Maxwell’s Tips – Heating a Basement Suite, Economics of Electric Heat and Fixing Sluggish Septic Systems

Heating a Basement Suite

Q: Is electric heat a good option for the basement suite I’m creating? I’m concerned about cost of operation.

A: In most places in Canada, electricity is the least economical home heating option in terms of the energy cost itself, but there are situations where electricity actually makes the most sense. Yours is probably one of them.

dimplex_heater_openElectric heat is good for any small, well-insulated space where alternative heating would require the installation of something costly, like a furnace. Heating with electricity is simple, and except during power failures, it’s quite reliable. If you’ve already got a gas furnace, then extending the duct system to include hot air vents and cold air return ducts would make more sense than electricity because of the lower cost of operation. If not, then a combination of foam-based wall insulation and baseboard heaters would be a simple and effective choice. Today’s smart electric heaters like the Canadian-made Dimplex offers wireless programmable thermostats and variable heat output, allowing you to save energy by intelligently heating only the spaces you need to, and only when you need them warm.

Economics of Electric Heat

Q: Would you buy a home heated with electric baseboard heaters? We’re looking at one now, but I’m nervous. For years we heated our previous home with high-efficiency stand-alone electric heaters which we found quite economical.

electric_heater_claimsA: When it comes to cost, all methods of delivering heat from electricity offer the same efficiency. The conversion of kilowatt hours into heat is almost 100% no matter what kind of heater does the job. You can safely ignore sales hype that says one kind of electric heater is more efficient than another. It’s simply not true.

The main issue when it comes to home heating costs is not the source of heat you choose, but the rate at which heat is lost from your building. You can spend more money heating a leaky building with a cheap option like natural gas than you would heating an energy efficient home heated with electricity. That’s not to say that energy costs don’t matter, just that it’s easy to over-emphasize them.

How old is the home you’re looking at? Constantly rising building standards mean that newer homes lose less heat than older ones, all else being equal. Homes built after the early 1980s are better than older places, and homes built since 2012 are sometimes better yet.

Sluggish Septic System

Q: What do you recommend for my sluggish septic system? I’m considering a treatment that’s applied directly to the leaching pipes in the drain field.

A: Products like Septic Seep and AfterShock are two that I know of for opening up soil around perforated pipes that allow waste water to leach into the ground, but products like these work best if the leaching pipes are cleaned out first. The trick is how to do this job. I’ve had personal experience using a device called a Clog Hog ( and it works amazingly well for an operation called jetting. The Clog Hog is a long, flexible extension that replaces the end of a pressure washer wand, and it’s designed to blast out clogged drain lines of all kinds, including septic system leaching pipes. The device directs four jets of high pressure water: one points forward for breaking through clogs, while three point backwards at an angle for self-propelling the hose into the pipe. A professional can open the end of your septic leaching pipes, then use a jetting device like the Clog Hog to remove internal residue. Treating the pipes with a product that increases porosity of the soil surrounding the pipes works better when the pipes are clean. I’ve seen approaches like this restore completely failed septic systems to like-new performance, all at low cost and without installing a new system.