Electric thermal storage units cut home heating costs
As home heating fuel costs continue to rise, alternatives continue to interest anyone who has to pay the heating bill. While the technology isn't new, some electric systems have been in use long enough to have a proven record of saving money. Whe...
As home heating fuel costs continue to rise, alternatives continue to interest anyone who has to pay the heating bill.
While the technology isn't new, some electric systems have been in use long enough to have a proven record of saving money.
When Curtis and Ruth Bakken built a new home on Long Lake, they visited a number of places, looking at energy efficient systems.
"We wanted to put in geothermal," Curtis said. At the time, geothermal systems were horizontal, requiring a significant chunk of land near a house to be cleared for installation. That wasn't an option for their property since clearing would have required removal of many beautiful old trees.
Since then geothermal systems have been designed to require less space. Curtis was an advocate for installing the geothermal system for the new Hubbard United Methodist Church. He sings the praises of the system at the church, adding it has saved even more energy than expected.
As an alternative and because they wanted to save the trees in their yard, Bakkens installed an electric thermal storage heating system.
The unit looks like a furnace, but contains ceramic bricks, heating elements and lots of insulation. Off-peak electricity warms the bricks during the night with a built-in sensor monitoring outdoor temperature to regulate the amount of heat the system stores in its brick core.
A wall thermostat, along with a duct sensor, control the air temperature and a blower sends it through a duct system to warm the house.
The house also has air conditioning, but the Bakkens don't use it much because they would rather use fresh air.
Their electric bill - including heat - averages $175 a month for their 5,000-square-foot home.
"It is always comfortable in all parts of the house," Ruth said.
Curtis added maintenance is minimal. He replaces the filters but he does it more often than he'd have to. "We've had no problems," he said.
Electric thermal storage units are available in different sizes, based on a home's square footage.
"They are big sellers," said Dan Paulson of Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Electrical Association. In 1993, one air source heat pump was installed in the co-op's service area. In 1995, 14 were put in and in 2005, 61 were installed. "Our co-op has more than any other in the United States," Paulson said.
The technology keeps improving to get maximum efficiency, too. Paulson said. Even though the Bakkens' unit is only five years old, Paulson said, a new one could cut $150 a year from what they're spending on heat now.
Any heating system that uses off-peak electricity is a plus for consumers as well as the co-op.
Paulson explains the co-op pays for power based on the highest demand of the month. Lowering the peak in demand reduces the co-op's wholesale power costs, so the co-op offers incentives to members willing to allow their electric usage to be curtailed during peak times.
In addition, the co-op offers a dual fuel program. When customers install primary or back-up systems that rely on off-peak electricity, the systems are placed on a separate meter and customers pay a lower rate.
These systems can be electric thermal storage units, such as the Bakkens', or underfloor heat, in which a concrete floor is poured over electric coils. The concrete floor then becomes a radiant heat source.
Two propane fireplaces and an underfloor system provide the Bakkens' back-up heat in case of an outage.