Electric heating becoming an affordable alternative to heating oil

With the rising cost of heating oil, more New Brunswickers are looking to heat their homes with electricity as a cost-effective alternative.

With the rising cost of heating oil, more New Brunswickers are looking to heat their homes with electricity as a cost-effective alternative.

Sterling Wilcox has just completed the construction of 16 houses in a subdivision in west Saint John. All of the new homes will be electric-heated.

"Nobody that we've come across has asked for oil at all," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said he's found that homebuyers seem to be moving away from heating their homes with oil due to rising petroleum prices. But he is still leaving space for furnaces in the basements of all the homes he builds.

"You could put a heat pump in there or a forced-air furnace," he said. "But today, nobody wants the oil…bad enough you got to buy it for your car."

About six years ago, heating oil was selling in New Brunswick at an average price of 55 cents per litre but by this week, the price had reached $1.34 per litre.

It takes approximately 32 litres of oil in a high-efficiency furnace to generate about a million BTUs of home heat. The current cost would be about $43.02.

The Eddy Group, which runs a contractor warehouse in Saint John, still sells oil furnaces but doesn't keep them in stock anymore, said manager Brad Fraser.

More people seem to be looking for electric furnaces, Fraser said.

"There's been a lot of people when their oil gets low, they're changing them out, [they] don't feel like filling it up again and paying the high price so they put in an electric boiler," he said."

Using electric heat, about 307 kilowatt hours of power are needed to generate the same million BTUs, which at current NB Power rates would cost about $29.87. It amounts to about a 30-per-cent saving compared to heating with oil.

Saint John Energy, which provides power to the port city, offers even lower power rates and figures suggest that consumers in the city would save about 44 per cent if they leave oil, said Jennifer Coughlin, spokeswoman for the company.

"We had to double check all the figures and make some phone calls because it was a little surprising," Coughlin said.

Several people call the company each week to ask about switching their heating source to electric, Coughlin said. "We have seen an increase in that recently."

Coughlin said Saint John Energy will tell consumers about the price advantage of electricity if asked.

But neither Saint John Energy nor NB Power are advertising the potential savings of switching.

The province recently launched an energy efficiency program that includes official discouragement of the use of electric heat by homeowners.

"Electric, baseboard heating, is certainly known through North America as the most inefficient heating from a cost effective point of view," said Energy Minister Jack Keir.

Electric heating forces NB Power to fire up production at its oil-fired power plants in the winter like the generator at Coleson Cove.

The plant costs substantially more to run than its electricity is worth. It's a cost that drives up expenses and has an impact on the environment, Keir said.

 "I don't know if it's discouraging but certainly we have incentives through Efficiency New Brunswick in the new-home program to encourage folks to heat their home through a central heating system," Keir said.