Chilly enough for you yet? The first snow has already fallen but what about the temperature inside your house? Nothing says, “Welcome home” in New England more than a cozy feeling of warmth when you enter.
But at what cost? Whether oil, gas, electric, wood or solar, weigh the cost efficiency of the fuel you use and the heating system, not just when building or remodeling but over the lifetime of your home.
Beyond the efficiency of the heating system, when building or doing major renovation (or turning a seasonal vacation home into a year-round getaway), consider the envelope first; that is, how well-insulated and air-tight your house is. What exposure do your windows have, and how many panes?
Next, how is the heat distributed through the home: forced air, steam or hot water radiators, radiant heat in the floors, zone heating in each room? There’s another type of distribution, called natural air flow, letting heat from a single source (a woodstove or solar elements) flow through the rooms. Of course, the layout needs to be conducive to this kind of heat conduction and distribution.
In terms of overall fuel efficiency, solar tops the list with utility electricity dead last. Here’s the list in order of the most efficient to the least:
- Natural gas
- Wood (especially if you have your own source)
- Heat pump
- Geothermal (takes heat from underground, requires some electricity)
- Electric heating from utility power
According to www.green-energy-efficient-homes.com, most North American homes have forced-air heating. This means the heat (or air conditioning) is distributed through ducts.
Let the sun shine in!
When incorporated into your home’s design, you can benefit from the sun’s heat without having solar panels through “passive solar” means. Basically, it’s using appropriate materials that soak up the sun and release its to warm you, and designing floors, walls and openings to make the most of it such as tile floors that warm up in the winter but feel cool in the summer and window coverings that provide insulation. See https://energy.gov/energysaver/passive-solar-home-design for more.
Exterior solar panels warm up liquid or air that then travels throughout the house. This is typically supplemented with another stand-by heat source and/or radiant heating.
Many antique homes are heated by hot water or steam traveling through metal radiators, which can be noisy and inefficient. Some may like the nostalgia and want to preserve or upgrade these units. Hey, it’s your money!
Wood is an age-old source of heat in New England and is considered “carbon neutral” because you’re not burning fossil fuel. Today you can burn wood in an efficient woodstove or fireplace insert. Pellet stoves are another way to burn this age-old renewable fuel very efficiently.
A Heated Discussion
The look and smell of a yule log on the fire speaks of the holidays but you may be screaming when you see the heating bill. You can have a “tight” house and a top-notch heating system, but if you use your fireplace as is, you lose a lot of heat up the chimney. Think about a woodstove insert: you can still enjoy the dancing flames, but you get more bang for your buck in terms of heat output (BTUs). Otherwise, with an open hearth, you are literally sending heat up in smoke.
Remember from science class, heat rises? That’s the idea behind radiant in-floor heating. Imagine stepping out of bed and onto to warm wood or tile floor. Heat distribution is more efficient because the heat from the warm flooring goes up, warming the living space as it goes. This is much more efficient than mini-splits—a form of zone heating with a device in each room–which releases heat near the ceiling.
For toasty tootsies, radiant heat under the flooring is the way to go—unless you have carpet, which blocks the heat. So, consider this when building new or putting on an addition (especially in the bathroom, where it can feel absolutely decadent).
If all these choices have you wondering about your heating system, look for its Energy Star rating. Go to www.nhsaves.com for more on choosing efficient and environmentally friendly fuel and heat sources. And check the website of your utility to see about an energy audit. Eversource, Liberty Utilities, New Hampshire Electric Co-Op and Unitil can help determine how your current home rates and suggest solutions such as weatherization to improve energy efficiency. There may even be rebates available.
For Comfort and Safety
So how cozy is your home? With a digital thermostat, it depends on the time of day. Programmable thermostats let you set a temperature so that your bedroom cools down overnight, using less heat, and warms up as the sun comes up. Traveling for the holidays? It’s worry free when you can set the temperature low enough to keep from wasting heat while you’re gone; high enough to prevent frozen pipes.
The design and construction professionals at 3W design, inc. know the ins and outs of every type of heating system and whether new construction, an addition or renovation, we’ll work with you to ensure your home’s temperature–and utility bills–are comfortable year-round.