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Old 11-23-2007, 07:55 AM
Location: Green Mountain
60 posts, read 331,471 times
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I was wondering what the differences are between these heating systems? Is one less expensive than the other? Does one heat more efficiently? Someone told me to stay away from buying a house (Evergreen) that has the electric heat as the winter heating bills can be in the hundreds of dollars. Is this true? What does radiant heat mean?
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Old 11-23-2007, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by alexis2005 View Post
I was wondering what the differences are between these heating systems? Is one less expensive than the other? Does one heat more efficiently? Someone told me to stay away from buying a house (Evergreen) that has the electric heat as the winter heating bills can be in the hundreds of dollars. Is this true? What does radiant heat mean?
Generally, baseboard electric heat is the most expensive means. If you are considering an existing home, your realtor should have a year's worth of utility bills for any home listed in MLS, or will get you the info. No info, no buy.

We have nat gas here in COL SPGS, with two furnaces for a 3800 sq ft house. We use gas for heating, cooking and water heating. Our worst gas bill was $197 for a bitterly cold January 2007, dropping to $34 each month for Jul & Aug 2007. Our average is $78.69/month for the first 10 months of 2007. I'm delighted with these bills, it proves to me the Colorado Build Green program works. We had worse bills back east, with an older home of 2000 sq ft.

Propane is slightly more than nat gas, as it must be trucked to your home and pumped into a tank. The cost for trucks, tanks and labor to deliver it to each home is what drives up the cost. Often seen in rural areas where the local utility firm simply cannot afford to lay miles and miles of underground pipe to service only a few homes. It is possible to run out of propane before you get a refill. Most natural gas ranges / ovens can be adjusted to work on propane.

Baseboard electric is the WORST for home heating, you are running a big old toaster that eats juice. Avoid it. It's also a poor option for space heaters in a cold room. We have abundant nat gas here and it is very affordable. Look for such a home.

Radiant heat generally means something built into the floors of a home. I've seen these on TV and mostly they use a set of flexible tubing or pipes with a fluid heated by a central unit and then pumped through the house. It will be reasonable if the heat source is gas. Nice thing is that by not using forced air, you don't get dust blowing all around the house. Some people like the feel of a warm floor on their feet. It probably takes longer to warm up a cold room than you can with forced hot air, but not sure that's an issue for most homes. If the heat source is electricity, it will not be cheap to operate.

Lastly, a home that is well insulated will save plenty on heating/cooling bills.


Last edited by Mike from back east; 01-25-2014 at 11:41 AM..
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Old 11-23-2007, 08:21 AM
Location: Montrose
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Electric baseboard heat is pretty expensive, but does have the advantage of being able to easily turn off heat in rooms you aren't using. Two years ago we moved from a large house heated with propane (forced air) to a small townhome (less than 1/2 the size of the house) with electric baseboard heat, and our overall utility costs are almost exactly as high as in the much larger house. Of course, some of that could be due to better insulation in the house than in the small townhome.

I understand that propane costs have gone up dramatically in the past 2 years, so the differences may not be as significant as they once were.

Prior to these residences, every place I lived was heated with natural gas (forced air), which was less expensive than the propane or the electric. That's a very common heating method in the larger towns and cities.
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Old 11-23-2007, 09:51 AM
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I have lived with all three types of heat (baseboard electric, forced air, hot water), and all three heat types (electric, natural gas, and propane). In most of Colorado, especially, electric is the most expensive. It does have the advantage of being controllable room by room, which is nice, but that usually won't overcome the additional cost. There are a lot of homes in western Colorado that were built in the late 1970's and early 1980's with electric heat because, at that time, there was a several year moratorium on the issuance of new gas taps. Builders had no choice. A lot of those homes have been subsequently converted to natural gas.

Natural gas forced air is the cheapest to build, and that is why it is found in so many newer homes. A key there is the thermal efficiency of the furnace--time was that most were only about 60% thermally efficient (40% of the heat went up the chimney). Newer furnaces can be up to 95% efficient. Unfortunately, this is a place where a lot of homebuilders skimp--so, it's a good idea to check the efficiency of the furnace. Forced air also is more difficult to "zone" by room and is generally "dirtier" because air must be moving whenever the furnace is running. Baseboard hot water can be the most efficient, IF it is installed correctly and adequately zoned. Again, this is where a lot of builders cut corners to shave costs. Zoning room by room adds to both the complexity and cost to a hot water heat system, so a lot of homes may only have two or three zones for the whole house. That causes a loss of control and efficiency that can be achieved.

