You don’t have to live at either the North Pole or the South Pole to appreciate heat in the winter. When you’re cold, you’re miserable, even in more moderate climates. You need a reliable heating system for your home. With the rising price of natural gas, some homeowners are changing to alternative heating methods. When considering a method to heat your home without using gas as a fuel source, weigh the value of factors such as the system efficiency, the environmental friendliness of the fuel, the ease with which fuel is obtained and the cost of installation, which will determine how long it takes to pay for itself.
Central Warm-Air Furnaces
You don’t have to give up on furnaces to avoid using gas to heat your home. Electric furnaces, for instance, work just as well. Safer than gas, since there’s no fuel combustion and resulting emissions, they’re still expensive to purchase and install, and dependent on heating source costs (electricity in this case). Other furnaces use oil, a fossil fuel considered dirtier than gas and less efficient. Hydronic heat systems employ either hot water or steam to heat your home, whether through a warm-air furnace system or radiators, various area heaters, or even in-floor or underfloor radiant heat designs. Highly efficient, hydronics rely on a boiler or water heater, fueled by oil, electricity or alternative fuels, to circulate heat through pipes instead of vents. While typically more costly to install than furnaces, they’re quiet and provide even, moist heat.
Heat pumps are a desirable alternative to gas-fueled heating systems. A type of furnace — but not a forced-air furnace — heat pumps work more like a central air conditioner in reverse during heating. You have two choices in heat pumps: ground-source or air-source. The biggest difference is how they obtain heat. With air-source heat pumps, an outdoor compressor unit (again looking much like a central air unit) draws in air, extracts the heat and sends it, via a refrigerant, to the indoor portion of the heat pump, where the heat disperses through duct work. Ground-source heat pumps use a network of pipes running through the ground to absorb the heat before sending it inside. Both are highly efficient but costly to install, especially ground-source, given the piping needed. Electricity is the only fuel needed.
Space heaters of various types remain a solid heating choice. Radiator-type space heaters are especially efficient, although they require electricity to run. Electric-element-style heaters have an exposed element that can prove a burn hazard for young children or inquisitive pets. Hydronic space heaters work well, although they cost more due to the networks of pipes required to deliver the heat from the boiler, hot water heater or other source. Electric baseboard heaters, while not portable like many other space heaters, are capable of heating even the largest homes. Never use outdoor heaters as space heaters indoors. They can generate carbon monoxide fumes that are odorless and deadly.
While not always particularly convenient, any heater that uses biomass (plants and vegetation) as a fuel source will typically cost less to use in comparison to heaters that burn high-cost fossil fuels and electricity. They also cost less to purchase and install. From fireplaces to wood stoves, traditional choices can heat a whole home in most instances. If you want an even more efficient burner, consider a pellet stove. Burning little nuggets of wood or even corn cobs, pellet stoves outperform fireplaces and even wood stoves, producing less smoke and dangerous creosote and heating fairly efficiently. No matter which bio-mass-fueled heater you choose, you must keep your chimney clean and constantly consider your fuel source levels. For many, however, the hassle is worth the cost and comfort as well as the knowledge that it’s a sustainable fuel source.
If you have the money, solar or wind-driven fuel sources can fuel any conventional heating system. Solar, especially, shows promise as a method to heat your home without consuming any fuel source — the “greenest” power/heat source possible. Solar panels harness the sun in one of two manners: Photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays to electricity while solar thermal panels use the heat in the sun’s rays to warm up either water or another liquid solution. Electricity can, of course, power many heaters. Boilers are particularly suited to solar power, although heat pumps and other furnaces are also available. Combine this active solar power with passive solar methods, such as covering northern windows and allowing the sun to shine into the home on the south side, will heat your home efficiently and in an Earth-friendly manner. The biggest drawback is it’s the most expensive heating system to install.(via homeguides.sfgate)
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