Electric resistance heating systems have a bad reputation. While the required equipment is cheap (and sometimes cheap-looking), homes with electric heat are known for their high fuel bills.
Yet some residential designers are beginning to rethink the old prejudice against electric resistance heating systems. After all, if a house has a very tight, very well insulated envelope, the heating load can be quite low, and so can the utility bills — even when using an expensive fuel like electricity. Moreover, all-electric homes don’t need a chimney, avoid minimum utility charges for natural gas, and don’t have any worries about fuel storage, fuel fumes, or backdrafting. Electric resistance heaters have much fewer maintenance issues than appliances that burn gas or oil.
Finally, if the homeowners ever want to install solar panels on their roof, the electricity usage in an all-electric home can eventually be balanced by a photovoltaic array.
An excellent example of an energy-efficient all-electric house is one designed by Rachel Wagner (of Wagner Zaun Architecture) for Gail Olson and Erik Peterson in Esko, Minnesota. Gail Olson is the fourth generation of her family to live on the 65-acre farm where the new farmhouse was built. The home was completed in 2009.
Using an integrated design approach, Wagner pulled together a team that included the homeowners, builder Steve Johnson, and energy consultant Michael LeBeau (of Conservation Technologies). Wagner recalls, “I’m proud of how well the integrated design process went, from the site assessment, to interviewing the clients and understanding their needs, wants, and goals, to weaving it all together. It yielded a result that is pleasing and functional and really durable.”
The owners are delighted with their house. Olson said, “I feel incredibly lucky to have a designer and builder who work on low-energy houses in this climate.”