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About half of all Americans use natural gas to heat their homes, but there are many other efficient methods to keep your house warm in the winter. One that is gaining more and more popularity is the use of heat pumps. But many homeowners are still hesitant to choose a heat pump. Their main hang-up is the winter heat pump operation. How can a heat pump possibly pull heat out of the air when it is so cold outside? First, let’s just hope that it never reaches absolute zero on earth! Let’s explore home heating systems and energy efficiency and see how you can stay warm and save money at the same time when choosing a heating system for your new home!
There are Lots of Ways to Heat Your Home
There are lots of ways to heat your home. Deciding which one you will use is determined by choosing to balance several things. These include:
- How does it look/aesthetics?
- What is its initial costs to install?
- What much does it cost to operate?
- What type/how much maintenance will it require?
- Is it green/environmentally friendly?
Once you have thought about what is important to you then you can start to evaluate the many systems that are available to you. Keep in mind that systems may operate more efficiently in different climates. Where you live will play a role in your heating system options. Here are some of the main heating systems:
Solar Heating – Some may think of Passivhaus (or, Passive House in the U.S.) when they hear the term solar heating. Solar heating can take many forms. Solar heating relies heavily on the design of the home. Maximizing solar heating for comfort is about finding a balance with building science.
Radiant Heating – Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor or to panels in the wall or ceiling of a house. The systems depend largely on radiant heat transfer — the delivery of heat directly from the hot surface to the people and objects in the room via infrared radiation. People with allergies often prefer radiant heat because it doesn’t distribute allergens as forced air systems can.
Furnaces or Boilers – Most U.S. homes are heated with either gas furnaces or gas boilers. Furnaces heat air and distribute the heated air through the house using ducts. Boilers heat water and provide either hot water or steam for heating. Steam is distributed via pipes to steam radiators, and hot water can be distributed via baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems or can heat air via a coil.
Wood Stove/Pellet-Burning – Designed more for show, traditional open masonry fireplaces should not be considered a heating device. Most wood- and pellet-burning appliances are essentially space heaters. Before installing a wood-burning system, you should contact your local building codes department, state energy office, or state environmental agency about wood-burning regulations that may apply in your area.
Electric Resistance Heating – Electric resistance heat can be supplied by centralized forced-air electric furnaces or by heaters in each room. Room heaters can consist of electric baseboard heaters, electric wall heaters, electric radiant heat, or electric space heaters.
Electric Heat Pumps – For most climates heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. Let’s talk more about Heat Pumps below.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
Instead of making heat, a heat pump extracts it from the outside. Your refrigerator is a good example of a one-way heat pump. It removes heat from the air inside the refrigerator and moves it to the coils on the outside (back or bottom) of the refrigerator. Have you ever felt the warm air that blows out from under your refrigerator when it’s running? A heat pump uses this same principle-extracting heat from the air and moving it to where it’s needed. However, a heat pump just needs the ability to extract heat from something. That something could be the air or, it could be a geothermal system and extract heat from the ground or water. Let’s look at each method:
Air Source Heat Pumps – Air-to-air heat pumps extract heat from outside air. And yes, even in winter the air holds heat, even when the outside temperature gets below zero degrees F. In recent years, air-source heat pump technology has advanced so that it now offers a legitimate heating alternative in colder regions.
Ground Source Heat Pumps – Geothermal (ground-source or water-source) heat pumps achieve higher efficiencies by transferring heat between your house and the ground or a nearby water source. Although they cost more to install, geothermal ground source heat pumps have low operating costs because they take advantage of relatively constant ground temperatures which stays about 55 degrees F year-round. A ground-source heat pump removes heat from the ground using loops of flexible pipe that are either buried in trenches four to six feet underground or in well holes that are bored and the loops of pipe are installed in the wells. The pipe is filled with a liquid that absorbs heat from the ground and transfers it inside. Geothermal ground source heat pumps have some major advantages. They can reduce energy use by 30%-60%, control humidity, and are sturdy and reliable. Whether a geothermal heat pump is appropriate for you will depend on the size of your lot, the subsoil, and the landscape. Ground-source heat pumps are typically more expensive than air source heat pumps but customer satisfaction with the systems is very high.
Today’s Heat Pumps Perform Better than Ever
Today’s heat pumps aren’t the same as the ones in the 70’s and 80’s. Heat pumps today are way more efficient. Many manufacturers offer variety of efficiency, heating/cooling capacity and technology. The great thing about a heat pump is that you don’t have to buy and air conditioner. A heat pump becomes an air conditioner in summer. Instead of moving the heat inside, it reverses operation and collects the heat from inside the house and moves it outside. All you need to do is change the settings on your thermostat.
RELATED: MYTH BUSTERS: MODULAR EDITION
“A factor that helps you determine an air conditioner’s efficiency is its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. In general, the higher the rating, the more efficient the cooling equipment is. Each state has a minimum SEER rating standard for new air conditioning units, which is 13 or 14 SEER.”
It’s easier today and less expensive to get a heat pump small enough to match the loads of a high performance home than it is to get an appropriately sized furnace. A variation of a heat pump is called a mini-split. A mini-split doesn’t require ducts. Just like a standard air-source heat pump a mini split has two main components; an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms.
A Modular Home Means You Start with a More Energy Efficient Home!
Modular homes can be much more energy efficient than their site built counterparts. Modular construction is a building system. By using a consistent system to build your home, details that are often overlooked in traditional construction are managed and done properly in a factory environment. Building a home to a high performance standard is almost a by-product of building indoors.
Because today’s modular home can be so energy efficient, it is important to properly size your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems along with your home’s ventilation options. Don’t just stop halfway. Today’s home is comprised of many systems. When the thermal envelope is tight and sealed it depends on the HVAC system to provide safety, comfort, and protection to its occupants. Modular takes home construction to the next level. Modular means more!
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