Home Heating Basics: Page 3 of 4

An Overview of Options
Beginner

Inside this Article

A blower door test
A blower door test, part of a typical energy audit, can help identify air leaks in your home that reduce the effectiveness of your heating system.
Thermal imaging
Thermal imaging can help locate areas of heat leakage to address with weather stripping or insulation.
A forced-air furnace
A forced-air furnace uses natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity to heat air and an electric blower to circulate it throughout your home.
A boiler
A boiler works like a forced-air furnace, but heats and circulates water, instead of air, to radiators or hydronic floor loops.
A heat pump
A heat pump removes heat from the outside air or the ground using phase-change materials. They can work in reverse to provide cooling in hot weather.
Designing new homes or additions using passive solar design strategies
Designing new homes or additions using passive solar design strategies can reduce heating costs and increase comfort.
Hydronic heating loops
These hydronic heating loops are awaiting the pour that will embed them in concrete slabs. They can also be installed between floor joists or in specially designed subflooring panels.
Electric radiant mat
Electric radiant mats can be installed between the subfloor and many types of floor surfaces.
Solar thermal collectors
Solar thermal collectors can efficiently heat your home, and large PV systems can offset some or all of the energy used for electric heating.
A blower door test
Thermal imaging
A forced-air furnace
A boiler
A heat pump
Designing new homes or additions using passive solar design strategies
Hydronic heating loops
Electric radiant mat
Solar thermal collectors

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Information Center (EERE), even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are made up in energy savings in five to ten years. Inside components should last at least 25 years and the ground loop, more than 50 years.

Wood and pellet-burning heaters. Wood heating can make economic sense in rural areas if you enjoy stacking wood and stoking the stove or furnace. But for fuel efficiency and cost effectiveness, it is important to properly size the heater to the space, otherwise your heating plans will just go up in smoke—literally. All wood heaters sold today should bear a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certification sticker, which specifies that they meet emissions standards. Higher-efficiency heaters (typically 63% to 78% efficiency) produce fewer emissions and are often safer, since complete combustion helps to prevent a buildup of flammable chimney deposits.

Pellet stoves, which use small pellets made of sawdust and wood chips for fuel, have lower point-of-use emissions than wood heaters and offer users greater convenience, temperature control, and indoor air quality, along with combustion efficiencies between 78% and 85%. One drawback is that they require electricity to run fans, controls, and pellet feeders. Under normal usage, they consume about 100 KWH of electricity per month.

Although gas (and most wood) fireplaces provide a warm glow, they are not an efficient heat source. Fireplace-heated homes generally lose more heat than they provide, because heated air is drawn through the unit and must be replaced by cold outside air. However, if the fireplace has a tight-sealing glass door, its own source of outside air for combustion, and a good chimney damper, it can provide some useful heat.

According to the EERE, masonry heaters produce more heat and less pollution than any other wood- or pellet-burning heater, reaching combustion efficiencies of 90%. Masonry heaters include a firebox, a large masonry mass (such as bricks), and long twisting flue channels that run through the mass. A small, hot fire built once or twice a day releases heated gases into the flue tunnels that, in turn, heat the masonry. This heat slowly radiates outward into the home.

Renewable Fuel?

Burning natural gas, oil, propane, cordwood, or pellets in your home with a high-efficiency furnace or boiler can be a very efficient way to deliver heat to your home. Of these, natural gas has the fewest direct emissions. Some fuel-oil furnaces or boilers can also burn biodiesel—a more sustainable and low-pollution solution. Be sure to check with your system’s manufacturer first.

Electric resistance converts electricity directly into heat, which means on-site efficiency for electric heaters is very high and there is no point-of-use pollution emitted. But when the inefficiency of electricity generation by the power company and transmission losses are taken into account, it is actually pretty inefficient to heat with electric resistance. Roughly one-third of the heating value of the fuel burned in a power plant is delivered as useful heat in your house—the remaining two-thirds are lost to generation and transmission inefficiencies. On the other hand, electricity is used to run heat pumps, which have the benefit of producing more energy than the electricity they consume and can balance out the efficiency losses at the power plant.

In many cases, surplus electricity from an off-grid solar-, wind-, or hydro-electric system can be routed to a heating load, such as an air or water heating element. This can be one effective application of heating with renewably produced electricity. If your home has a large enough grid-tied RE-electric system, the electricity produced may be enough to offset a significant portion of the energy consumed by an electric heating system. If avoiding utility-powered electric heating is not an option, consider purchasing enough “green tags” or green energy credits from your utility to offset your electrical heating energy use.

Comments (0)

Advertisement

X
You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.
Loading