All-electric furnaces are widely available and include a heating element and blower housed inside a case. Overall operation of an all-electric furnace is similar to operating furnaces powered by propane or natural gas. All-electric furnaces are controlled by a thermostat -- the same control found on other types of furnaces. When the temperature in your home drops below a certain level, the thermostat signals the all-electric furnace to provide more heat. The furnace ignites an electric heating element, and a blower distributes warm air throughout your house once the heating element reaches a certain temperature.
Electricity is a clean and safe fuel source when used properly and is available in virtually all homes. An all-electric furnace does not require a chimney because there are no fumes or exhaust to discharge.
The U.S. Department of Energy rates all-electric furnaces as one of the most efficient heat sources available because no energy is lost through a chimney. However, the efficiency does not always translate into cost savings. The DOE reports that electricity often costs significantly more than propane or natural gas. That may make all-electric furnaces an unwise choice for people who live in cold climates and need 24-hour use of their furnaces during long winters.
An all-electric furnace for a 2,000-square-foot house could consume up to 26,500 watts of electricity in an hour, according to Saving Energy, an online consumer information publication. A gas furnace could consume up to 750 watts an hour. Direct comparisons are difficult because gas furnaces also rely on propane or natural gas, creating more cost. But the DOE reports that overall, furnaces powered by propane or natural gas are usually less expensive to operate.
If you choose an all-electric furnace, purchase one with a heat pump. Heat pumps improve the efficiency of all-electric furnaces and can reduce electricity usage by up to 40 percent, according to the DOE. The savings could be enough to entice some people to choose an all-electric furnace instead of a furnace powered by propane or natural gas.
All-electric furnaces require monthly replacement of the air filter. Check your service manual for other requirements, which could include cleaning of parts inside the furnace that are easily accessible. Turn off power to the unit before providing any maintenance. Repairs should be made by a qualified technician because of the possibility of electrical shock.
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