Electric Heat Furnaces: An Overview
It’s very rare to find a home equipped with an air conditioning system that doesn’t also have a furnace. Even in the Houston area, where hot weather is the norm and people rarely turn on their heaters, you’ll still find yourself working on plenty of heaters during your HVAC career. Heating units are similar to air conditioners but require a slightly different focus to repair or maintain.
Heaters may not be the most commonly used home fixture in Houston, but they’re still important for homeowners’ comfort and for your experience. Are you ready to help Houston families stay comfortable during the cooler season this year? Keep reading to refresh your memory.
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How Do Electric Heaters Work?
At its core, an electric heat furnace functions similarly to a floor space heater that plugs into the wall. A space heater consists of a heating element and a fan to blow the hot air into the room. If you increase the size of both the fan and the heating element and add an evaporator coil, you have an electric heat furnace. Due to its simple design, an electric heat furnace rarely fails and is easy to diagnose and repair when it does have problems.
Electric heaters, of course, require electricity to power the massive heating element–at least 240 volts, in fact, though the exact motor power you need depends on the size of the house. (The fan uses power too, but not nearly as much.) Look for 1-2 large wires coming from the breaker box powering this heater. A transformer inside the heater converts the power to 24 volts, which is then diverted to the thermostat that determines whether or not the heater turns on. When the thermostat is triggered, it sends those 24 volts of power from the red wire up a white wire back to the furnace. The power then snaps the relays, allowing the heat strips and fan to power on and start blowing warm air into the home.
Remember, the strips in an electric heating element heat up very quickly. The fan isn’t just essential to warming up the house. The breeze it generates also cools the strips down just enough to keep the entire system at a safe temperature. Imagine what could happen if the heater came on but the fan stopped working, allowing the strips to overheat!
Pro Tip: When installing a thermostat and electric heater, program the thermostat specifically for electric heat. The transfer of power is different depending on whether the heater is powered by gas or electricity.
Maintaining Electric Heat Furnaces
Maintenance of an electric heater tends to consist of two primary tasks. First, check the AC coil regularly and keep it clean so air can flow unrestricted. Second, check the wiring connections and tighten any that seem too loose. Wires that carry high amounts of electricity naturally loosen over time, creating a significant fire hazard. When in doubt about whether or not a particular wire is safe, don’t hesitate to call an electrician.
Additionally, check the manual for any recommendations or cautions from the manufacturer. Too many HVAC technicians forget the wealth of information that their manuals hold. Take advantage of this handy guide!
Electric furnaces are 100% efficient, meaning that the homeowner gets heat from every bit of electricity they pay for. The only potential drawback to this is the cost of the electricity used to power the furnace. Depending on how cold the house gets and how often the furnace is used, this cost can add up quickly. Gas heating is generally cheaper even when you factor in its less than 100% efficiency rating. Not every homeowner can choose gas–the builder may have opted for electrical wiring as the cheaper initial option–but if your clients ask for a recommendation, gas heating is generally a better choice for them.
To summarize, the pros of an electric heater are as follows:
- Cheap, easy installation
- Cheap upfront cost for you and your client
- No roof penetration necessary
The largest drawback of an electrical heater is simply the cost of the electricity used to power it.
Understanding Electric Heat Furnaces
In your HVAC career, you’ll be faced with a variety of challenges in a variety of settings. Differing machinery or systems are only the tip of the iceberg. By educating yourself on how a well-run system should function and understanding its pros and cons, you can provide better services to your clients and gain more business in the future.
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