lass

Where do you live? We're in Eastern Washington (home of Grand Coulee Dam) so our electric charges are very good. $200 a month is a higher electric bill.

As for no natural gas...we have the same thing, since we also live in the country. Propane is okay for backup, but wood stoves are nice too!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:16PM
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littlebug5

Have you ever had electric heat? I have and I hated it. It's cold. Put your hand right at the vent when it's blowing out, and the air is NOT warm. It's cool.

I was never warm in the house we had with electric heat. Never again do I want electric heat.

Plus I agree that a $600 monthly bill is VERY high.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:26PM
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robin0919

I grew up with gas heat and yes when it comes on you actually feel the heat coming out. I've been in all elect for the last 34 yrs and I did miss gas at first but then really didn't even think about it. Elect heats the house just fine, you just don't actually feel the heat blowing on you if you are near a vent.
Ditto on the geo. You're out in the country, do you have any friends that have a backhoe? Geo is so much more expensive than heat pumps because the pipes have to be buried. HACV companies charge outrageous for burying the pipes. If you have a friend that has one, that might save you a ton!

This post was edited by robin0919 on Mon, May 12, 14 at 23:26

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 11:21PM
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lavender_lass

Electric heat isn't cold...otherwise it wouldn't heat your house! It's sometimes cold for the first few moments that the furnace clicks on, but it gets warm really fast.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:18AM
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mushcreek

$600 is a very big electric bill, but 5000 square feet is a big house, too. In many parts of the country, mini-split heat pumps are a good alternative, and probably the most efficient use of electricity. There are models now that can heat to -13 F. Be sure your house has a good, well-sealed and well-insulated envelope, and put some study into orientation on the land to take advantage of solar gain (or to avoid solar gain in a hot climate).

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 6:46AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I'd definitely look into geothermal (ground source heat pump) as it will really make your electric pay off as they tend to be 300% efficient if not more.

PV panels are also a great way to offset the electricity costs, depending on what subsidies your state may offer.

You might look into radiant heat too to make the rooms more comfortable.

Mother had electric heat...radiators... in her condo and it wasn't cold but quite comfortable, though not cheap. Her condo wasn't well insulated and we live in the area of the country with the highest electric rates. But it worked for her, considering she spent most of the winter in FL. We liked it as there was no furnace to maintain over winter while she was gone.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 8:09AM
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annkh_nd

My brother in Wisconsin heats his house with wood. It's a big house - around 5000 sq ft, including the finished basement and heated garage.
He cuts his own wood in the fall and winter.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 9:23AM
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franktank232

I'd use mini split ASHP over pure electric any day. Some of the new units operate below 0F and still produce heat. Just to show how much more efficient they are then pure electric, with a COP of 3 (at more mild temps then 0F), for every 1500 watts of electricity, you would get 4500 watts of heat.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 9:53AM
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Brian_Knight

I think most high performance home builders and designers tend to approve of all-electric homes. It helps to alleviate some of the fire and Indoor Air Quality IAQ concerns of using combustion appliances inside the home.

For big, inefficient homes, then ground source heat pumps GSHP and other expensive technology can make a lot of sense. I would suggest building smaller and more efficiently and using variable speed air source heat pumps or even better, the newest mini-splits as mushcreek points out. They are arguably more efficient than GSHP and MUCH more affordable.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 9:55AM
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energy_rater_la

I agree with Brian on the IAQ concern & use
of all electric.
electric strip heat is the most expensive way to heat.
heat pump uses condensing unit for bulk of heat down
to about 30 degrees, then heat strips for heat lower than that. hybrid systems use other means of back up heat.

while personally not a fan of xlarge homes,
the same efficiency recommendations apply.
air sealing details from sole plates to slab, to
sealing elec penetrations in top plates..and
air seal of most importantly ceiling to attic spaces.
upgrade insulation packages.

if spray foam is used...use it in attic.
either roofline (if ducts etc in attic space) or attic
floor (if not ducts in attic).

foam sheathing to exterior of walls, for added insulation value (R-6.5 ), air sealing wall details, conventional
insulation in walls and air tight drywall approach to
interior.
wall is high R-value, foam sheathing provides air sealing & thermal break of studs to ambient, air tight drywall
stops air movement through the wall so that insulation performs as rated.
recessed lights ICAT only.
windows with Ufactors & SHGC of .30 or less

hvac system sized using exact inputs of insulation upgrades, projected air tightness level of finished home
& other specific to your home information.

duct system sized & designed, not just a crew sent to
run duct. designed...sized...mastic sealed.

you'll never have access to get ducts right as easily
as now. in a home your size...not investing in these
calculations is a poor choice.
there are lots of threads of people complaining about
ductwork & comfort with little to no easy access to ducts.
give it some thought along with your system choices.

what is your location?

