Hot Topics in Alternative Heating
Chapped lips and numb fingertips are right around the corner as winter draws near, and soon it will be time to heat the house. Most people heat their home by oil or natural gas, which have an unfortunate tendency to rise in price. Heating the home with alternative methods not only conserves energy and money, but it also benefits the environment by reducing fossil fuel dependency. From stoves that burn alternative fuels to solar power and geothermal technology, homeowners have many options to warm the household.
If you aren’t afraid of the extra labor of cutting wood, stacking logs and loading the stove, wood makes an excellent fuel—just ask a California firefighter. Wood is an easily renewable resource that evokes a classic, rustic atmosphere when burned as fuel in a stove or fireplace. As an added benefit, if the electrical power blacks out, you still have an operable heat source. Using wood can support the local economy and lower your heating bills.
Plus, the latest fireplaces and stoves have evolved beyond the messy, inefficient clunkers of yesteryear. The latest models burn more cleanly and efficiently without the dangerous creosote buildup. Most of what goes up the chimney is just carbon dioxide and water vapor. There is very little smoke or odor. The new units are more attractive, with styles to fit just about every décor, including accents, stone inlays, tiled borders and more. Plus, they’re easier to operate.
As the “green” movement gains more and more steam, stoves that burn dried wheat, corn, or pellets made from dehydrated wood chips, are spiking in popularity. The new multi-fuel stoves allow you to burn all three environmentally friendly fuels in the same stove. When used to heat your home, multi-fuel stoves can cut your energy bill as much as 70 percent. These alternative fuels are good for the environment because they are made of endlessly renewable materials that do not rely on fossil fuels. Corn, wheat and pellets also require much less storage space than wood, and heat output of the stove can easily be controlled by the user.
Another alternative heating option is geothermal power extracted from heat stored in the earth. This geothermal energy originates from natural phenomena such as radioactive decay of minerals and from solar energy absorbed at the earth’s surface. Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable and environmentally friendly by reducing fossil fuel emissions. In principle, a geothermal heat pump functions like a conventional heat pump, by using high-pressure refrigerant to capture and move heat between the indoors and out. However, geothermal systems transfer heat through long loops of liquid-filled pipe buried in the ground. Because the earth’s temperature stays right around 50 degrees, no matter what the weather is, geothermal systems can easily and efficiently extract and disburse heat through the 50-degree liquid circulating in its ground loop. This provides a much more stable source of heat than conventional heat pumps, which rely on the outside air as a heat source.
Solar heating is one alternative that is constantly evolving in technology. A typical household system consists of a solar panel with a heat-transfer fluid flowing through it to transport the collected heat to somewhere useful, such as a hot water tank or household radiators. The solar panel is located in an area prone to ample light exposure throughout the day—usually on the roof, and a pump circulates the heat-transfer liquid throughout the system.
Another approach to more energy-efficient heating is the use of “smarter” hybrid HVAC systems that utilize two fuel sources for efficient heating and cooling, usually a gas furnace and an electric heat pump. These systems aren’t “alternatives” so much as they present a more efficient means of using conventional power sources. The hybrid HVAC control system is calibrated by your local installer according to seasonal temperatures to switch between the furnace and heat pump, depending on which is the most economical power source for your heating or cooling at any given time.
Also, don’t overlook space heating as a simple but effective tactic to reduce energy bills. The average annual cost to heat an average 1,500 square-foot house at 70 degrees is roughly $1,800. With such high costs, it makes good sense to heat only the rooms in which you spend the most time, rather than heating the whole house. Although it does rely on traditional electrical power, targeted heating with space heaters can be a clean, easy and unobtrusive method of reducing overall energy usage.
The following is a roundup of a few interesting new systems on the market to conserve energy and mitigate your heating bill.
Ingram’s Geothermal System
Ingram’s Water and Air Equipment is a geothermal system that is commonly set up with a “well water supply system,” in which heat can be taken from the ground during winter and transferred through a heat pump to the air in your home. Heat can also be transferred back into the ground during summer to cool your home. Since heat from the ground is free, the only electricity needed is for moving that heat between your home and the ground. A geothermal system can lower your heating bills up to 50 percent and cooling bills up to 30 percent. Plus, due to the recent passage of the economic stimulus package, homeowners who install a geothermal system can receive a 30-percent tax credit for qualified installs with no maximum cap.
The Ingram’s package was designed with the DIY’er in mind. The kit includes the heat pump, thermostat and everything needed to install a geothermal open-loop system, as long as you have an available water source. (In an open loop system ground water is usually supplied to the heat pump by a drilled well with a submersible pump system.) The only thing you have to do is pipe in the water from a well, a pond or a lake to the heat pump, as well as to install a line to the dump area, such as a creek or river downstream from the source. After the water has been piped to the unit, you will install a slow-closing solenoid valve on the return side of the unit. The power for the solenoid valve comes from the included 220V/24V transformer, which is wired into the contactor set of the unit. The only thing left is to tie in the pipe going to the dump area. That pipe will connect directly to the outlet of the solenoid valve.
There are two basic types of geothermal applications. A forced-air application is usually going to tie into your existing ductwork. The second type, a water-to-water application, would connect to some type of radiant floor-piping system, which is usually installed during new construction. To learn more or buy direct, visit www.ingramswaterandair.com.
Yukon Multi-Fuel Furnace
A Yukon multi-fuel warm air furnace can heat your entire home to your desired temperature, not just one or two rooms, whether you are burning gas, oil, electric or wood/coal. And, regardless of which fuel you are using, The Yukon furnace operates at UL-listed high efficiency. If you have your own wood supply, the cost of heating your home becomes almost nothing. And, if you leave for a day, week or more, there’s no problem. The furnace switches from wood to whatever your backup fuel is, all automatically. Plus, you never have to start a wood fire because the burner does it for you. Air conditioning, a humidifier, or an electronic or filtered air cleaner is easy to add. Learn more at www.yukon-eagle.com or call 1-800-358-0060.