Is electric heat cheaper than gas?

Cheaper Heat

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Cheaper Heat?

We're looking to rent an apartment in a two-family house (second floor). The apartment has electric heat and the landlord is saying it is now cheaper than heating with gas or oil. Is this true? The house is old, but there are new windows and he says that the walls all have added insulation.

Electric Heat Is Most Expensive

I live in Michigan. Electric heat of any kind is the most expensive here. Ask your landlord to give you a copy of the last 12 months electric bills for the second floor. That should settle the air conditioning costs as well.

Contact Previous Tenant

As heat rises, I would guess that you would somewhat reduce the cost of your heat if you are renting the second floor of a two-story house if the lower level is occupied by someone. However, even though I can only speak from my personal experience in Michigan, I've found that electric was always the most expensive form of heat. My electric bill, which included heating, was usually two to three times as much as the cost of my monthly rent. The same has held true for the cost of running gas appliances versus electric appliances, such as clothes dryers.

Is there any way to contact the previous tenant or the electric utility in your area to see what the past electricity bills were, so you can weigh the worth and compare the value to what you would be paying in rent?
Heather in Detroit, MI

Check with Electric Company

My suggestion is to first check with the electric company for the property. They should be able to give you the previous electrical billing amounts for the property for the previous year. If the property has recently changed to electric heat, ask for an estimate. Estimates are based on number of people, appliances, and the hot water heater.

Keep Looking

Unless your landlord has installed solar or wind generated electricity, s/he is blowing smoke, hoping you will not check the claim.

Electric heat has been notoriously expensive. Oil heat is quite expensive too. Heat with natural gas (or solar) is cheaper than the alternatives, unless the landlord has an oil well and provides the oil below market value.

If he really has added wall insulation, that helps but not much. Check. Look at the wall thickness at a window. If the wall appears to be four or five inches thick (not counting bricks or siding), then the amount of insulation added is nominal. Think R-13. Good wall insulation will be about six to seven inches thick with an R-23 value.

Also, what is the "R" (Resistance to heat transfer) value in the attic. The attic should have at least R-38. Remember that a house loses 2-1/2 times more heat out of the ceiling than out of walls. (Also remember attic and wall insulation helps reduce the summer's heat.)

So if heating (and cooling) costs are a significant factor in your renting decision, pass on this one. Also, if the landlord is selling you on the "cheap electric heat," what other tales will he try to sell you? I suggest you keep looking.

Gas Is Still Cheaper

Here in Wisconsin, gas is still cheaper than electric by far, although the price fluctuates.

I have one added caution about the new windows. It's a common misconception that new windows are a total fix for a leaky house. New windows can be just as drafty as the old ones. It depends on how they were installed. Whether or not the windows are new, the seals around the windows, doors, electric outlets, trapdoors, and doorframes should be checked for leaks and caulked. This can be done with a blower door test, but if this isn't practical, the next best thing is to check for air leaks on a very windy day using a piece of thread at the end of pencil.

Make sure you also get the payment history for the heat from the electric company before you rent to get an idea of what your payments will be.
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