Introduction to Heating with Electricity


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Produced by Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency EnerGuide


Table of Contents

The Four-Step Decision-Making Process
2. Basic Equipment Heating Systems
3. Comparing Annual Heating Cost
4. Accommodating the Electrical Load
5. Mechanics of Buying, Installing & Maintaining
6. Electric Water Heaters
7. Need More Information?



If your present home heating system is too expensive to operate, is in poor condition, or if you are planning on buying a new home, you are probably considering your heating options. About 60 per cent of the energy required to run the average home is used for space heating. Therefore, one of the most important projects you will undertake as a homeowner, besides insulating and draft proofing, is choosing, replacing or improving your heating system. A wise decision about heating can significantly reduce your heating costs while also making your home more comfortable. Some very impressive technological innovations have been made in heating systems in recent years, and there is a wide range of good equipment on the market.

You will be using your new or improved heating system for a long time, so it is important to do some research before deciding. It is worth taking the time to ensure that you make the best choice for your situation by first thoroughly investigating all your options. Nowadays, however, your options may be quite bewildering, because of the wide range of equipment and energy sources available. This booklet will undoubtedly help you in your decision-making process, whether you are installing a system in a new home, replacing a system in an existing home, or simply considering upgrading your present system.

How to Use This Booklet

To simplify the process, we have identified four interrelated steps for making your home heating decisions:

Step 1: Draft proofing and insulating
Step 2: Selecting your energy source
Step 3: Selecting or improving your heat distribution system
Step 4: Selecting your heating equipment

Each of these steps and the various options are discussed briefly in Chapter 1 on page 6. The remainder of this booklet focuses entirely on heating with electricity. If you decide to use a heat pump, refer to the booklet entitled:

  • Heating and Cooling with a Heat Pump

If you decide to use oil, natural gas or wood, refer to the other companion booklets in this series entitled:

  • Heating with Oil
  • Heating with Gas
  • A Guide to Residential Wood Heating
  • All About Wood Fireplaces

These publications are available from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) or from your local electrical or gas utility, or fuel oil supplier. Refer to page 52 for information on how to order them.

How you use this booklet will be determined largely by where you are in your decision-making process:

  • If a new house is being built for you, you may have ALL the steps and options open to you (Steps 1 through 4).
    If you already own your home but are considering replacing an existing heating system, MANY of the steps and options may interest you – particularly if you have a variety of fuel/energy choices in your area (Steps 1 through 4).
  • If you already have a satisfactory heat distribution system, either forced-air or hot-water (also called hydronic), and are interested only in upgrading it (Step 3) and reducing your heating bill, then your options are switching energy sources (Step 2), selecting higher efficiency equipment, or upgrading and adding equipment to your current heating equipment (Step 4). You may also decide to insulate and draft proof (caulk and weatherstrip) your house (Step 1)
  • If you are satisfied with your existing heat source, then you should still look at Steps 1, 3, and 4.

Before proceeding any further, you should familiarize yourself with a number of basic concepts that will help you understand your options.

Basic Concepts

Energy Efficiency
Electric space heating equipment that uses electric resistance heating is typically 100 per cent efficient because all of the electrical energy used is converted into heat and there are no combustion losses through the chimney.
Fuel-burning systems (natural gas, oil, propane, wood) lose heat for various reasons: transient operation, cold start-up, incomplete combustion, heat carried away in the combustion gases, and warm house air that is drawn up the chimney. The extent of these heat losses determines the efficiency of the furnace or boiler, given as a percentage indicating the amount of original heat that actually warms the house.
Steady-state efficiency measures the maximum efficiency the furnace or boiler achieves after it has been running long enough to reach its peak operating temperature. This is an important standardized testing procedure that is also used by a serviceperson when adjusting the heating system, but the figure it provides is not the efficiency the equipment will achieve in actual use over the course of a heating season. This is much like the difference between the fuel consumption figures published for cars and the actual consumption the car will achieve in its day-to-day performance.
Seasonal efficiency takes into consideration not only normal operating losses, but also the fact that most heating equipment rarely runs long enough to reach its steady-state efficiency temperature, particularly during the milder weather at the beginning and at the end of the heating season. This figure, known as the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), is most useful to a homeowner, because it is a good indication of how much annual heating costs will be reduced by improving existing equipment or replacing it with a higher efficiency unit. (See Table 2: Typical Seasonal Efficiencies and Energy Savings for Various Heating Systems, p.36).


All types of heating systems come complete with their own jargon. If you are heating with electricity or are considering it, the better you understand the electric heating jargon, the better equipped you will be to make a wise heating system choice. The text box "Coming to Terms with Electricity" presents some of the basics.

Coming to Terms with Electricity

Measuring up
Here are some common terms you will come across while exploring the option of heating with electricity.
watt (W) - The watt is the basic unit of measurement for electric power. The heating capacity of electric heating systems is usually expressed in kilowatts (kW). One kW equals 1000 watts.
kilowatt hour (kWh) - One kWh is the amount of electric energy supplied by one kW of power over a one-hour period. When converted to heat in an electric resistance heating element, one kilowatt an hour produces 3.6 megajoules (MJ) or 3412 British Thermal Units (Btu) of heat.
ampere (A) - Electric flow is called current and is expressed in amperes. The short form is A, although amp is also used.
volt (V) - A volt is the basic unit of measurement for voltage or potential difference. Voltage causes an electric current to flow.

Putting it all together
A watt is the power you get when one volt of potential difference pushes one ampere of current.
Expressed mathematically
Wattage = voltage x amperes (W = V x A)
Certification and standards
All electric heating equipment, heating elements, and electric baseboard heaters sold in Canada must meet strict manufacturing and installation standards for electrical safety. The standards fall within the purview of provincial safety codes and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Before purchasing your heating equipment, be sure it carries a CSA, CGA, IAS, ULC or Warnock Hersey certification label.
Federal or provincial energy efficiency standards are now in place for space heating equipment. To date, there are no standards that apply to electric resistance heating equipment; only heat pumps are affected. (See page 16 for more details on energy efficiency standards.)

No matter how you are heating your home, you can probably improve the efficiency of your heating system. Some of the improvements are simple enough to do yourself; others require changes that should only be done by specialized technicians, a qualified heating contractor or, in the case of electric systems, by an electrician. All improvements should be effective and provide a return on investment within a reasonable period.

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Source: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Office of Energy Efficiency


The Heating and Cooling Series is published by Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency's EnerGuide programs. EnerGuide is the official Government of Canada mark associated with the labelling and rating of the energy consumption or energy efficiency of household appliances, heating and ventilation equipment, air conditioners, houses and vehicles.

EnerGuide also helps manufacturers and dealers promote energy-efficient equipment and provides consumers with the information they need to choose energy-efficient residential equipment.