According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 42% of a household’s monthly utility bill is the cost of heating the home. During the winter, heating systems will be running daily and significantly increase utility bills. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that homeowners who take steps to maintain and upgrade equipment and implement other heat saving measures can save up to 30% on their utility bill.
Know Your Heating Options.
A home can be heated in a variety of ways: natural gas, electricity, wood, fuel oil and propane/LPG. Nearly half of homes in the U.S. use natural gas to heat the home and about a third use electricity. Homeowners have many options to choose from when considering a heating system.
Active solar heating
An active solar heating system uses solar energy to heat a fluid or air and then transfers the heat to the home’s interior or storage system for later use. Liquid systems are best for central heating and may use flat-plate, evacuated tube or concentrating collectors. In the collector, fluid absorbs the solar heat and flows to a storage tank or heat exchanger for immediate use.
These types of systems are most cost-effective in cold climates with adequate sunlight. To get the most of an active solar heating system, systems should provide 40% to 80% of the home’s heating needs.
Furnaces and boilers
Furnaces heat air and distribute the heated air through ducts. Boilers heat water or steam which is then distributed through pipes, baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems. The efficiency of a central furnace or boiler is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by the furnace or boiler. An all-electric furnace or boiler has an AFUE between 95% and 100%. High-efficiency heating systems have condensing flue gases in a second heat exchanger for extra efficiency, sealed combustion and 90% to 98.5% AFUE.
Heat distribution systems
Heat distribution systems can include steam radiators and hot water radiators. Steam radiators can be one-pipe or two-pipe systems and don’t require pumps to move the steam through the piping. The drawbacks of steam radiators include ruts in the floor caused by thermal expansion and contraction over time. In addition, air vents can become clogged and keep the steam radiator from heating up.
A radiant heating system supplies heat directly to the floor or to panels in the wall or ceiling of a house. Radiant heat transfer occurs when heat is delivered directly from the hot surface to the people and objects in the room via infrared radiation. This type of system can also be called radiant floor heating or floor heating if the radiant heating is located in the floor. One advantage of radiant heating is greater efficiency than baseboard heating and forced-air heating. In addition, radiant heat does not distribute allergens like forced air systems.
Portable heaters can be powered by electricity, propane, natural gas or kerosene and are an inexpensive way to heat a small space or one room. Portable heaters can increase the temperature of one room without heating the entire house. This type of heater can heat a space using convection or radiant heating. One drawback is that an estimated 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters. Homeowners should take precautions when buying and installing space heaters to reduce the risk of injury and fire.