As to the fuel types, electricity is the most expensive and likely to stay that way. While it is possible to generate power with non-fossil fuel sources (wind, hydro, nuclear), any new additions to the power generating grid are massive capital investments that will have to be recovered from the ratepayers. Propane is the next most expensive. It is a byproduct of oil production--and domestic oil production has been in decline for years. In addition, its transportation is less efficient than natural gas. I think propane is going to continue to get more and more expensive as time goes on. Finally, there is natural gas. This is no panacea, either, but it will probably be the cheapest fuel source in Colorado for the foreseeable future. Right now, natural gas in Colorado is cheaper than most places because the Rocky Mountain states currently are producing more natural gas than there is pipeline capacity to transport it out of the region. That will change in the next few years as more pipeline capacity comes on line. When it does, expect local retail natural gas prices to increase quite significantly.

There is no bright spot on the horizon when it comes to home heating. I think that solar (both active and passive) will make a comeback as "conventional" heating costs rise to the point that solar becomes economically viable in spite of its relatively high initial capital cost. Most homeowners can make substantial gains in home heating efficiency with insulation, weatherproofing, etc., and many have. Ultimately, though, fuel costs and scarcity are going to force the fundamental change in how Americans live. Heated square footages of homes are going to have to shrink, and that will raise havoc in the existing home markets. That is inevitable, it's just a matter of "when."
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Old 11-23-2007, 10:33 AM
Status: "2B the trusted driving force in local real estate." (set 14 days ago)
Location: South Metro Denver for 25 years
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Electric baseboard became a popular option in the 70's when gas prices jumped, because of the gas shortage.

If we find a house with EBB heat, we subtract for the cost of conversion to GFA.

But now we find that most have already converted, or there are so many other options, that those houses aren't considered.
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Old 11-23-2007, 01:22 PM
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jazzlover ... corrrect, except that electric baseboard heating is by far and away the least expensive heating system to install. You don't need a gas tap/piping, you don't need ductwork, you don't need a furnace or boiler and flue.

You simply have a baseboard heating unit of so many lineal feet installed per room. Secure it to the wall and plug it in (or wire it in if 220v). Many units have the thermostat right on the end of the unit instead of remote mounted on the wall. The BB units are very inexpensive to buy.

There are places in a house where localized electric heating may be comfortable and cost effective ... for example, in floor radiant grids installed in a bathroom area. These have much less wattage per square foot than an electric baseboard, and can heat an area for a reasonable cost of operation. They are not cheap, however, to install, since they're part of the flooring sytem ... although the heating elements might only be installed in a portion of the room, the entire floor must have the built-up system of layers.

Not mentioned so far: propane or nat gas fired radiant wall units, zero clearance and unvented. We had a small house heated with these units and they were far less expensive on propane to run than the previous gas forced air unit or gas/gravity unit in the place. The trick is to respect the distance to flammable objects that must be kept for safety, as the heat can be very intense close by the radiant ceramic grid. For our purposes, the heating worked well and was very comfortable ... but these won't work for many people due to interior space/layout and furnishings. We didn't have much in the way of furnishings, so it wasn't an issue.
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Old 11-23-2007, 01:40 PM
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Wink What you make of it

As others have mentioned, electric baseboard would prove one of the more expensive forms of home heating. Relatively easy to install, good control in instant on and off, but expensive to use.

If you otherwise like the house you might consider ETS Heat (Electric Thermal Storage). It is basically the size of a small electric wall heater, and as easy to install, but operates far more efficiently. Within are thermal bricks that are warmed to very high temperatures during the night (when demand is low and electric costs lower), with this latent heat dispersed as you desire during the day or any other time.

The units themselves do not cost that much, but what really makes it all work is the cooperation of your electric utility, if they offer such a program. Generally speaking, electric companies have a problem with peaks, too much demand during the day and not enough at night. Thus many of them favor and encourage the use of ETS systems. If yours does, the result is you'll pay much less per kilowatt than otherwise for heat.

I haven't used such a system, but may, and indications are those that do are happy with them.

Otherwise you can retrofit to use something like natural gas or propane. In cost alone natural gas preferable, if you have that option. But you will incur some significant costs in putting in the new systems, particularly if more than a simple wall heater.

