First, the bad news: Degree for degree, electric heating is often more expensive than heat produced by burning oil, natural gas or propane.
Even so, there are many situations in which electric heating is more practical—and sometimes even less expensive overall—than the alternatives.
Let’s look at a few of the best use cases for electric heaters: hard-to-heat areas, harsh environments and zone heating situations.
Electric Heaters for Large, Hard-to-Heat Areas
Electric unit heaters and electric utility heaters are designed for large, hard-to-heat spaces. They don’t require gas lines or flues, so you can install them in places where it would be impossible (or just plain expensive) to place combustion-powered heaters.
These heaters work well in industrial spaces, warehouses, stock rooms and shipping docks, as well as entrances, vestibules and stairways.
Electric Heaters for Harsh Environments
And there are special models designed for the most demanding industrial situations: hazardous location heaters are suitable for areas with flammable chemicals and other hazards. Electric washdown heaters are sealed and corrosion resistant, so they can be used in harsh environments and washed clean.
Setting Up a Zone Heating System
Electric heaters are good for more than just large open spaces. Zone heating is a concept that takes the opposite approach—creating smaller spaces and allowing you to heat your building more efficiently.
The basic idea of a zone heating system is totally intuitive: If you divide your building into different zones and heat only the zones where people are working, you’ll save on your winter heating bill.
It makes sense, but it can be expensive to put it into practice, especially if you’re trying to retrofit an existing central heating system. That’s where electric heaters can play a role.
Using electric heaters controlled by an independent thermostat, you can easily keep the temperature warm in one place (like an office or meeting room) and cool in other places (like workspaces where people are moving around or wearing protective clothing). You can also keep unused spaces at a cool temperature and then heat them quickly when they’re occupied.
Baseboard Heaters and Wall-Mount Heaters for Zone Heating Systems
The best kind of electric heaters for zonal heating are baseboard heaters and wall-mount heaters.
Electric baseboard heaters are good for exterior walls, which is where buildings lose most of their heat. They’re often installed below windows, where they work to lessen the effect of the air that’s cooled by the glass. Baseboard heaters can be very quiet or even silent. They’re also easily adaptable to spaces of different sizes: If you need more heating power, just install a longer heater.
Electric wall-mount heaters are usually used on interior walls. They use a reflector and a fan to send heat into the room. Ceiling-mounted heaters can also do the job when there’s no space on the wall.
For even more flexibility, consider portable electric heaters, which you can move easily as necessary.
Electric Heating Tips: Thermostats and Weatherproofing
- Don’t forget to think about your thermostat. Even if your heater has a built-in thermostat, you may find that a wall-mounted line-voltage programmable thermostat offers more accuracy and control that can save on your winter heating bills in the long run.
- If you’re going to keep some rooms consistently cooler, consider insulating them using spray foam for holes or cracks and weatherstripping to seal interior doors. You can find more winter weatherization tips and heat hacks here.
Sources and Resources