best of luck

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 10:30AM
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mainecoonkitty

we have a 4000 sq ft home with lots of open space (21 ft ceiling in the great room), a loft area, walls of windows, and a walk out basement. We live on 8 rural acres in Ohio. We have a high efficiency heat pump with an electric furnance as back-up. I've had natural gas, propane and geothermal in other houses, but I'll take this set-up over any other. I can't stand an overly hot house and hate combustible fuels, so I like electric heat and the heat pump is very efficient when it heats and cools. Keeps us warm in the cold weather and cool in the heat, even with the amount of open space we have. We have a propane gas fireplace, so we could have done a propane furnance, but I prefer electric. Much cleaner and it gives constant heat, not hot air one minute and nothing the next. Our total electric bill is around $400 a month year round, and I run the air conditioning from late April to late October all the time when the temp gets above 75 or so.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:47PM
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robin0919

The more I think about it, I would RUN from this GC. He admitted his electric bill 'averages' $600/MONTH!!!!! He doesn't have a 'clue' how to build an efficient house!! It sounds like he is just giving ALLOT of BS on how to insulate a house.
Have you looked into ICF?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 10:19PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We are in zone 5, living in about 3200 sq ft of conditioned space and our total energy costs...lighting, heating, a/c, hot water, everything...averages $75/month. Most of that is electricity, the rest is LP, and we have some of the highest electricity rates in the country. So yeah, $600/month sounds excessive to me.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 12:02PM
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JoppaRich

"Have you ever had electric heat? I have and I hated it. It's cold. Put your hand right at the vent when it's blowing out, and the air is NOT warm. It's cool."

If that's true, there's something wrong with your heat.

We have electric, (heat pump, etc), and it's hot. Electric probably averages $300/month across the year, but it's a 4K sqft house with a 2400sqft unattached/unheated garage/workshop (still lit, used, and lots of big powerhungry tools)....

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 12:17PM
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pooks1976

We live out in the country without natural gas as well. When our last heat pump broke, we went with a hybrid system of an efficient heat pump with a high efficiency propane furnace back up. When the heat pump is running the majority of the time our electric bill increases about $60 a month. This last winter with the polar vortex, the propane furnace ran for weeks without switching to the heatpump. Even with the unussually cold winter we never had to refill our 500 gallon propane tank.

With the old system we had electric coils for back up heat and when they would run the electric meter outside would spin really quickly.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 1:39PM
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virgilcarter

Heat from efficient electric sources such as heat pumps may feel "cold" at the supply register because the temperature may be less than normal body temperature (98.6 degrees F).

Virtually everything less than normal body temperature may feel "cold" to many people. In fact, however, the supply air from electric systems such as heat pumps is more than warm enough to maintain a 72-degree interior temperature or higher (assuming house is properly insulated and sealed).

That said, inefficient electric strip heaters with or without circulating fans, on the other hand, may be able to keep an interior space comfortable and warm, but they are notoriously inefficient and costly ways to heat interior space. Now, however, we're talking about efficiency and operating expense, not how a system "feels" and whether or not it will work properly to maintain a comfortable interior temperature.

Gas fired heating sources with forced air supply distribution generally provide supply air that is warmer than body temperature--so they seem "warm" to the human body, but still are governed by a thermostat set to a reach and maintain a given setting.

If the ambient temperature in a space is 72-degrees, it really doesn't matter how it got there--from electric or gas sources!

With either electric or gas source heating, maintaining comfortable interior temperatures should not be a problem, if the system is properly designed and if the house is built for the type of system being used.

System efficiency and operating expense should rightly be major criteria for selecting a heating/cooling system. That said, as humans we all have our preferences and personal choices, so whatever works satisfactorily for heating/cooling is usually a good approach.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 4:32PM
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littlebug5

Thanks, Virgil Carter. I'm the poster with the cool air coming out of the heat vents at our old house. Some other posters were making me feel that our electric heat wasn't working properly!

Yes, it was a heat pump. And no, it NEVER felt warm to me. It makes sense that 72 degree air blowing on me after I'd been outside in 10 degree weather would make me feel even colder, when what I really wanted was 90 degree air blowing on me.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 10:51PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We have geothermal, and the air does not feel warm when you stand over a vent because it isn't hot like a combustion furnace. And with "wind chill" factor, it will feel colder to the skin. But it does keep the house comfortably warm. We also maintain our temp day and night. Geothermals like steady temps, not a lot of up and down. So when we moved, we did not bring our day/night thermostat, we keep this house warmer than the old one, and yet our energy costs are so much less.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 7:45AM
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joyce_6333

Annie: Wow, that's a great utility bill. The taxes on our utility bills are about that much. And our water conditioning system is about $80/month. It's still 1/3 the utilities are our old house, so I'm not complaining.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 10:00AM
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