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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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Energy Adviser: Make the most of zonal heating

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One of the most common heating systems in older Clark County homes is also one the biggest drivers behind higher residential energy bills during the winter months. But a strategic approach can help lower those expenses without sacrificing personal comfort.

Zonal heaters are common in older houses, apartments and even some offices in Clark County because they were cheaper and easier for builders to install than a central air system. Wall, cable ceiling and baseboard heaters were popular from the 1960s until the 1990s, when the state building code began prioritizing energy efficiency.

While a central air system relies on a single thermostat to set the temperature and uses a system of ducts to force conditioned air throughout the entire home, electric zonal heaters are designed to be set independently.

“The wrong way to use zonal heaters is to run them all at once to heat the entire home like a central system, but we regularly hear from customers who do just that then are stuck with high electric bills,” said Anthony Jeffries, a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor.

A single wall-mounted zonal heater running for eight hours every day for a month will add about $30 to an electric bill. Multiply that across an entire household of perhaps six zones and the cost adds up very quickly.

That’s not to say you should keep them off and shiver until spring. Using zonal heaters wisely and dressing for the season will help reduce home energy bills without sacrificing personal comfort.

“The best way to use zonal heaters is to set the room you’re in to a comfortable temperature, shut the door and leave all the rest off or very low,” Jeffries said.

To get the best value from your zonal heaters, start by getting a clearer picture of how yours operate.

Zonal heater thermostats can be off by several degrees or more, which can cause uncomfortable swings in a room’s temperature. Plus, those thermostats are only reading from one wall, and not necessarily where the people are sitting and the heat is desired. Putting an inexpensive ambient thermometer in every room where a zonal heater is used regularly will give a more accurate reading of its performance and thus greater control over its setting.

To simplify the temperature-setting and energy-saving processes, replace the original dial thermostat with a line voltage thermostat. They’re more accurate and can be programmable, but installation is best left to a professional.

Whichever method you use, set the system to run around 68 degrees while you’re up and about and around the low 60s while you’re sleeping. Grab a sweater or an inexpensive heated blanket to stave off stubborn chills without driving up the energy bill. Keep the temperature above 55 degrees, otherwise mold or humidity can be an issue.

Hanging heavy curtains and shutting them at night will hold the heat in the room longer. Just remember to open them on sunny days to allow the greenhouse effect to work.

For safety and efficiency, never block heaters with furniture or drapery. It’s also a good idea to vacuum away any built-up dust or animal hair.

With zonal heaters, the best way to reduce energy expenses and live more comfortably is to replace them with a ductless heat pump. While those can be costly upfront, they use significantly less energy than zonal heaters. Plus, they provide air conditioning for the summer months.

For more information about ductless heat pumps and potential rebates on installing them in electrically heated homes, visit ClarkPublicUtilities.com. You can also speak to the Energy Counselor of the Day and even schedule a free in-home energy audit by calling 360-992-3355 during business hours.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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