In areas of the country where electricity rates are cheap, electrical resistance furnaces are common. Rather than moving air over a flame as with combustion-based, forced-air heating, air is moved over a hot electrical coil in the furnace.
Electric-based central heating can achieve 100 percent AFUE, since all the electrical power is converted directly to heat. However, because the supply of electricity is produced primarily by burning coal, natural gas or fossil fuels, an electric furnace isn't necessarily an environmentally friendly heating choice.
Electric furnace heating also tends to be more expensive to operate compared to other electric resistance systems because some of the warm airs leaks through the ducts or loses heat to the duct's interior surface.
Electric baseboards offer an alternative option, with individual heaters in each room providing heat through metal pipes that contain heating elements. Each operates independently within its own room, which allows considerable zone control.
Baseboard heating offers several advantages. The modular design means that the system has fewer moving parts, requiring less maintenance and repair. Individual rooms can be serviced without having to address the entire system. Furthermore, they cost about $100 or $150 per room for installation.
However, quality can vary widely, so choose carefully and look for labels from Underwriter's Laboratories or the National Electrical Manufacturer's Association.
Radiant heating is another option, driven either by electric or hydronic power. It's not for everyone, but it has its advantages.
Radiant heating involves installing coils or pipes in the floor, providing heat from below and moving upward. It presents an even, overall heat temperature throughout the room. With no moving parts, it's very quiet and comfortable, and it doesn't stir up as much dust and allergens, as compared to forced-air systems. It also doesn't create any drafts, and eliminating the need to blow air makes it more energy efficient.
However, radiant heating tends to be more expensive to install, especially when retrofitting it into a home. Electrical heat is also more expensive to operate and it's used more often as a supplemental heat source or in small areas, such as a bathroom or kitchen.
When installing radiant heating, you should give serious thought to the type of floor covering in the home. Ceramic tile works well because it conducts and stores heat. Wood, vinyl and linoleum are less efficient, but work reasonably well. Carpeting will directly insulate the floor from the room, decreasing efficiency, so if you want to install carpet in a radiant-heated room, use a thin carpet with dense padding.