There are basically two types of electric heating systems - resistance heat and electric heat pumps.

Resistance Heat Systems

These include ceiling heat, wall heaters, baseboard heaters, floor furnaces, portable heaters and central electric furnaces - and they're inefficient and expensive to operate. They use electricity to heat a wire coil, which then heats areas of your home. If you use this type of heat, turn the setting down when you're away or at night to save as much energy and money as possible. Also, close off unused rooms to reduce costs even more.

Electric Heat Pump Systems

There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source and ground source. In the winter, they collect heat from the air, water or ground outside your home and pump it inside your home. In the summer, they act as your central air conditioner, transferring indoor heat outside to keep your home cool. These systems are designed to heat and cool your entire house, or in some cases, each level of a multi-level home. While resistance heat systems cause temperature fluctuations in winter, heat pumps keep your home consistently comfortable all day and night - and they're much more energy efficient.

Heat Pump Tips

  • Heat pumps operate the best and most efficiently when left on one comfortable temperature. There's no need to turn them off when you leave the house.
  • Heating uses more energy than any other aspect of your home, so consider upgrading to an all-electric heat pump. Today's electric heat pumps cost less to operate than gas furnaces - and they heat more continuously and evenly, which could add up to savings of 30 to 40% on your heating bill. (For more details see "Electric heat pumps: The easiest way to save energy - and money" below.)
  • Keep the thermostat on your heating system at the lowest comfortable setting, ideally 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Every degree you raise your thermostat over 68 degrees Fahrenheit accounts for an increase of approximately 4% on the heating portion of your bill.
  • Keep your outside heat pump clean of leaves, grass, newspaper, dirt, drifting snow or anything that would restrict air flow. To remove ice off outside coils, simply pour hot water over the coils or turn the thermostat to air conditioning mode for a few minutes.

Other Heating Systems

If you have a central heating system other than a heat pump, you can save money by setting your thermostat to 60 degrees Fahrenheit when you leave the house - even for the day. At this temperature, your pipes aren't in danger of freezing or bursting, and you aren't wasting electricity heating an empty home.

If you heat with baseboard heaters or other individual space heating systems, close doors to unused rooms to keep heat in the areas of your home where it's really needed. If your home has a central heating system, doors and vents should not be closed.

General Heating Tips

  • Be sure that heating registers and vents are not blocked by draperies or furniture. The vents should also be cleaned regularly.
  • Check heating system filters at least monthly and clean or change them as needed. Dirty filters can increase operating costs significantly, damage equipment and reduce efficiency.
  • If your home has single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane windows with high-performance glass to reduce heat loss.
  • Install inexpensive gasket sets, which can be found at most home improvement stores, around each outlet to seal cold air out and keep the warm air inside your home. Most homes can be completely fitted with gaskets for under $5, and the simple installation takes just a few minutes per outlet.
  • Make sure fireplace dampers fit tightly, and keep them closed when you're not using the fireplace to prevent warm air from escaping through the chimney. Also, consider installing glass doors and an outside air source to fuel the fire.
  • On sunny days, open drapes or blinds to allow natural solar heat to warm the house. Keep drapes and blinds closed on cloudy days and at night. Use insulated or heavy curtains on windows facing the north side of the house.
  • Use a humidifier to keep your home more comfortable. It allows you to reduce the thermostat setting without feeling cold.