Citizens Utility Board: Chicago residents could save thousands by switching to electric heat

electric heat
A new report by the Citizens Utility Board suggests that switching to electric heat from natural gas may be more cost-effective for many Chicago residents. Photo credit Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

(CHICAGO) WBBM NEWSRADIO -- A new report by the Citizens Utility Board suggests Chicagoans can save money on their heating bills by switching to electric heat.

The report is called, “Better Heat: The Economics of Residential Building Electrification in the City of Chicago.”

Citizens Utility Board (CUB) executive director David Kolata said natural gas prices are expected to be two or three times as high this year as in recent years and that switching to electric heat pumps would be a great option for saving money.

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CUB said consumers could save from $26,000 to as much as $47,000 dollars over 34 years.

“Payback begins immediately in new construction so you get monthly savings right off the bat. Payback is immediate if you have to replace furnace and your air conditioner if they’re at the end of their service life,” Kolata said.

He adds that for people who swap out their furnace and air conditioner before the end of their service lives, payback starts after 11 years.

“Right now in the city of Chicago, there is a heating affordability crisis. Over 20 percent of People’s Gas customers can’t afford to pay their bills," Kolata said.

"The average debt is over $700 which, history shows, might as well be a million because it means people are just never going to catch up.”

Kolata pointed out that electric heat pumps allow consumers to replace their furnace and their air conditioner, because they heat homes in the winter and cool homes in the summer. He said they’ve been common in the south and in Europe and Asia for years.

But, HVAC companies like Carrier say electric heat pumps work best in moderate climates. Carrier’s website cautions that heat pumps have to work much harder or require auxiliary heat when temperatures dip below 32 degrees which could raise your electricity costs.

Kolata said electric heat pumps start having problems keeping up enough heat when outside temperatures are -15 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chicago averages 43 days per year with temperatures under 32 degrees, according to https://www.currentresults.com/.

Some people who choose heat pumps make their systems a hybrid so that, in extreme cold weather, the furnace kicks on to generate added heat, according to Carrier.

Carrier also points out that heat pumps tend to have a shorter lifespan currently than central air and furnaces, because each of them is only used about six months out of the year instead of year-round as electric heat pumps are.