Electric furnaces: reviews and buying guide
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Furnaces are often considered the best heating source for regions with harsh winter weather. While natural gas has long been the most popular fuel choice to heat homes in the U.S., electricity is gaining ground as a close second.
Electric furnaces are becoming popular in many regions because they do not use non-renewable energy and are cleaner to run. Choosing the right kind of electric furnace for your home can save you money and keep you more comfortable.
What is an electric furnace and how does it work?
An electric furnace is a type of heater that uses electric heat coils and a blower fan to evenly distribute heat throughout your home. The components work differently than that of a gas furnace. Use this guide to help you determine what type of furnace you have.
An electric forced air furnace works in the same way as a hairdryer. The heat exchanger sucks air into the system and the electric heating chamber warms it up. The blower fan pushes out the hot air through the ductwork into your house.
Parts of an electric furnace
An electric wall furnace has several components that come together to make the equipment function smoothly. These include:
- Heater coils: The most important component of an electric furnace, heater coils are made of nickel chromium, and produce heat when fed with electricity.
- Thermostat: Regulates the heat and turns the heating elements on or off as demanded by the user.
- Blower: A motorized fan inside the furnace blowing cool air over the heat chamber, forcing the air into the ducts to produce hot air.
- Filters: Prevent dust and debris from entering the furnace or circulating with the heat.
- Plenum: This is a small air chamber inside the furnace that helps distribute air through the home.
- Transformer: This component brings down the input voltage to the standard used by the furnace.
- Return air ducts: This sucks the cool air from the room into the furnace, helping the blower force it towards the heat chamber.
- Sequencer: When a furnace has multiple heating elements, a sequencer controls each of them, turning them on or off as needed.
How much does an electric furnace cost?
Home Advisor reveals that the average furnace replacement cost falls between $2,640 and $6,396, with the average cost landing at $4,512 for equipment and installation.
A standard electric furnace can be priced anywhere between $700 and $3,000, while the installation cost can fall between $1,000 and $2,000. Making the switch from a gas furnace to an electric model comes with a few benefits, but it will likely create a higher monthly energy bill.
Another complication when switching from gas to electric heat is getting power to the new furnace. An electric furnace requires 240 volts of power, carrying 60 to 80 amps. A gas furnace only requires 115 volts at 5 to 10 amps. This means a gas furnace will typically use a regular wall outlet for power. The electric furnace, however, will require more electricity. You’ll also want an electrician to inspect whether your home’s main electrical system can support an electric furnace, especially if you own an older home.
One benefit of an electric vs. gas furnace is that an electric furnace does not require ventilation, so the upfront costs are lower than that of a gas or oil furnace because there is no need for a flue pipe. An electric furnace can last up to 15 years, while the higher-end models can last over 20 years.
Gas vs. electric furnace operational cost
When it comes to the gas vs. electric furnace debate, one of the most significant considerations is the cost. Compared to the cost of running a gas furnace, the cost of using an electric furnace is several times more expensive.
The average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is 13.31 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Homes in America use an average of 877 kWh of electricity per month, creating an estimated monthly energy cost of $117. If you live in a region where temperatures are naturally cooler and winters are more extreme, you can plan to pay more each month.
The cost to operate a gas furnace, however, is typically far less. Natural gas suppliers sell gas in therms or Ccf units. One therm equals 100,000 BTU (British Thermal Unit) and Ccf refers to the volume of 100 cubic feet. Companies may differ in how they price gas, as natural gas can be priced in units of dollars per therm, dollars per MMBtu (One Million British Thermal Unit), or dollars per cubic foot. The average monthly gas bill for American homeowners is $72.10, but could be more for those in colder climates.
How to choose the right electric furnace
Investing in an electric furnace means considering a number of elements to ensure you select the right heating unit for your home. When choosing the best electric furnace, be aware of these factors:
- Energy efficiency: Electricity is more expensive than gas or oil, so you will ideally want an electric furnace that is energy efficient. Every furnace comes with an efficiency rating, and higher rating means the appliance uses less electricity to produce more heat.
- Climate: If your geographic location experiences only mild winters, you could afford to run the electric furnace full time without risking skyrocketing bills. However, if you live in a region that battles freezing, sub-zero temperatures, then you should look for furnaces with stronger heating capacity and stricter efficiency standards. Refer to the Energy Star website to find out how to pick the right electric furnace for your climate.
- Brand: Not all brands of electric furnaces have developed the same reputation. Before you buy the unit, make sure to read customer reviews to learn more about homeowners’ experiences with each brand. Browse the top furnace brands to determine why buyers like each one.
- Size: The dimensions of your house must be taken into account before choosing an electric furnace. An improperly-sized furnace will fail to provide adequate heating. All states are classified into zones that determine the type of climate and the energy they require for heating. To ensure the system you purchase can adequately warm your home, have an HVAC professional visit your home and recommend the proper size unit.
- Zone heating: If some rooms in your house are better insulated than others, you could consider zone heating, which essentially means you can control the amount of heat each room gets. This is achieved by installing zone dampers in the furnace’s ductwork and then the control panel of the unit regulates temperature for each room by using directions from the thermostat.
Best electric furnace brands
Do not confuse brands with manufacturers. Even though there are over 20 electric furnace brands, there are only three or four manufacturers that own these brands. Some are older and better-known, while others may be regional and smaller-scale. Keeping an open mind when surveying the market is the best way to find the most suitable brand for your needs.
- Goodman: Some of the most affordable furnaces are made by Goodman, serving those who want the best value for their money.
- Trane: One of the most recognized brands in the HVAC industry, Trane is a more considered purchase but is backed with one of the comprehensive warranties.
- American Standard: For homeowners who value high standards, long-lasting quality, and quality equipment, American Standard furnaces are a good choice.
- Carrier: Electric furnaces by Carrier offer an impressive energy-efficiency and value for homeowners.
- Lennox: One of the longest-standing companies known for quieter HVAC systems available for a wide range of prices.
- Daikin: One of the oldest HVAC companies, Daikin is not only known for value but also for excellent customer service.
When picking an electric furnace model, do not forget to read customer reviews from homeowners who live in a similar climate as you. This will give you insight into the unit’s functionality in your specific climate. Customer reviews will also tell you about the experience they had with the company, after-sales support, and resolution of complaints.
Electric furnaces could be an eco-friendly alternative to gas or oil furnaces if you do not mind the higher cost of electricity. Choosing the right furnace type for your house and getting professional installation are some of the starting steps to ensure your furnace lasts for years to come.