Home Heating Systems offer new choices.
Home Heating Systems, Which One?
by George Bogosian
The dragon in the basement is how many people think about their heating system.
The old heating systems did come with a roar when it ignited, but today's systems are much quieter.
Heat is one of the most expensive items to install in your home, whether it is a retrofit or a new installation. You need to do some research to be an informed consumer. There are sites on line where you calculate on your homes heating or cooling needs. We'll cover some basics here to get you started and begin your informational gathering. These systems require professional installation. This is not a Home Depot homeowner installation project.
There are two basic systems. One requires a flame, through combustion, and one does not. The majority of heating systems installed today are the combustion type, created with oil, gas, or propane. Heat transfer systems move heat from one location to another without combustion.
Combustion-based systems have been popular because of the past price of oil and the moderate installation costs. The heating industry grew up with these systems and there are many competent installers. But there are also new twists with these systems.
One of my favorites is the Hydro-Air System.
This is a combustion hot water boiler unit that can utilize baseboards and/or radiators, or hot air with the air handler sometimes referred to as a fan coil. You can do a combination of hot water and hot air with these systems. In a retrofit situation where running air ducts is difficult or impossible because of space confinement you can run copper pipes that require much less space. These systems can be outfitted with an air filter, electronic air cleaner, high performance media filter, humidifier, and an evaporator coil for central air conditioning. Your domestic hot water is also supplied. This is not your father's hot water boiler. These units provide hot air without the smell (carbon monoxide) of the combustion because of the air exchange method of heat delivery.
Baseboard hot water systems are popular because of the lower installation costs and can be used with oil, propane, or natural gas as the combustion material in the boiler. Your domestic hot water can be run off this unit as well, with an internal small tank or an external tank for a larger supply of domestic hot water
Hot air systems are still popular because they have about the lowest installation costs. These units now have an efficiency rating of 80% to 95 %. That's much improved from the early days.
Heat Transfer Systems use heat pumps and geothermal heat systems.
Heat pumps capture heat from outdoor air, compress it, and transfer it to the inside of your home. This simple concept is reversed in the summer to create air conditioning. These units have no combustion process.
These heat pumps came into being during the 70's and have come to maturity.
Geothermal systems, also referred to as ground source heat pumps, use the heat in the ground as opposed to the outside air with their concept. These units are more efficient than the air heat pumps because of the constant 47 degree temperature of the Earth. Most geothermal systems have the ability to provide domestic hot water. This helps the overall efficiency of these systems.
Electric heat is the least expensive system to purchase and install, but the cost of electricity for these units doesn't make them money savers. These units could be used in areas that have little or part-time use. The low cost of installing these units may make it worthwhile in certain situations.
One of the most desired systems is Radiant Heating. It’s the latest hot topic! The Romans used this method in 60 AD to warm their homes. The concept turns floors, walls or ceilings into large low-temperature radiators. These systems cost more (maybe, adult supervision required) on the front end, but are efficient and economical over time. This method creates an evenly warm house with a comfort level people are looking for. Basically, a "plastic" (PEX & others) tubing is embedded in the floors warming the furnishings and the air in the room. It can be used under most building materials, including tile, marble, wood, carpet, and concrete.
Many contractors have their favorite system based on a personal bias so you need to explore the possibilities and find which system works for you. You need to discover your personal bias. There is a lot of information available so do your homework on the subject. Compare safety, installation cost, operating and maintenance costs to help determine your system choice. The largest costs after installation will be yearly fuel costs and there is a fluctuation in these costs that you need to consider.
Remember that low installation costs do not necessarily translate into low operating costs. It's like buying a car. The expenses do not end with your purchase. The industry has come a long way with improving the efficiency of the various systems and units, but overall costs need to be considered.
Home insulation values and reducing air infiltration will help reduce heating costs regardless of the system you have in your home. Reducing needed BTU's (British Thermal Units) should be the goal of all homeowners.
Best system? Radiant Heat in the floor is a system I like and the new air source heat pumps do a good job with both heating and cooling and their costs are moderate. When properly installed, an air-source heat pump can deliver one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes. This is possible because a heat pump moves heat rather than converting it from a fuel like combustion heating systems do. The old heating dragon is dead; new heating systems are creating new options for heating and cooling our homes.