Fact Checked

What is a Resistance Furnace?

N.M. Shanley
N.M. Shanley

A resistance furnace generates hot air that is used to heat a home. A blower inside one creates airflow using electricity. The air is then circulated through heating elements inside the furnace. When the air is heated, it is sent throughout the building using various ducts.

No combustion takes place inside a resistance furnace, also known as an electric resistance furnace. As a result, a flue is not needed for this type of heating system. Generally, these models cost less to maintain than oil or gas furnaces. Since they run on electricity, their normal operating costs are usually higher than combustion furnaces.

In most homes, heating furnaces are usually attached to a thermostat. The thermostat is connected to relays inside the furnace. These relays turn the heating elements on when more heat is needed.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The thermostat and relay connection enable the resistance furnace to turn on and off automatically, depending on the temperature inside the home. An air circulation switch located either on a thermostat in the house, or on the furnace itself, also allows the homeowner run the blower continuously. This will keep hot air circulating constantly throughout the home.

While maintenance costs are low compared to other heating system costs, some minor maintenance may be needed to keep a resistance furnace running efficiently. These types have air filters that must be cleaned occasionally to keep them from becoming clogged. A clogged air filter may slow or shut down the airflow.

The furnace typically has a main circuit breaker located near it or in the home’s main electrical service panel. Homeowners should ensure that this main breaker is turned off before any repairs are performed on the furnace. Turning the breaker off will help prevent shock or other injuries during such routine work.

The elements inside the furnace also have individual circuit breakers to avoid overloads. If the heater is not working, the breakers may need to be reset. When the heat is on, but insufficient, the elements themselves may need to be replaced. Generally, only a professional technician should work on the heating elements.

A resistance furnace can also be used in conjunction with a heat pump to heat a home. The heat pump will work alone until the temperature drops below a certain level. At that point, the furnace will turn on and work with the heat pump to keep the home heated to a comfortable level. The homeowner determines this level using the thermostat settings.

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Discussion Comments


I don't know what it is, but it seems like my furnace can be working fine all winter and when I am ready to turn it on in the fall, something needs to be repaired.

We have a natural gas furnace in our house that we have had serviced the last two years. I am glad that it has been something minor such as cleaning the burners.

Maintaining my furnace and paying for the service calls is much cheaper than buying a new furnace.


I have learned the hard way to have my furnace serviced before the weather turns cold. It seems like I try to put off starting my furnace as long as possible.

The worst part about this is if something isn't working properly and I have to wait longer to get a service man there.

This has happened to me more than once and when I finally call for service, many other people have done the same thing.

Now I make it a habit to have furnace maintenance done every fall. That way I know when the weather turns colder and I want a warm house, my furnace will be working properly.

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