Cleaner, healthier, electric home heating

Most homes in Illinois burn gas to warm us in the winter, but there are cleaner electric alternatives. Learn what type of electric heat is for you.

Nirian, onurdongel, Valentyna Yeltsova, Silvia Crisman |
Jordan Hamrick
Jordan Hamrick

Former Utility Watchdog Campaigner, Illinois PIRG

In most homes, space heating is the biggest use of energy and gas is only becoming more expensive after the four major Illinois gas utilities raised their rates. The cost of gas on our wallets, health, and environment is too high to pay. There are more efficient, cleaner electric ways to our homes.

Powering with gas means that we are missing out on the benefits of renewable energy and polluting the air inside and outside of our homes. Heat pumps are the most efficient replacement for gas, but it is not the only option. Discover what electric heating alternatives are right for your home. 

Types of electric heating

Air source heat pumps

Air-source heat pumps are the most common type of heat pump. They transfer heat between environments, moving heat into a building to increase the temperature and cooling by moving heat out. It is the same technology as your refrigerator. When heat pumps are in air conditioning mode, they use low-pressure fluid to suck the heat out of your home and dump that excess heat into the air outside. As a heating unit, it pulls in warm air to heat your home. The heat pump switches back and forth if it’s in heating or air conditioning mode.

Because heat pumps work by moving rather than generating heat, they are 3-5 times more energy efficient than most current fossil fuel heating systems. Switching to a heat pump can reduce annual heating and cooling bills anywhere from $100 to $1,300 per year with the average homeowner saving $667 per year by switching to a heat pump. 

Air source heat pumps work effectively even in freezing temperatures. Cold climate heat pumps can function at 100% of their capacity down to -5° F and have remained functional at -15° F. In the coldest places, electric resistance heating can be integrated into your heat pump system to assist in keeping your home warm. Air source heat pumps are being installed and saving people money in places as cold as Maine, where heat pumps are being installed three times faster than the national average, and Alaska.

Geothermal heat pumps

Geothermal heat pumps, also called ground-source heat pumps, work the same way as air source heat pumps, but they draw thermal energy from underground to heat or cool your home rather than from the surrounding air. Underground temperatures remain relatively consistent at about 50° F year round which makes them even more efficient than air source heat pumps.

Geothermal heat pumps are more expensive to install than air source heat pumps. The cost can range from $10,000 to $40,000. However, because the energy savings are so high, you can recoup the installation cost in as little as five years.

In 2022, The U.S. Department of Energy allocated $13 million to develop eleven community geothermal projects across the country. Community geothermal, or Thermal Energy Networks (TENs), connects buildings in a neighborhood to a shared underground heating loop instead of each building drilling its own geothermal well. Heat is exchanged between buildings as well as underground, making networked geothermal one of the most energy efficient heating and cooling methods.

Blacks in Green received a grant to develop community geothermal as a part of their Sustainable Square Mile project in the West Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago. The network will span four city blocks and connect more than 100 single and multi family homes.

Ductless mini-splits

If your home does not have existing ductwork for heating or cooling, you do not need to install ducts to have a heat pump. Ductless mini-split heat pump systems are installed as individual units on an interior wall or ceiling with an accompanying unit outside. Each unit has its own heating and cooling zone controlled by its own thermostat. This means you can set different areas in your home at different temperatures based on usage which can increase your energy savings. 

Most ductless heat pumps cost between $5,000 and $9,000, and multi-zone mini-split systems can cost as much as $20,000, depending on the number of units. While the installation cost of a mini-split system can be higher than an air source heat pump, they have a lower operating cost and greater energy efficiency because no heat is being lost in the ductwork.

Baseboard heaters

Electric baseboard heaters use resistance heating to warm the air. Similarly to how an electric stove works, metal coils inside each unit are heated and then the warmed air disperses into the room. These types of heating units are typically put near the floor because warm air will rise towards the ceiling. 

Baseboard heaters are the cheapest to buy and install, generally ranging from $100 to $250 apiece, but they are also the most expensive to operate. Resistance heating is much less efficient than a heat pump meaning your electricity bill will be higher. However, because each heater functions separately, like mini-split heat pumps, you can reduce your energy consumption by turning a baseboard heater down or off in rooms you do not commonly use.

Radiant underfloor heating

Radiant heating systems directly heat to panels under your floor or in the walls or ceiling. These panels are the most efficient when placed under your flooring because warm air will rise up into the room. The two main types of radiant underfloor heating are electric radiant floors and hydronic radiant floors.

Electric radiant floors systems use electric heating cables placed between the subfloor and the floor covering like tile. These systems are the most effective when connected to a thick concrete floor because the concrete will hold heat for eight to ten hours. Some electric utilities offer time-of-use rates so you can “charge” your floors during off-peak hours.

Hydronic systems are the most popular type of underfloor heating, especially in colder climates. These systems pump heated water from a solar water heater or a hydronic heat pump, which draws heat from the air and transfers it to the water, through tubing under your floor or into a more traditional radiator. The benefit of a hydronic system is that you can create different heating zones and you get the benefit of a solar water heater or heat pump so you will spend less on your electric utility bill.

Installing electric heat

When transitioning any appliance from gas to electric, you will want to weatherize your home to ensure that your home is as energy efficient as it can be. Peoples Gas, Nicor, ComEd, and Ameren offer free home energy assessments to determine how your home is using energy and what improvements can be made.

You will need to consult a professional to transition your heat from gas to electric and to help determine what system is right for you. Additionally, ComEd and Ameren have different rates for electric heating customers so make sure you contact your energy utility once the new system is installed.

Baseboard heaters have the simplest installation because they just need to be mounted to your wall and wired into the electrical lines. Radiant underfloor heating systems either use a “wet” installation where the cables or tubing is embedded in the concrete foundation or a “dry” installation where the cables or tubing are laid in an air space between the subfloor and floor covering. Ceramic tile, vinyl, or linoleum are the recommended floor covering because these materials transfer heat more effectively than wood or carpet.

Heat pumps can be connected to the existing electrical system in your home, although it is possible you might need an electrical wiring or electric panel upgrade. If you live in an area that is prone to frequent power outages, you may want to consider investing in solar panels or a back up generator to power your heat pump. However, a well-weatherized home will hold warm or cool air for a long time.

Heat Pump Installation

Heat pumps will also serve as a replacement for your HVAC system, not only heating. Cooling with a heat pump is three to five times more efficient than standard HVAC systems. You can replace two appliances with one more efficient appliance.

Ways to save

Through the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, you can apply for a tax credit that will cover 30% up to $2,000 of the heat pump cost and installation. To qualify for the IRA tax credit, your heat pump system must meet specific energy efficiency requirements. You can find rebates and qualified appliances through ENERGY STAR or the Illinois Home Energy Rebate Program.

ComEd’s Home Heating and Cooling Discounts offer up to $1,400 off an air source heat pump, up to $1,000 ductless mini-split heat pumps, and up to $6,000 of a ground source heat pump system. Ameren Illinois also offers an up to $700 discount for air source heat pumps and ductless mini-split heat pumps.


Jordan Hamrick

Former Utility Watchdog Campaigner, Illinois PIRG

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