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Better Electric? Not For Heating

November 9th, 2009 by Gary Lucido

A bit more than 20 years ago we bought our first home in Evanston – a condo with electric heat. After we got our first winter electric bill I knew we were in trouble. The cost of heating our 2 bedroom, 1 bath condo was so outrageous that I thought something was wrong with the system. I swore never again to own a place with electric heat.

That’s why I was shocked to discover that a luxury building, built in Chicago in 2005 and under consideration by two different buyer clients, has electric heat. Well, it was under consideration until we found out about the heat. Just to give you an idea…the December 2008 electric bill for a bit over 2100 square feet was $950! If it had had gas heat I bet it would have been under $300. Both of my clients said essentially the same thing to me: “What the hell was the developer thinking?”

When you have electric heat you might as well be running a bunch of space heaters because they use the same basic technology – resistive coils. Electricity runs through high resistance metal coils and, in the process, generates heat. You see, there is a fundamental inefficiency in turning electricity into heat because at the beginning of the whole chain is a power plant where they generate heat to create kinetic energy (a spinning turbine) which creates electric power. Then the electric power has to be reconverted back to heat at the other end. Of course, at each step of the process there are losses, including transmission losses along the way. So the whole thing is very inefficient.

And while I’m on the subject…eventually they are going to figure out that plugging a car into the electric grid suffers from the same basic flaw because you will be reconverting the electricity back into the kinetic energy that was spinning that turbine at the start of the process. And electricity is not cleaner if 50% of it is produced by burning coal. What’s next? Turning food into auto fuel?

But I digress.

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