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Top 3 Alternatives to an Electric Forced-Air Furnace

On the face of it, an electric forced-air furnace seems like the perfect method for heating your home. The heat generated by electricity is both hot and clean. It doesn’t produce any toxic byproducts that must then be safely ventilated outside of the home. It also does not require installing any unusual utilities, such as a propane tank, on your property. A simple electrical connection is all you need.

Top 3 Alternatives to an Electric Forced-Air Furnace

However, homeowners who make use of this type of furnace may find themselves shocked, month after month, at their heating costs. The fact is that an electric forced-air furnace is one of the most inefficient, and therefore expensive, ways to heat your home. This may leave you scrambling for alternatives.

Here are our top three alternatives to an electric forced-air furnace:

The Downside of Electric Heating

When it comes to energy use, a great deal of emphasis is placed on energy efficiency. Essentially, that is how much return you get on your investment. A more efficient heating system will generate more heat using comparatively less energy. A less efficient one, on the other hand, needs a lot more energy to generate the same amount of heat.

The efficiency of a system depends a great deal on the source of the heat. Furnaces that utilize combustible fuels often burn very hot, meaning that you’ll need comparatively little material to generate enough heat. Note, however, that this is not always the case: a wood fire, for example, is nowhere near as hot as one that uses propane as its fuel source. However, in general, combustible fuels burn quite hot and are therefore usually fairly efficient sources of heat energy.

Generating heat through the use of electricity, however, tends to be an inefficient process. Most electric furnaces make use of resistance heating, which is the same method of producing heat that a toaster uses. An electric current is pumped through a ceramic plate or similar medium, which will “resist” the flow of energy. As it does so, it heats up. This heat energy is then vented into the surrounding air and pumped throughout the building with a large fan (this is the “forced-air” part of the electric forced-air furnace).

While it’s a perfect way to toast bread, resistance heating tends to waste a lot of energy when performed on a larger scale. Most of the electricity that is used is simply wasted, meaning that your costs will almost always be quite high when using electric heating.

Alternative #1: A Propane Furnace

One of the most popular alternatives to electric heating is propane. Propane is a fuel that remains in gaseous form at room temperature; however, when it is pressurized, it enters a liquid state and can then easily be pumped into a furnace. This quality also leads to another one of the great benefits of propane heating: it is highly portable.

The fact that it is portable means that propane heating can be utilized in places that otherwise would be difficult to furnish with a heat source. A tank of propane is lightweight and can be installed anywhere there is a small amount of extra space for it. It’s for this reason that propane is often used for portable cooking stoves, as well as in RVs, boats, and other spaces that must make do with minimal space. A large-scale propane tank can be installed on a property that doesn’t have easy access to other fuel sources, such as a gas main.

Propane is also a good fuel source because of how cleanly it burns. It is one of the most environmentally friendly combustible fuels there is. It does not produce toxic byproducts, and even if it leaks, it will not contaminate the surrounding air or water.

Alternative #2: Natural Gas

Natural gas is another great alternative to an electric forced-air furnace, primarily due to its inexpensiveness. It is far cheaper, gallon for gallon, than propane is, and burning it is significantly cheaper than using electricity to generate heat.

Natural gas is also very easily accessible. Most homes have a natural gas main already hooked up, as it’s used not just for the furnace but for heating water and other applications as well. And you don’t need to pay for more than what you are using. If you want to use propane, for example, you’ll have to buy a propane tank, have it installed on your property, and then fill it regularly, meaning you’ll have to pay for the entire tank and all the propane in advance. With natural gas, on the other hand, you pay a gas bill based on your usage. If you don’t use any gas in a given month, you won’t pay anything.

Natural gas is also a relatively efficient method of generating heat—more so than electricity but less than propane. Like propane, it burns very hot, which means even during especially cold weather, it will easily get your home to a comfortable temperature.

Alternative #3: A Heat Pump

Perhaps the most efficient and inexpensive method of home heating is the heat pump. This method eschews the “forced-air” system entirely in favor of multiple smaller heating elements that can be localized to several areas, or zones, in the home. This is one of the reasons that heat pumps are an excellent way to save money on your energy costs. You don’t have to waste energy heating an area of the home that is currently unoccupied.

Heat pumps do utilize electricity to operate; however, unlike an electric forced-air furnace, they do not use it to generate heat, which is extremely inefficient, as we’ve discussed. Instead, a heat pump uses a refrigerant coil to absorb ambient heat from the outside environment. That heat is then transferred into your home. That means a heat pump warms your home using heat energy that is already present, rather than generating it. This means the energy costs of a heat pump are far, far lower than nearly every other method of home heating.

The only major downside to a heat pump is the fact that, since it utilizes outdoor energy, it may struggle during very cold weather, when there is not much outdoor heat to use. Many homeowners address this problem by using natural gas or propane as a backup.If you have any questions about heat pumps or other alternatives to electric heating, contact Entek HVAC and ask to speak to one of our heating professionals.

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