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After a downright frightening heating bill, I am thinking of switching to electric heat. I want this to be as little impact to the house as possible. I currently live in a 1100 sq ft manufactured home (mobile home... its a trailer) with a bedroom on each of the polls and a massive kitchen and living room area. My plan is:

  • A small space heater per bedroom

  • A baseboard heater for the kitchen livingroom area

My home has 100A line coming in with a 60A main breaker. The electrical is already heavily separated and my panel has enough room for two more 15A breakers. I do not have ready access to a 230V line. (I know enough not to do any work here myself)

Is there anything that I need to know before committing to this? Does anyone have any similar stories that can help me with this?

P.S. It may be worth noting that I currently pay $5.10/gal (!!) for propane and $0.08/kwh for electric. The current system is forced hot air.

UPDATE: I have equipped the main rooms with electric, oil-filled heaters. During the day they keep the house warm enough and at night our bedrooms are fine (the living room and kitchen suffer but I'm the only one who wakes up early enough to notice so moot point).

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Do the research and make sure you will be saving money. No sense spending money to change systems, only to find out you actually spend more. – Tester101 Dec 30 '10 at 17:01
up vote 9 down vote accepted

You should consider a few conditions when deciding what is the most efficient (often cheapest) method for heating your home.

The Department of Energy site has some good resources about regional heating fuel costs.

Their heating fuel comparison calculator is a useful example: http://www.eia.doe.gov/ask/conversionequivalents_faqs.asp#compare_heating_fuels

Consider installation costs as well as operating costs. There are obviously some pretty efficient heating techniques (geothermal and solar) that unfortunately, still have extremely high installation costs. This often makes their installation untenable.

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The energy calculator was wonderful. With it I roughed out about $20 per million btu for electric, $70 per million btu for propane. Geothermal is out because I don't own the land under me and I don't plan on being there long enough to recoup solar (solar electric) nor do I want to put holes in my roof/wall for additional duct work (solar heat). – Bob Roberts Dec 30 '10 at 17:01

Consider putting your money in to conservation instead of new equipment. For example:

  • Turn down the thermostat. Dropping it a few degrees takes about 10% off your fuel usage.

  • Get a digital thermostat. It lets you set the temperature exactly where you want it, instead of guessing and over- or under-heating.

  • Get a programmable thermostat. You can let the house be cooler while you're sleeping under heavy covers, or while you're out during the day.

  • Insulate yourself. A wool underlayer doesn't affect your appearance or mobility, but makes your body warmer. I wear these pretty much all winter long:

http://www.rivbike.com/products/show/wool-semi-tights/22-271 Semi tights

  • Move around when you get cold, instead of turning up the heat.

  • Insulate the structure. Make sure the walls, floor, and ceiling all have insulation. There are limits (thickness of the walls, for example), but do what you can.

  • Reduce air infiltration. Air exchanges carry a lot of heat out of a house. Look for crevices that let air in/out. Maybe some weather stripping around the doors. Of course, you want to keep enough air moving to keep it healthy.

  • Insulate windows. A single pane of glass is only R-1. That's almost nothing. Even 3 panes of glass is only R-3 - a huge improvement, but still much lower than your walls probably are. Some options:

    • Replace with better windows. This is pretty expensive.

    • Put a layer of plastic on the inside or outside (or both sides!) of your windows. Even though they don't insulate much, they slow down convection over the surface of the glass.

    • Put up blinds and/or drapes and close them when the sun goes down.

    • Cut styrofoam insulation panels to the size and shape of your window frames. Insert them when the sun goes down. To make them look nice, cover in fabric.

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Great ideas! It's also cheaper too. =) – Mike B Dec 31 '10 at 6:04

Two 110-volt 15 A circuits would give you 15 A × 110 V = 3.3 kW of power. I think that's too little.

Here's my back-of-the-envelope calculation: I live in a house that's a little bigger than yours, but presumably better insulated, so let's assume they're equivalent. I use ~100 gallons of heating oil per month in the winter. A gallon of heating oil has 41 kWh of energy, so I use ~4100 kWh of energy per month. That's for heat and hot water. A month is 720 h long, so the average power is 5.7 kW. In reality I need more power than that, for more heat is needed at night and on particularly cold days.

How large is your propane tank, and what is the fastest you go through it in the winter?

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We have 200gal, and between the most recent bill and the previous bill, used 130 gal in 90 days. There is only one heating zone. My house was built in 2004 and is reasonably well insulated – Bob Roberts Dec 30 '10 at 19:51

Look at using a heat pump, as the give about 4 unit of heat for each unit of electric used, however they are not cheap.

ALso spending a bit on inproving your insulation may give a much better payback then spending the money on the heating side.

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I don't believe I will go with the heat pump. I like the idea but I don't believe the payoff will come before before I move. I will be looking into my insulation though. – Bob Roberts Dec 30 '10 at 19:58
That link is dead. Can you update it? – Henry Jackson Nov 5 '12 at 0:00

I know of a person who uses two electrical oil-filled radiators with total output of 2,5 kW to heat a room in a 440 sq ft log house in a region where -10 Celsius is typical in winter. However, he only does so from late fall till early winter and from early spring till summer since it's a summer house and he lives in an apartment most of the time. He does so for three reasons - it's very clean, it doesn't need any manual labor to run and it can be left unattended for the workdays when he is in the city. He never brought up what he thinks of the prices but I guess he doesn't suffer much or he would complain otherwise.

My two cents are the following: First, electricity is safer when done right - gas equipment can leak gas and cause a devastating explosion. Second, try to keep at least part of the already installed equipment so that in case of a power outage you have a backup way to heat your house. With electricity you depend on the supplier heavily and once in a while even major cities experience days long blackouts.

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Thank you for your answer. I will keep the current system only out of the fact that it has my AC built in and I need the propane for my stove/oven. If the power goes off though, my goose is cooked (or frozen perhaps) as the forced hot air requires a blower. – Bob Roberts Dec 30 '10 at 16:29

I think you're on the right track. I live in a city and my 80% efficient, 15 year old natural gas heating system is up and down. It costs so much to run I decided to exhaust all alternatives before paying for a system and continuing to pay outrageous amounts for natural gas. My house: 1925 bungalow 2000 square feet with no insulation in the plaster walls. Here is what I have done to be comfortable without a huge bill.

  1. I closed in my crawl space: closed vents, applied 6 mil vapor barrier, etc. Now the cold winter wind doesn't blow under and through my house. Big comfort gain.
  2. I bought two oil filled radiator heaters - only buy the ones that have real, programmable thermostats that read in degrees. These serve as my thermostats for different areas of the house to keep the temperature consistent. We tested many other heaters then sent them back.
  3. I get my baseline of heat to 64 or 65 degrees with the cheapest heat source I can find. For me that is an unvented propane infrared wall mounted heater - nearly 100% efficient - all of the heat stays in the house. I just open doors to adjacent rooms to provide more air than necessary for combustion - otherwise your air quality will suffer.

Everybody wants to sell you more insulation - its very expensive and still doesn't transition you to an affordable heating source. If your house is sealed to prevent air infiltration more expensive insulation won't pay your power/gas bill. Going to 100% efficiency in a heat source will get you a long way there. Electric heaters converts nearly all of the power to heat except for what runs the blower - unvented gas heaters also have a very high efficiency ratio.

Then you can say goodbye to high heating bills without sacrificing your comfort.

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