Many houses built during the 1960s and 1970s, in areas not served by natural gas suppliers, incorporated electric cable ceiling heat as the primary means of keeping the interiors warm during the cold months of the year. The house builders, before installing the plaster or drywall to form the ceilings, would install electric resistance heating cable panels above it, and then cover them with the finishing materials.
Then, during cold spells, mains power is applied to heat these cables, which radiates through the drywall to the living spaces below. This form of cold-weather climate control suffers most of the same drawbacks as other forms of electric heat; namely, that it tends to cost a lot to operate. But electric heaters, hidden away in the ceiling can be a viable option in areas where only electricity is available for heating purposes.
Advantages, Benefits, Features, and Pros of Electric Cable Ceiling Heat
Easy to Install in New Construction
Installing the heating cables is relatively easy, if done before the final layers of drywall and sheet rock are installed. Harder to do this after a house is finished however. See below for more.
Separate Thermostats in Each Room
Generally, each room in the house has its own thermostat, for independent control of the temperature there from the rest of the home.
Decentralized Heating is a Practical Option
Can be implemented as a completely decentralized heat source, from which you can heat as much of, or as little of the home as the current living situation there dictates. Children going to college in the fall? Well, turn off the electric ceiling heating in their rooms only while you stay toasty in your living spaces.
Silent Operation in Electric Cable Ceiling Heat
These heaters permanently installed inside a ceiling, are very quiet. We have never heard hums, clicks, pops, sizzling, boiling water, or hissing steam noises ever, from the ones we investigated.
Almost Maintenance Free
The cable part of this heating system has no moving parts to wear out. Unlike central furnaces that typically need at least annual care, adjustment, and maintenance, electric heating cables need none.
Takes Up No Room Space
With the heaters installed above ceilings, there’s no ductwork to take up valuable room space, no vents or registers to dust or avoid blocking or covering with furniture. In fact, in a so equipped room, the only visible signs of this heating system would be the thermostat on the wall. The cable heaters themselves are not visible.
Virtually No Radio Interference
Some oil furnaces and systems with electronic air cleaners can create much radio frequency interference when not well maintained. But electric cable ceiling heat virtually never create any arcing type interference; even when not maintained for decades. Since they’re powered directly from mains power, they feature little to no electronic power supplies, which typically produce some radio hash.
Disadvantages, Limitations, Problems, and Cons of Electric Cable Ceiling Heat
Same Problems as Other Forms of Electric Heat
Since the cables / wires in this type of ceiling heating heat by electrical current resistance, this is indeed a specific form of electric heat, and suffers just about all the drawbacks of it.
Harder to Fix
Though repairs are virtually never necessary, when he heating wires do fail, getting at them to replace, can cause headaches. Why? Because electric cable ceiling heat elements are plastered over or hidden behind drywall. Should one stop working, you may have to cut holes in the ceiling, just to properly troubleshoot it. Then, if the heater is at fault, more of the ceiling may have to be taken down, to replace it. This job would need not only the services of an electrician to ring out the trouble and fix it. But you’d also need a drywall technician to restore the ceiling after the repairs are complete. Paying both of these professionals could cost a bunch.
Hot Head, Cold Feet Problem
All forms of radiant ceiling heating without a fan to promote convective air heating, suffer from the problem that areas low to the floor remain significantly colder than spaces closer to the ceiling. In one hose we explored that utilized this heating method, your head would sweat while your feet would freeze! Since convective heat rises, having heaters in the ceiling to heat the areas beneath them seems a little strange.
But through radiant action, they can heat the entire room quite effectively, just like the sun shining down can do. In principle, radiant heating should work well. But electric ceiling heaters aren’t nearly as powerful as the sun. So, their heating rays are thus, not nearly as effective as sunshine. Therefore, they often do not adequately heat distant walls and floor spaces, without help from some form of air mover such as an oscillating fan, or ceiling-based air mover.
Needs Fans for Most Comfort with Electric Cable Ceiling Heat
To overcome the cold-floors issue, decorative ceiling fans often are installed, to push the warm air above, down, and force the cold floor air up to the ceiling, where it is warmed. The overall effect of the fans is to establish a more uniform room temperature throughout, from floor to ceiling. Though the fans themselves consume next to no power, their initial purchase price as well as the installation and maintenance, can add significantly to the overall cost of this heated-ceilings strategy.
Requires Line Voltage Thermostats
Controlling thermostats generally must be of the line voltage variety, and these tend to be less sophisticated and feature-packed than the more advanced low voltage models, though they are cheaper to buy generally. However, if you shop a little more, Honeywell for example, manufacturers 5-2 programmable line voltage thermostats for these systems, last time we checked, and there may be some 7-day programmable 220-volt thermostats out there too. .
Hard to Install in Pre Existing Homes
Unless you gut the ceilings as part of an overall renovation project, electric cable ceiling heat would probably not be a practical option where you don’t have easy access to areas above the ceilings where you could lay the heat cables. Better to incorporate into new construction than an existing building.
Needs Decent Insulation
To avoid sky high electricity bills, the house in which you employ electric heating cables in the ceilings, must be very well-insulated; particularly above the heating cables, to prevent much of the heat from escaping through the roof.
Switching Relays can be Noisy
If relays are used to keep high current off the thermostat, this potential problem can be avoided by either using a solid state switch between the thermostat and the ceiling heaters, or positioning the relays well away from the room that they control.
As with any other heating method, there are scenarios in which the plusses of heating rooms with an electric cable buried in their ceilings, far outweigh the minuses. Since the choice of how to heat a home has significant financial ramifications initially as well as throughout the entire lifetime of the building, making the right choice for the situation at hand is critical. We hope this examination of the ups and down of electric ceiling heating with wires, helps you make informed decisions on how best to heat your home. Good luck.
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- 2014-11-14: Originally published this article.