Getting Through A Maine Winter: What Should You Expect If You Switch From A Wood-Burning Stove To Electric Heat?

If you have lived in Maine your entire life and have always burned wood in a woodstove, you are in good company. But, if you have discovered that as you get older taking care of the wood is more than you can handle, you may need to look for another heat source. Don't cross electric heating off your list just because you've heard horror stories about the high electric bills in the winter. Consider all the pros and cons of switching to electric heat before making a final decision.

Pros

  • Convenience: Electric heat doesn't require any handling on your part. There is no wood to split and stack and you don't need to worry about keeping the wood box filled. You never need to step a foot outside when a Nor'easter blows in, unless you really want to. You don't even need to check the fuel gauge and call for a delivery. Electric heat takes care of itself once the system is installed and doesn't require yearly service visits from an HVAC contractor.
  • Safety: Electric heat is extremely safe. Because there is no flame or internal combustion involved, you don't need to worry about carbon monoxide or other emissions from the heater. It can't spring a fuel leak, won't cause a chimney fire and typically does not increase the risk of house fires in the winter.
  • Portability: If you use space heaters, you can move them to any room with ease. Many newer space heaters are set on casters for easy moving. This also means that you don't need to keep the entire house toasty warm. If you spend your evenings in the living room, you can roll a space heater into the room and keep everyone more comfortable. However, don't be lulled into thinking you can turn off the heat in unused rooms, as this may put you at risk of frozen pipes.
  • Easy Installation: Installing electric heat is relatively quick and easy. You will need an electrician to get the job done, but you don't need to worry about municipal codes when you install electric heat. Because there are no vents to the outside and no stove pipes or chimneys to worry about, you are not restricted to where you can install the heaters.
  • Cleanliness: Unlike burning wood or fuel oil, electric heat does not produce fumes, particles of smoke or other dirt and debris in the home. It also does not emit odor. While you may miss the aroma of a wood fire, you probably won't miss the film of smoke it leaves behind on your walls and windows. If you find yourself longing for the fragrance of the old wood fire, you can purchase candles that simulate the scent. Look for earthy or natural scents for candles that smell like a burning fire. They may also be sold as campfire scent.

Cons

  • Expense: The expense of switching to electric heat may surprise you, as the cost varies greatly between different forms of electric heat. According to efficiency MAINE, if you currently spend $1,032 a year on heating your home with wood, you can expect your cost to drop by nearly $80 a year if you use an energy-efficient geothermal heat pump, but if you switch to standard baseboard heat, you can expect it to rise by nearly $2,000 a year. Bear in mind that these figures reflect actual fuel costs. To get an accurate picture of how much burning wood actually costs you each year, you need to factor in yearly service visits, maintenance costs, delivery charges and any other associated costs with burning wood.
  • Power Failures: If you live in a rural area of Maine where electric companies service large, sprawling areas, you already know that power failures are common in the winter. While most outages last a short time and are restored within a few hours, when the lines go down in a raging snowstorm you may be without electricity (and heat) for overnight or longer. You will need either a generator or a secondary heat source in the winter. Keeping your woodstove installed and storing enough wood to last a week or two is always a good plan for making it through a Maine winter.

If you still aren't sure whether switching to electric heat is a wise decision, talk to your HVAC dealer or call your local Community Action Program (CAP). You can also contact an electrical company, such as Feldman Brothers Electrical Supply Co. They have the experience and expertise to assess your home and advise you about your heating options.

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