This electric furnace buying guide gives you all the details needed to make an informed decision including electric furnace prices for the unit and installation, top brands and how to size an electric furnace for your needs.
- Clearing Up Confusion: An Electric Furnace is Not a Modular Blower nor an Air Handler
- Is an Electric Furnace the Best Heating Option?
- 3 Factors that Affect Electric Furnace Cost
- Sizing an Electric Furnace for your Home
- Electric Furnace Prices of Leading Brands
- How to Get the Best Electric Furnace Price
Clearing Up Confusion: An Electric Furnace is Not a Modular Blower nor an Air Handler
Electric furnace reviews online often confuse these three pieces of equipment, so we will clear up the confusion. Here’s a summary of each, so you will know what to look for when discussing electric furnaces with an HVAC contractor or shopping online:
- Electric furnace: These units are housed in a cabinet that contains a heating element or elements with total output between 10 and 25 kilowatts and a blower to circulate air over the heating coil or strip. They are compact units that can be installed alongside, above or below a cased coil that provides air conditioning.
- Modular blower: Technically, these units are just a blower inside a cabinet. They must be outfitted with the heating element to be an electric furnace. However, electric furnaces are sometimes called modular blowers by online sellers and confused reviewers, so read the specifications section to know whether the unit has a heat strip or one must be added. When you see “electric furnaces” in cost reviews with prices in the $300 range, the reviewer has made the mistake of pricing a modular blower that does not contain heating equipment.
- Air handler: This piece of equipment is the indoor counterpart to an outdoor heat pump. It contains the blower and the evaporator coil through which refrigerant is circulated. Air handlers installed in cold climates are outfitted with a heat strip to be used for emergency heat if the heat pump fails. They are not designed to be true electric furnaces. When you see reviews of electric furnaces from major HVAC brands like Trane, Bryant, Carrier and Lennox, the author is confused and is talking about air handlers with 5kW to 20kW heat strips.
Is an Electric Furnace the Best Heating Option?
Electric furnace pros and cons can be summed up quickly to provide answers to the question.
Electric furnace pros:
- Modular blowers/electric furnaces are inexpensive compared with quality gas and oil furnaces and heat pumps
- They don’t need to be vented, so installation costs less than for gas furnaces
- Electric furnaces are as durable as most gas furnaces and more durable than heat pumps
- They are easy to maintain
- Electric furnaces don’t produce carbon monoxide
Electric furnace cons: Electricity is the most expensive way to heat per million BTUs of heat:
- Electric furnaces: $32 per million BTUs based on current average of 13 cents per Kilowatt
- Gas furnaces: $10-$12 per million BTUs depending on the efficiency of the furnace (80% to 98%) based on the current average of $12 per 1,000 cubic feet /
- Heat pumps: $7-$10 per million BTUs depending on the efficiency of the heat pump (14 SEER to 24 SEER) based on 13 cents per Kilowatt
The Bottom Line: Upfront costs are lower for electric furnaces, but operating costs are much higher compared with gas furnaces and heat pumps.
The high cost of electric resistance heat makes electric furnaces an acceptable choice for full-time use in Zones 1 or 2 on this Climate Zone map. They are often considered for part-time use in Zones 3 and 4 such as in a vacation home or guest apartment. In any other zone, the higher upfront cost for a gas furnace or heat pump will be paid back quickly in lower energy costs. For more comparison information including brand and price data, see our:
3 Factors that Affect Electric Furnace Cost
Quality, performance and size determine electric furnace cost. All brands make a range of sizes, but let’s discuss quality and performance before moving on to electric furnace prices.
1. Electric Furnace Quality
The quality of electric furnaces doesn’t vary as much as quality does with gas furnaces and heat pumps. Still, some brands are known as budget brands while most are standard quality.
Budget brands – low cost, 15 to 20-year durability when used occasionally. We have included sister-brands with identical products on the same line:
- Direct Comfort
Standard brands – moderate cost, 18 to 25-year durability when properly used. Again, identical brands are listed together:
2. Electric Furnace Performance
Budget brands have single-speed or multispeed blowers. Standard brands have models with variable-speed blowers that improve indoor comfort with temperatures that are balanced. Some variable-speed blowers have ECM motors that use less energy than standard PSC blowers.
Sizing an Electric Furnace for your Home
There is a wealth of information on sizing a furnace in our Gas Furnace Buying Guide. To summarize, here are the number of BTUs per square foot of home your electric furnace should produce in Zones 1 through 4:
- Zones 1 & 2 (hot): 30-35 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 3 (warm): 35-40 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 4 (moderate): 45 Btu/sq. ft.
Electric Furnace Prices of Leading Brands
Electric furnaces are made in a range from about 10kW/h to 25kW/h. Because each kilowatt equals 3,400 BTUs, that translates to 34,000 to 85,000 BTUs.
In this table, the Unit Only price is based on a 20kW/h unit, which is the average size installed in the United States. The Unit Installed Cost includes basic installation and connection to existing ductwork.
Unit Installed Cost
|Goodman & sister brands||$820|
|Nordyne & sister brands||$900||$2,335|
|Heil & sister brands||$910||$2,265|
|York & sister brands||$950||$2,415|
How to Get the Best Electric Furnace Price
Your electric furnace should be installed by an electrician with good experience. DIY installation should be avoided due to the threat of electric shock from the 240V connection. The electrician will also be able to properly adjust the blower motor to get the correct cubic feet per minute (CFM) airflow that’s right for your ducts.
For the best price, request estimates from three experienced local installers that know they’re competing for the work. It takes time and due diligence to find the best installer. We can shorten the time by putting you in touch with three of the top installers in your area, if you use our Free Local Quotes service. There is no cost to you, and you’re not obligated to take any of the quotes you receive. The installers using the service are prescreened, licensed and insured.
You’ll find other useful tips for getting a fair deal in our Homeowners Tactics When Negotiating with HVAC Dealers.
Remember, electric furnaces are an affordable heating solution where the furnace is for occasional use only. If your winters are cold, then a heat pump (moderate climates) or gas furnace/furnace-heat pump combination (northern climates) are better options for long-term, cost-effective heating. If you have an electric furnace installed, please use the Submit a Review and Share Your HVAC Price tabs at the top of the page to inform other readers of your experience. Leave a comment anytime, and share this post on social media if you think your friends and followers would benefit!