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My house has electric heat, built in 1969. How can I save $. Are solar panels the way to go, or is there something better out there? I'm not sure which way to go . My electric bill is nuts. I have a fireplace and it helps, but it only heats one room. Are there any good solar panels on the market?

I thought about geothermal but I would have to remove my electric registers to put in hot water registers and the cost I think would be too much. I also thought about an outside wood furnace but I have no duct work, more money? So I guess solar panels is the only way, right? Is there anything out there that would help?

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    Without location to give latitude and climate, there isn't enough information to discuss solar. If you're talking solar-thermal, it's a maybe in certain locations. Solar electric, think "mortgage the house" and converting electricity to heat isn't worth it. – Fiasco Labs Feb 25 '15 at 3:17
  • Solar thermal will run about $8k and produce heat for your hot water use some of the time. That same $8k will buy you a 2kW solar PV array nowadays which will produce electricity that can be used for anything all year long. Anyone except an off-gridder choosing between the the two systems would be nuts not go go with solar PV. – iLikeDirt Feb 25 '15 at 14:54
  • To keep it in perspective, 2kW is pretty easily eaten up in the modern home so that's merely supplemental power. If you're planning to heat with solar electric, between the HVAC and the properly sized PV system, I think there's a little more involved cost-wise especially dependent on location. As stated in your answer, that fireplace is a huge air leak. – Fiasco Labs Feb 28 '15 at 20:14
  • Geothermal heat pumps are one of the most efficient ways to convert on an electric system. They use ground water for the heat exchange other than that they are a heat pump and the savings over base board would be well over 50%. – Ed Beal Jan 15 '18 at 16:37
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Entirely apart from the high cost of electric resistance heat, (that is, regardless of heat source) a 1969 house is almost certainly going to benefit from insulation upgrades and the boring best bang-for the buck stuff nobody ever thinks is "fancy enough" to go for first - caulking, weatherstripping, and generally reducing air leakage.

With the advent of cold-climate air-air heat pumps (mini-splits) that is probably the best direction to look for electric heat replacement - 2.2-3.5 times as much heat from the same amount of electricity. But start with a caulking gun and a can or 12 of spray foam, follow that with more insulation anywhere you can add it (usually the attic) - THEN think about replacing the heating units, since it's unlikely you'll actually get that done during this heating season, while you can be air-sealing in minutes and benefiting from it in minutes - not to mention it's cheap...

Solar electric panels generally don't make sense as a heat source. Direct collection of heat from the sun is far more efficient than collecting a little bit of the suns energy as electricity and then using that for heat. Costs of the relevant types of panels are also rather different.

  • Supposedly due to respective market volumes, despite the lower efficiency of photovoltaic driving electric resistance heaters, they are now competitive or cheaper than solar thermal. But unless you have net metering, neither type of solar will be producing when your house is using the most heat. – Patrick Shyvers Jan 15 '18 at 17:10
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Electric resistance heat is expensive, no way around it. Here are a couple of high-level things you can do to reduce your bill:

  • Common sense: Stop using your fireplace (it's sucking more heat out of the house than it's adding. Free.
  • Conservation: Turn down the heat and wear more clothes. Free.
  • Efficiency: Improve your house's level of air sealing and insulation so less heat is required because the heat takes longer to escape outside. $100-10,000 upfront cost, depending on how far you want to go.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Add additional, cheaper methods of heating, such as an air-source heat pump or a natural gas heater or furnace. $1,000-10,000 upfront cost, depending on how fancy the equipment is.
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    Your fireplace advice is often wise, but should be qualified. I have a sealed wood-burning unit that puts tremendous heat into my home with virtually no outflow. I believe it saves me around 1/3 of my heating bill in Minnesota's winter even with casual use. – isherwood Jan 15 '18 at 15:07
  • I agree installed a qudrafire high efficiency unit in my last home and except for the coldest nights used wood heat to heat the entire house. – Ed Beal Jan 15 '18 at 16:33
  • That's true, sealed wood-burning inserts are good. But ordinary fireplaces are not. – iLikeDirt Jan 16 '18 at 16:12
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Reducing drafts are the first place to start. It's your best return on your investment. (as others have said already) The test to do is a "Blower door test". I did one myself with a fairly powerful fan, some plywood and a window. I think I can get my hands on a thermal imaging camera from a friend, but so far I've been able to detect leaks fairly easily with my hands and face when it's sufficiently cold outside. It's surprising where you will find leaks. feel around doors and windows, but check baseboard, outlets

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Adding a wood, wood pellet, or coal stove insert into the fireplace can significantly increase its heat output and potentially heat your whole house depending on size etc. The insert basically converts the fireplace (inefficient) into a unit that can actually generate 50k btu/hr or more into the home. A unit with a blower to circulate the heated air would be best. $4K should cover the install.

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Solar panels may make sense, but they will make exactly as much sense no matter whether you're using the power for heat, to run the rest of your household, to sell power back to the grid, or a combination of those.

As others have said, start with air-sealing and improving insulation. Your power company may offer free on-site surveys and some subsidized pricing or rebates; check that out.

Longer term, I agree that fossil fuels or biodiesel are likely to be cheaper than electric unless you go with high-efficiency heat pumps and thermal well energy storage... and even then I'm not sure it's cost effective.

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Solar electric can work, but you have to site the solar panels in the correct location. I recommend the Mojave Desert.

"oh, but I will have such high resistance losses hauling the power thousands of miles to my home!" No, the power only needs to make it to L.A. and their hungry market. Solar is peaking power, and they pay top dollar for that, especially when it's green. You sell the power there. Then you ship the money to your house, which is basically zero loss, and use it to buy local power at low winter rates.

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