Home heating options

We're finally able to open our windows in the evenings to stay cool, so I know home heating season is right around the corner! Traditional sources of heating homes rely heavily on fossil fuels: heating oil and natural gas. But there are other options!  We've covered many of these on Mapawatt, including:

Geothermal heat pump

Pellet stove

Passive solar

Solar thermal with radiant floor heating

Electrical heating also has a great list of home heating options.

In January I wrote a post on comparing heating fuel costs which compares heating with natural gas vs. electricity, but can also compare oil prices to other sources of heat.

In my home, we heat with natural gas.  Even though I would love to not have to use a fossil fuel, natural gas is a very efficient source of heat.  If I were going to spend money on a more renewable source of energy, I probably wouldn't focus on my heating system; I would focus on reducing my electricity consumption.  Mainly because my power grid is heavily powered by coal power and I can see the pollution coming out of the smoke stack a mile from my home.  Also, natural gas is relatively cheap right now.  If I didn't have a well insulated attic I would certainly do that because it would help save me money in the winter AND the summer.

In any case, start thinking about how you can heat your home more efficiently this winter before the cold gets here!


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I had considered mini-split A/C units which can also work as heat pumps. The installer was really singing the praises of them working like this, in the "shoulder months" around the heating season. Some of them work down to 10F or so, still extracting heat from outside. I did some simple math, looking at the efficiency of my gas boiler, the efficiency of these units, how many therms we used last year, etc. With just the raw numbers, I couldn't see an advantage in dollars or in carbon. But my guy pointed out that the boiler is less efficient in the shoulder months when it's not operating at its design point, and nat'l gas might be unusually cheap now. On the one hand, I like the idea of heating (efficiently) with more electricity, but we're mostly coal-fired around here, and although I have solar on my roof (which covers only 70% aleady) and I buy wind power, I can't quite convince myself that it's the right thing to do... Plus, the install was awfully expensive. Still, the AC might be nice; summers are not getting any cooler lately.
Natural gas indeed is the highest BTU outputting heater type, which can be three times the power of an electric heater of 1,500 watts. The question is, if you are comfortable sleeping in a room with such a heater - if you are, be sure you enable the carbon monoxide alarm. Personally I'm a fan of micathermic heaters, they are safe, versatile (both convection and radiant heat) and are instant on and ready to heat.

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