How can you mix wood heat and electric heat to save money and increase comfort?
Like everyone else in Oregon, I have a wood stove. I have an endless supply of free wood, too, thanks to Starker Forests’ good neighbor policy (they adjoin my farm on two sides). I also have old electric baseboard heaters, installed by a previous owner.
So I have wood heat supplemented by electric heat (or maybe the other way around). How does one go about getting the most mileage out of this?
Use a Digital Thermostat for the Electric Heater
Digital thermostats have much better temperature regulation that mechanical ones. This is important for two reasons:
- The house will be a lot more comfortable. It’s worth replacing your thermostats for this reason alone.
- The heaters will back off sooner when the wood stove is being used, and comes back sooner when the fire dies down. This prevents the house from getting too hot or too cold and eliminates energy waste, which are the big problems with supplemental heat.
There are lots of digital/electronic thermostats on the market, but few of them had the additional features I wanted…
Use a Programmable Setback Thermostat
A setback thermostat saves you money by maintaining a lower temperature when you’re away or asleep. It also has a psychological advantage: When you come home to a cold house, you tend to start a fire in the wood stove rather than wait for the electric heaters to bring the house up to temperature. (This is especially true if your heaters are undersized, because you don’t want to wait that long!) So a setback thermostat is the bee’s knees when mixing wood and electric heat.
Here in Oregon, I find that a fire first thing in the morning is often all I need. The fire keeps the electric heaters from coming on, and, once warm, the house stays warm through the evening without electric heat or another fire. As things cool off in the evening, the set-back thermostat lowers the heat, keeping the heaters off all night in spite of the cooling house. So I can maintain a very comfortable house with just one fire a day and hardly any electricity in mild weather.
Use a Thermostat With a Power Indicator and Proportional Heat
This is THE big secret. Some thermostats use proportional heat control, meaning that they analyze the heating patterns in the room and make a decision on the order of, “To keep the room at the right temperature, the heater needs to be set to 60% of full power.” It can display this result on the LCD display on the thermostat itself, giving you an indication of how much money you’re spending on heat at the moment.
For example, my thermostats have a five-bar power indicator, with one bar meaning “barely on” and five bars meaning “full power.” Whenever I see five bars, it’s time to build a fire in the wood stove! It’s as simple as that. If the thermostat is positioned where it’s easy to see, you can quickly get into the habit of looking at it once in a while. This can save you a ton of money.
Proportional control also means that your house is more comfortable, because the heat is better controlled. Some thermostats have a 15-second cycle time, where, for example, the heater might be turned on for three seconds out of every fifteen to achieve a 20% power level. It’s much more comfortable to be in a room where the heater is putting out just the right amount of heat all the time, rather than cycling between being stone cold and red hot.
The Winner: The Aube TH106 Programmable Line-Voltage Thermostat
I know of only one manufacturer who makes thermostats that live up to all these requirements: Honeywell, with their Aube line.
I’m using electric baseboards, and the right thermostat for this job is the Aube TH106 programmable line-voltage thermostat. This is a very good thermostat. I’ve installed three of them. It has the power bar, proportional control, and programmable setback.
The TH106 thermostat is as easy to install as any other thermostat. Ideally, it should be installed across the room from the actual heater. It’s a line-voltage thermostat, which means that the current for the heater runs through the thermostat, which is how baseboard thermostats usually work. It uses an electronic triac switch rather than a relay, so it’s silent.
Maybe your thermostats are already installed away from your baseboards, and you can just replace them. If you have on-baseboard thermostats, you’ll want to add across-the-room thermostats. If you aren’t comfortable doing house wiring, your friendly local electrician can do this for you. Believe me, it’s worth it!
The thermostat will work with just about any electric heater. It has two basic modes, a fifteen-second cycle for use with baseboards and other fanless electric heaters, and a longer cycle for heaters with fans (fans don’t like being turned on and off rapidly). Use the short cycle if you can.
I looked around and found that Amazon.com had the best deal. In the end I bought three Aube TH106 thermostats from them.
Aren’t using electric heaters? Aube makes thermostats for everything. You can get all the same advantages for your gas or oil heater, heat pump, whatever.
My house is more comfortable than it has ever been, and yet I expect I’ll spend less on electricity than I did last year. So run right out and give this a try. You’ll thank me.