No matter where you happen to live in this world that’s subject to chilly temperatures, those winter heating costs can be sky high and typical heating solutions are usually not all that great for the environment either.
Traditional heating methods use fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal, which come with a high cost to the environment, contributing to global warming, a higher risk of oil spills, air pollution, acid rain and more.
Heating oil, for example, isn’t a renewable energy source, which means it cannot be replaced. Plus, it creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to ozone pollution and sulfur trioxide which creates acid rain that wears away our forests as well as building masonry.
The drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transport through pipelines result in the leakage of methane, the primary component of natural gas that is 34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat over 100 years and 86 times stronger over 20 years, according to environmental studies. Preliminary research and field measurements have shown that these so-called “fugitive” methane emissions range from 1 to 9 percent of total lifecycle emissions.
Coal has the biggest negative impact of home heating methods, and in the U.S. approximately 30 percent of all electricity comes from coal. When coal is burned it releases multiple airborne toxins and pollutants, including mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and all sorts of other heavy metals. The impact to human health can range from asthma and breathing problems to heart conditions, brain damage, cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death. Coal-fired power plants produce over 100 million tons of coal ash annually, and more than half of that waste ends up in landfills, ponds, lakes and other places where it ultimately seeps into waterways and drinking water supplies, contaminating it. Its most serious impact is to climate change as coal is mostly made up of carbon, and when burned it reacts with oxygen in the air, producing carbon dioxide that when released, serves like a blanket that warms the earth above where it should be.
So, what are some better, more eco-friendly ways to heat your home that won’t contribute to harming your health and the health of our environment?
1. Geothermal Heating
Energy Star, the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency, has reported that geothermal heating is one of the most efficient and effective heating technologies known today. It utilizes the earth’s natural heat and is a limitless source of energy, as our planet contains hot water and steam. The deeper into the earth you go, the hotter it gets, but digging deep isn’t necessary in order to take advantage of it. Just a few feet below ground, the temperature of the water remains constant. Depending on where you live, it can range anywhere from 42 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A ground source or geothermal pump uses that heat that’s stored underground to enhance the efficiency of a heating system. This pump can keep a house cool during the sizzling heat of the summer, as well as warm it during winter’s chill. When it’s cold outside, the fluid absorbs the heat from the earth and then brings it inside to warm the air. In the summer, that heat exchange works in reverse.
While installing a geothermal heating system isn’t exactly cheap, you can generally expect it to pay for itself within five to eight years – and, it often adds a lot to the resale value of your home. Plus, there are a number of incentives offered that will help offset that cost, from utility companies, local, state and federal governments. Your utility bills are likely to be lower too, with most homeowners enjoy savings of 25 to 50 percent over conventional methods, according to Enviro Tech.
This method of heating your home has also been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as the most cost-effective and most environmentally-safe heating method on the market.
2. Passive Solar Heating
Your home can also take advantage of the sun’s free heat, which is constant and renewable. The passive solar design uses a home’s climate, site, and materials in order to minimize energy use. When it’s well designed, it helps to reduce heating and cooling loads and then is able to meet that reduced load in whole, or in part, with solar energy. You don’t even need any solar arrays to take advantage of those benefits either. There are little to no moving parts and it requires minimal upkeep.
Systems generally integrate a number of different non-intensive measures such as large, south-facing windows that are shaded by deciduous trees, or an overhang which helps to keep the sun out when it’s hot, but lets it in when it’s chilly. Using stone or concrete materials in the home’s construction also helps to absorb heat during peak sun hours, releasing the stored heat into the home after dark. The passive solar home still requires some mechanical equipment, such as a forced-air system or radiant floor heating to keep temperatures warmer in the winter.
Passive solar heating isn’t a new concept, but it is being used more frequently in homes, significantly reducing the amount of heating required from other sources, in addition, reducing carbon emissions. If you have a south facing home, you can directly benefit from passive solar heating without doing much at all, as the sun will bring warmth on that side of your home throughout the year. The sun is truly the ultimate answer for free, renewable solar heating, creating no carbon footprint, and requiring reasonable costs to alter a home sufficiently enough to reduce both the impact on the environment and utility bills.
