Whether it's used to compliment another heating system or is the primary system in your home, room by room electric heat is a great option. It’s easy to use, cost-effective and efficient. But when it comes to types of electric heaters, which one is best for your home? There are several options and each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here's a quick overview of those common types of heat:
Baseboard heaters are one of the simplest, most economical forms of electric heat. These are usually hardwired to an electrical circuit. The baseboard element generates heat, which warms the air around it. The natural convection process circulates the warm air throughout the room. Baseboards in general are the least expensive type of electric heat to install but they also take longer to warm a room, which means they can lead to higher power bills. They also take up a lot of wall space. To get more heat, you need a longer unit. In order to operate properly, there needs to be at least a foot of clearance in front of them. That means you can't put furniture, drapes or any other objects directly in front of the heater.
Radiant floor heaters usually come in the form of electric cables, tubes of heated water or electric mats installed just below the floor's surface that -- big surprise -- heat the floor. These systems work particularly well with concrete floors because the heat absorbed by the concrete can keep a room warm for several hours. The Department of Energy points out that this can be beneficial when electric companies use time-of-use rates. That means you can heat the floor when rates are cheapest and enjoy that heat throughout the rest of the day.
Radiant panels & cove heaters
What exactly is radiant heat? Think of the sun on a hot day. When you're in direct sunlight you can feel the rays on your skin, but as soon as you go under the shade of a tree, you no longer feel that direct heat from the sunlight. That's the general concept behind radiant panels, which are installed in the walls or ceiling, and cove heaters, which are installed where the wall and ceiling come together. The idea is that these sources of heat emit radiation energy to keep you warm without heating up the air inside a room. Some of these heaters offer more radiant heat than others. Some are more or less just different looking baseboard heaters that heat air near the top of your room.
Unlike the other types of electric heat which are hardwired into your home, space heaters (also called portable heaters) are plugged into power outlets. That means you can take the heater with you from room to room. That gives you the flexibility of putting a heater exactly where you need it, when you need it. There are a few downsides. Cords can be tripped on. You cannot plug these heaters into extension cords or surge protectors. Many models are going to max out a typical residential circuit, meaning if you have any other electronics plugged into outlets on the same line, you could run into circuit issues.
Heat pumps are one of the most energy efficient heating options you can buy. Although all electric heat is 100 percent efficient, these heaters can actually use heat from the environment to provide heat your home, which in some cases means you get more heat output than you put into the system. Unlike the other electric heaters, these can also provide cooling when necessary. Here's what the Department of Energy says about ductless, mini-split heat pumps: "If you are building an addition or doing a major remodel and your home does not have heating and cooling ducts, a ductless mini-split heat pump may be a cost-effective, energy-efficient choice." Although they are usually more expensive to install, they are cheaper to operate and some places offer rebates for those who install them. If your home needs more heat than one mini-split can provide, adding other types of electric heat to complement it can be a cost-effective and comfortable alternative to installing more than one. When you get down to it, that is one of the biggest advantages of electric heat: flexibility.
Wall heaters (we saved the best for last)
Wall heaters, also referred to as forced fan heaters, combine a heating element and a fan to circulate heated air throughout a room. These heaters are also hardwired to your electrical circuit. The heating element works just like one in a baseboard heater, but unlike baseboards, wall heaters have a fan that helps push warm air throughout the room. That means your room will heat up faster and you'll have lower power bills. Unlike baseboard heaters, you can get different amounts of heat in the same size unit. In general, they're much smaller than baseboards, which frees up more space in your room for furniture. We think that wall heaters are one of the best choices in many cases for people who need a steady source of heat in a cold room. They are easy to install, don't take up a lot of space, have relatively low cost of ownership compared to other options on this list and are effective at keeping your room comfortable.
Want to learn more about our heaters? Check out our post on the differences between baseboard and wall heaters.