Something like radiant heat might be powered in a variety of ways, although the system itself usually consists of heating the floors with hot water circulating through PEX pipes. Very comfortable and potentially energy efficient, but forethought and costs involved in the installation, and even the most responsive radiant systems are not responsive in instant on and off. More usually something you set a certain desired temperature and leave there.

If you are so inclined you can use alternative energy sources to supplement or entirely do without conventional providers. Something like solar, for instance. The downside is generally higher upfront costs. The upside that in time your total energy costs could be quite modest.

Particularly, and this goes for any type of energy, if all else is accounted for in proper insulation, siting, etc., you thus happy in a cozy, comfortable home.
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Old 11-23-2007, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by sunsprit View Post
jazzlover ... corrrect, except that electric baseboard heating is by far and away the least expensive heating system to install. You don't need a gas tap/piping, you don't need ductwork, you don't need a furnace or boiler and flue.
Quite true, but I know of few new homes being outfitted with it these days, unless natural gas or propane just isn't an option for heating for whatever reason. Most new homes these days use propane or natural gas forced air for a heating system.

My personal preference for heating is baseboard hot water--properly zoned, though my last house (just sold) had forced air.

The other reason for the popularity of forced air is that it easily adapts to central air conditioning. That is a major consideration in much of the country, but in the Rocky Mountain states most homes either don't need central air, or can be easily evaporatively cooled with a roof-mounted cooler.

Then, of course, there is the good ol' wood (or pellet) or coal stove for supplemental heat. My personal opinion is that, unless you are real close to your wood supply, the costs of gathering and hauling wood probably don't make it cost effective. As for coal, there are a few places I know in the Rocky Mountain region where there are still retail coal outlets. For those places, coal is a pretty good value for BTU's per dollar. But, it is dirty and inconvenient. When I was living in western Colorado, there were a couple of places I lived that were still 70% +/- coal-heated back 25-35 years ago. Who knows? We may be headed back to that again before it's all said and done.
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Old 11-23-2007, 02:12 PM
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JazzLover wrote"

"...Heated square footages of homes are going to have to shrink, and that will raise havoc in the existing home markets..."

I think it is more appropriate to talk about heated cubic feet. Very high ceilings, huge multipe story entry atriums may not be as acceptable in the future.

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Old 11-23-2007, 02:15 PM
Location: The 719
8,282 posts, read 13,603,860 times
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I once lived about 5.5 miles up on Upper Bear Creek Road in Evergreen and the cabin actually had Natural Gas! Here in my part of Pueblo West, we're stuck with Propane! Like Mike, we can enjoy bills as high as 180.00 in the coldest months and in a good winter month, we see from 90.00 to 100.00 if I can control the thermostat. If I could put a lock on it, I might get it down to 80/month, but then Mrs. McGowdog would probably become scarce! So we don't want that. (Note: our home is a good bit smaller than Mikes!)

Now, I stayed with friends who lived in Conifer and this was the coldest place that I'd ever lived. At first, they just had the electric baseboard and their solution to the problem was to just freeze to death! They wouldn't turn the heat up to more than 50. Captain Morgan, flannel sheets, and flannel pajamas was our solution. Then they got the Fischer wooden stove. That helped if you were in the basement. Then they got the Pellet Stove. Say what you will about this and it's dangers, but this little gem saved a marriage from what I could tell. Mary had just about had it with going out and chopping wood and hauling it through 3 feet of snow just to warm up. So Pete got the pellets and for about 3 bucks a bag and a fan to blow that into the bedrooms, they could keep their home toasty day and night for about 90.00/month.

In the winter, our heat goes up and our electrical goes down. In the summer, visa versa. Being stuck with Propane is a consideration, but so is the fact that we don't have sewer. Our water is 40/month while the lawn is green and as low as 18.00/month in the winter. We have septic and leach lines on our 1.2 acre and it works. Sewer is a convenience that you pay for. For people with electric baseboard, heat is a convenience that you pay for.

As was mentioned by others, the combination of EBB and some other sources of heat may be very economical. The electric heating that utilizes radiant heat seems to be very efficient if done properly. I don't know much about this, but I've seen some of this at the Parade of Homes and I'd like to learn more about it.

Last edited by McGowdog; 11-23-2007 at 02:26 PM.. Reason: additions
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