Electric Heating

Electric Heat Solid State Home Inspections

Electricity is an amazing gift of nature. It is so ubiquitous to our lives that we are surprised if we find ourselves more than 6 feet from an electrical outlet indoors or there is no source of lighting in a room. Electricity is also very efficient at creating heat and it is used widely in many homes and methods.

Types of Electric Heating

  • Baseboard - This is the most common form of electric heating on the Canadian West Coast. Electric baseboards are typically installed under windows and in each room of the home. An advantage of electric heat is that each room can have its own thermostat allowing energy savings in unused areas and more localized comfort when rooms are occupied. Heat is transferred from the heater to the room through a process called ‘convection’ where warm air rises at the heater and cool air draws from the floor creating a convective warm air current. 
  • In-Floor (or ceiling) Radiant Heaters - Electric heating wires can be installed under floors (or in ceilings) allowing the heat to radiate into the room from above or below. This type of heating can be primary heat or secondary heat such as bathroom tile floor heating. Heat transfers to the room through a radiant process which means the heat is directly felt in a line of sight to the heat source.
  • Electric Forced Air Furnace - Electric forced air furnaces are similar to gas or oil hot air furnaces except the energy for the heat comes from electricity. See our article on forced air furnaces for more information on these systems.
  • Forced Air Electric Heaters - Unlike central furnaces that use ducting to distribute heat to each room in the home, forced air electric heaters are smaller units typically installed in walls, fireplaces (usually with a fake fire), or under cabinets. These heaters can be used in rooms in place of baseboard heaters (we often see on home inspections an electric fireplace as the main heat source in a living room controlled by a thermostat).
  • Overhead Direct Radiant - Radiant heaters have a heating element with a reflector and do not rely on air movement to transfer heat.  This makes them ideal in keeping people warm when it is not possible to effectively warm the air like outdoor patios, hockey arenas, and warehouse work areas. These are also often used as space heaters when supplemental heat is needed from an electric outlet.
  • Others - Electricity is so versatile it has be used in many other creative ways such as an energy source for hot water distributed heating or even portable oil heaters.

Electric Heat Safety

Electric heat needs to be treated like other high energy appliances. Hard wired heaters are most often wired with 240 volt wiring and should be attached to dedicated breakers at the electrical panel. Incorrectly installed electricity is a leading cause of house fires which is why hardwired heaters should only be installed by a licensed electrician.

Electric room heaters typically operate hotter than hot water or forced air heating. Electrical outlets should never be located above heaters to avoid possible melting of wire insulation. Care should also be taken to avoid having curtains, carpets, or other flammable materials to contact electric heaters directly (including baseboard heaters). 

Advantages of Electrical Heating

Electricity does not require flames or generate any toxic gases like burning oil or natural gas. This reduces some types of fire risks and risks of carbon monoxide in the home. Electric heating can also typically be adjusted in each area of the home allowing more efficient use of heat.

Disadvantage of Electrical Heating

As electricity has many more demands for energy use than just heat, it is often a more expensive method of heating. Electric heating also often uses baseboards or other appliances which use up room or wall space limiting occupant options for room usage.

What Does a Home Inspector Look for with Electric Heating

Electric heating is part of both the electrical and heating system in a home inspection. The electrical side of heaters is inspected to ensure it is correctly and safely wired. Baseboard and other in-room heating devices are quite easy to test as operation is very simple (on/off at the thermostat). Electric forced air furnaces require a little more investigation as the system has additional components in filters, fans, and distribution. Common deficiencies found in home inspections include overloaded circuits, 240v heaters connected to 120v connections, heaters not well mounted to the wall, exposed wiring, and heaters that don’t respond to thermostat controls. Home inspectors do not test heaters plugged into household outlets as these are considered occupant belongings, not a home system. 

Final Thoughts

Electricity is a reliable and effective heating source and in many cases, it is the only type of heating available to a home as retrofitting gas burning appliances may not be possible. As electric heating can have higher costs, consider investing in programable thermostats and maintaining cool temperatures in less used rooms. If you are concerned about your electric heating system or are looking at buying a home with electric heat, always call in your local home inspector so you know your home will be safe and solid.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.