The cost of electricity in BC has risen substantially over the last few years, and further increases are expected. At current energy prices, it costs more than three times as much to heat a home with an electric furnace than a high efficiency gas furnace (assuming you are being billed at the higher tier 2 rare, which will be the case in most homes with electric heating). This has left many homeowners with electric furnaces looking for lower cost alternatives.
Option 1: Install a more efficient electric furnace
You might have noticed ads stating that new furnaces use up to 40% less energy than older models. Unfortunately, these ads are referring to gas furnaces. When it comes to producing heat, electric furnaces have not gotten much more efficient over the years, as they have always been close to 100% efficient (unlike with a gas furnace, the heat produced does not have to be extracted from exhaust gasses and can directly enter the home). The only part of a new electric furnace that is significantly more efficient than with older models is the fan motor (as long as a variable speed furnace is selected). According to BC Hydro, a furnace with a variable speed fan motor will use 2300 kWh (about $250) less electricity annually when the fan is used continuously for circulation and 400 kWh (about $44) less when used for heating only. One positive thing about electric furnaces is that they are easier (and less costly) to install than gas furnaces, as new venting and drainage won’t be required.
Option 2: Install a gas line & gas furnace
Due to the current low cost of natural gas, some homeowners with electric heat are considering having gas service installed in their home. FortisBC has a web page where you can inquire about the cost of installing a gas line, if gas service is available in your area. In some cases, this can be inexpensive. However, when installing a gas furnace, you will also be responsible for the cost of running a gas line from the meter to the furnace (as well as the other costs associated with installing a gas furnace). Plus, if natural gas prices rise again, you might not save much in the future.
Option 3: Install a heat pump?
Due to the additional costs associated with installing a gas furnace in a home previously using an electric model, it might not cost much more to add a heat pump to your existing furnace instead. A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse in the winter, to provide both heating and cooling (see our heat pumps page, or see our video for details). Since a heat pump only moves heat from one location to another, rather than burning a fuel to create heat, efficiencies of over 100% are possible. In fact, a heat pump will typically operate at about 400% efficiency, meaning that 4 watts of heat will be produced for every watt of electricity consumed.
To sum things up: A heat pump can provide air conditioning most of the heating your home requires while only using about 25% as much electricity as an electric furnace (but you will still have to keep your furnace to circulate the air and to provide back up heating on the very coldest days).
To schedule a free quote on a furnace or heat pump installation, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.