January 24, 2018
A majority of North American homes utilize forced-air heating, with boilers and radiators being the most common alternatives. Naturally, newer furnaces and boilers are more efficient than their older counterparts. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the newest high-efficiency furnaces have an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) of at least 90 percent, meaning 90 percent of the fuel used is converted into heat. In contrast, older central heating systems have an AFUE value of 56 to 70 percent.
Because of the potential efficiency improvement, homeowners may qualify for special financing through PACE programs to help cover the upfront costs of upgrading to a more efficient furnace. PACE or property assessed clean energy programs may also help with the costs of installing or retrofitting energy-efficient alternatives to traditional central heating sources. Here are five alternative sources to consider.
1. Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal heat pumps rely on consistent underground temperatures to efficiently heat a home during the winter. Depending on a home’s location, the temperature underground is between 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C) throughout the entire year – often warmer than winter surface temperatures. The warmer underground temperature may make geothermal pumps more efficient than air source heat pumps, which must first warm cold air from the outside.
The price of a geothermal heating system is greater than a comparable air source system because the installation process involves drilling a hole in the ground or placing heat-transferring coils in a nearby body of water. However, the DOE claims that a geothermal system will cover the cost difference in five to 10 years. The geothermal equipment has a lifespan of 25 years.
2. Heating Oil
Natural gas is a common energy source for home central heating systems. For rural areas with limited access to natural gas, oil-fired boilers and furnaces are an alternative. Oil furnaces are cheaper than their natural-gas peers, but gas models are slightly more efficient on average. Gas furnaces have an AFUE of 90 percent or more, while oil furnaces have an AFUE of between 80 and 90 percent. Oil also requires an onsite storage tank. However, oil furnaces have a couple of significant advantages in addition to their lower initial price tag.
Homeowners can burn a biofuel blend in their oil heating systems, which lowers both pollution levels and cost. Also, oil provides more heat per BTU (a unit that measures the energy needed to produce heat) than other energy sources.
3. Pellet Stoves
Once the appliance of choice for home heating, wood stoves are making a comeback of sorts thanks to higher-efficiency, cleaner-burning pellet stoves. Some of these units are even powerful enough to heat an entire home. The “pellets” that give this appliance its name are usually made of a wood-based compound that includes other organic materials such as corn husks or even nut shells. According to the DOE, pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel heating option on the market. These stoves are also easier to install than traditional fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. When buying a pellet stove, it’s important to choose the correct size stove for the residence.
Pellet stoves come in many different sizes, which can produce heat at rates between 8,000 and 90,000 BTU per hour (enough to heat an entire home). The drawback of pellet stoves is their maintenance requirements: you may need to fill the stove daily, clean it weekly, and have it professionally cleaned annually.
4. Solar Heating
There are two forms of solar heating: active and passive. Passive solar heating relies on solar gain, where solar heat passes through windows and/or skylights and provides heat for the home. The heat can be retained with an absorber and thermal mass. In a home, the absorber is simply a floor covering, such as tile, and the thermal mass is the floor underneath (and/or walls) that retain heat (cement or masonry). Passive solar heating can work as a supplement to standard heating systems. Installing skylights and south-facing windows can improve solar gain and, in turn, lower heating costs.
Active solar heating is less common and is also usually used as a supplement to standard central heating. A solar collector uses the sun’s heat to warm liquid, or sometimes air. The heated material is then stored or transferred directly to the living area, either with a blower or a radiant heat system.
5. Under-floor Heating
Radiant heat does not always require solar power. Electric or boiler-powered under-floor radiant heat systems can save on energy costs by eliminating the heat loss that often occurs when hot air passes through ductwork. Scientific American also estimates that under-floor systems are 15 percent more efficient than standard boiler-powered radiators. Under-floor heating may also prove beneficial to people with allergies because it doesn’t blow air through the home as a forced-air system does. The main drawback of under-floor heating is that installation requires removing, and perhaps replacing, any floor coverings (such as tile or hardwood). This makes it a better option for new construction or homes undergoing major remodels.
What’s the Best Option for Your Home?
The best heating option depends on your home’s existing infrastructure and whether you want to use the alternative heating source as a supplement to the existing system, or as a replacement for it. Another variable in the decision is the cost of the energy used to create heat. If you plan on using PACE financing for your home, a PACE expert can help you weigh your options – and choose a heating system with a good chance of paying for itself over time with the money saved on heating costs.
PACE can help you finance alternative heating, making your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; firstname.lastname@example.org to see if PACE is available in your area.