3. Wood Stoves
The design and technology that goes into creating today’s modern wood burning stoves is dramatically different from stoves of old. One of the most popular alternative heating sources, CNBC has reported that the cost savings of heating a home with wood, versus oil, can be significant. For example, heating a home in Ontario, Canada, subject to extreme cold temperatures, generally costs $4,000 with oil, but with a wood stove it costs a few hours of chopping wood – or purchasing several cords of wood, with the price on average for a 4-feet by 4-feet by 8-feet stack ranging from $150 to $250. Although older or improperly-used stoves will produce smoke and pollution, in addition to reducing air quality, newer, EPA-certified stoves are said to deliver about 90% less smoke and about 30% more efficiency.
A wood stove can be installed just about anywhere in your home as long as you can run a vent pipe to the outside of the house, which means you can zone-heat any room or space. Adding a few well-placed stoves can almost entirely replace a central heating system. The quality of the heat is one of the biggest advantages, operating on the principle of radiant heat, which warms a room faster and more efficiently than warm air that’s blown through a vent system in the house. That powerful heat radiates from all sides of the unit as well as the top, sending warmth in every direction. It’s much better for the environment compared with using fossil fuels too, considered “carbon-neutral,” which means that when it burns, it doesn’t add more CO2 to the environment. That’s because in its natural state, as a tree, the wood absorbs carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere.
If you live in an area prone to frequent winter power outages, a wood stove can be especially valuable as you and your family can stay warm regardless of a lack of electricity or a supply of gas.
4. Masonry Heating
A masonry heater is similar to a pellet stove. It offers a much smaller compact heating solution and looks more like a traditional fireplace. They’re different than a wood fireplace or a pellet stove in that they trap heat within the bricks of the smoke chambers in order to provide heat for as long as 24 hours. While they burn wood, a masonry heater produces less pollution as compared to a traditional wood stove and doesn’t need as many supplies as it burns slower. Due to the slow burn and trapped heat, they tend to produce more heat than other types of fireplaces and stoves.
Of course, with any new type of heating source you decide to go with, there is going to be some cost to get started, but it’s likely to pay for itself with big savings over time. Masonry heaters are custom designed and can be faced with various materials such as brick, tile or natural stone, clay rendered or lime plastered to suit the concept of any home as well as individual preference. They also make a great complement to a home’s passive solar design, and the warm surfaces are safe to touch for children and pets.
5. Heat Pumps
There are many benefits, both financial and environmental, associated with heat pumps, which is why they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years. They can be used through underfloor heating systems, radiators or air convectors, as well as to heat water for general use in your home.
Best described as a reverse refrigerator, they take heat from the air, water or ground, air, and utilize an electric pump to boost it to the right temperature for keeping your house warm, and potentially for heating the water. A good performing system, properly set up, should provide at least three units of heat for each unit of electricity used by the pump, and, for those subject to extreme cold, it can even work when the ground is frozen. They do work best in a home that’s well-insulated, and can also bring significant savings to those who currently heat their homes using electricity.
You will need to keep in mind that ground source heat pumps need a lot of space, as pipes are buried in trenches of at least five feet deep. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need twice the area of the property you want to heat in order to lay down ground pipes. Water source heat pumps require a stream or lake nearby or a well. Air source heat pumps can attach to the outside wall of the structure, with a look that’s similar to a fan of an air conditioning uni.
6. Upgrade The Insulation
In addition to one of these methods, or on its own if necessary, adding insulation helps to prevent heat from escaping from walls, windows, doors, and ducts, and can improve your home’s energy draw by as much as 20 to 30%, according to RealSimple.com.
7. Thermal Shades
Adding thermal shades to windows in your home will help block the sun in the summer and retain heat in the winter, providing both cost savings and savings to the impact on the environment. Sealing the windows and adding draft guards on outside doors also reduces energy loss for similar results.