Published on November 7th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans
Keep Warm with Green Home Heating
The energy market is extremely volatile, hence you never know what to expect with fuel oil and natural gas prices come winter time. About the only thing you can count on is a bill that keeps getting higher while you burn up more and more irreplaceable fossil fuels.
You can stay warm in the winter without contributing to global warming, however…
There are many green home heating options that use renewable energy sources and do not produce greenhouse gases. Whatever your home heating needs, some combination of the following systems will keep your house nice and cozy and reduce the amount of air pollution it creates.
Eco Options for Home Heating Systems
Heating your home during the cold months of winter is a necessity, but so is finding sustainable sources of energy to do it with—otherwise, we’re facing the very real prospect of not having a winter at all.
Here are several green options for heating your home:
You can use the sun’s 100% clean and 100% free energy to reduce your home heating costs by as much as 25 to 50%, depending on how much sun you typically get. Having solar heat collectors installed will set you back, of course, but it pays for itself in three to six years, and life expectancy for a solar air heating system is from 15 to 25 years. Basically, once it’s paid for you end up getting free heat for a couple decades—not a bad deal at all.
Bioheat is the usage of biodiesel, which has caught on in a big way for fueling transportation and utility vehicles, to heat your home. Bioheat is an easy, inexpensive way to reduce the environmental impact of heating your home: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center claims that if the entire Northeastern United States were to convert to a B5 blend (5% biodiesel, 95% heating oil), as much as 50 million gallons of heating oil would be saved. Even this low of a biodiesel-to-heating-oil ratio would mean significantly lower emissions of sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide.
Recently, however, several studies have concluded that the full emissions costs of bio-fuels exceed those of conventional fuels when you take into account the amount of land that is being converted to cropland for the purpose of making bio-fuels. So if you’re thinking about using bioheat in your home, you might not be making as much of a difference as you’d hoped…
Hydronic Heating Systems, also known as radiant heating systems, use hot water to heat your home, usually through tubes in your floorboards instead of hot air being forced through ducts. Water is a much better heating medium than air. It transfers far more BTUs (British Thermal Unit, a measurement of heat energy; one BTU is equal to the amount of heat it takes to warm one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit) of heat into your home, which essentially means that it makes more efficient use of the energy used to heat it up. Plus, because it radiates up from the floorboards rather than being blown in as currents of air, it is less likely to leak through window and door frames.
Your thermostat can therefore be turned down lower with a hydronic heating system than with a forced-air duct system, conserving energy and saving you money even while heating your home more evenly and comfortably
Heat Pumps make use of thermal masses in the ground, water, and even the air to heat your home. They draw the Earth’s geothermal energy or collect solar energy that has warmed the air and actually transfer them as heat into your home rather than producing the heat with a conventional boiler or furnace. Heat pumps produce more thermal energy than they require to operate and can easily be powered by solar or wind energy, thus requiring no fuel and emitting no pollutants. Better yet, they are rather simple systems that require no high-tech components—you could build one yourself, if you were so inclined.
Heat Recovery Ventilators conserve energy and keep the air in your house fresh and clean. The system has separate intake and exhaust ducts, both of which are fed through a heat-exchange core, which consists of several passages threaded together so that the warm air being sucked out of your house can heat the cooler air coming in without mixing the two. This not only lowers the costs of heating the air inside your home, it also keeps the air from growing stale or accumulating harmful levels of moisture and pollutants.
The moisture produced by cooking, washing, and even breathing can contribute to mold and mildew problems, while your appliances and even some buildings materials can give off pollutants that are harmful to people. Heat recovery ventilators, in other words, are good for Earth’s atmosphere and your home’s atmosphere.
Programmable Thermostats are a simple but effective way to reduce your energy consumption. When you’re not in your home, you don’t need to be using energy to heat it. Programmable thermostats let you set “At Home” and “Away From Home” temperature schedules for weekdays and weekends. Some even let you set schedules for every individual day of the week.
It may seem too easy, but this very basic device, which you can install yourself in less than an hour, can save you as much as a third of the money you spend heating your home. Just look for products with the ENERGY STAR label. And look for a programmable thermostat with no mercury (like those made by Hunter).
Do-It-Yourself Green Home Heating
It’s not very likely that a single one of the above systems will be the only solution you need to heat your home entirely with clean and sustainable energy, but if you’re willing to get creative it can surely be done. Some of the ideas require major renovations, hence a lot of planning and a lot of labor. But some, like installing a programmable thermostat, require such little effort there’s no reason not to do them.
If you aren’t prepared to make major renovations and would rather start with simple projects you can do yourself, here are a few more options for heating your home cleanly and efficiently:
- You can use plants and/or landscaping to reduce your heating needs. Planting coniferous trees to block prevailing winter winds can significantly reduce the amount of heat you need to generate to keep your home comfortable. Meanwhile, planting deciduous trees along the south-facing wall of your home can reduce the cooling needs of your home in the winter while still allowing the sun’s rays to heat your home in the winter.
- A really great way to limit how much energy you use to heat your home is to simply not heat your home. Or not all of it, anyway. After all, you’re rarely using all of your house at once. Green space-heating is easily accomplished with a pellet heater. Usually installed outside as a safety precaution, pellet heaters consume pellets made mostly of sawdust and vent the heated air through an exterior wall of your home. There are also pellet burners designed to consume corn kernels. Not only do they use a completely renewable source of fuel, pellet burners operate at such high temperatures that all harmful gasses and carbons are burned off. Thus they do not use fossil fuels, do not produce greenhouse gases, and are carbon neutral.
- Good insulation is key to heating your home efficiently. Cotton insulation is made of old jeans (as renewable a source as you could ask for) and is better at insulating your home than conventional fiberglass, which is made from mined substances and glass. Cellulose is another effective and sustainable insulator; it’s made from recycled newspapers. But it’s not just walls you should be thinking about: well-insulated awnings, louvered shutters, and wide eaves are all great ways to keep heat from leaking out of your home.
A heating system is, of course, just one consideration you have when renovating or building a home to have as small an ecological footprint as possible, but that just gives you more opportunities to get creative about going green.
Start using a biodiesel/heating oil mixture in your conventional boiler and buy wind power credits to offset its power consumption, for instance. Or combine a hydronic heating system with a solar water heater and you could be supplying all of your home’s heating needs all winter long and yet consume little to no non-renewable fuels.