Heating the Homestead Efficiently
According to the U.S Department of Energy, heating and cooling together are the largest energy expense, accounting for a hefty 48% of energy use in the typical home.
To make matters worse energy cost rises show no sign of slowing down and the environmental impact of fossil fuels are also becoming ever more apparent. Therefore, it’s certainly not surprising that many people are looking for better ways to heat their homestead.
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Nationwide, natural gas remains the most popular fuel source for home heating, followed closely by electricity. Yet in rural locations, wood heat remains a popular choice with a growing demand.
But are these types of fuels and their associated heating appliances ideal for the average homestead? Let us explore the different heating methods and compare them in terms of energy efficiency, cost, sustainability and other important factors you might easily overlook.
Natural Gas Heating Methods: Furnaces
Natural gas is a popular fuel throughout the country since it is widely accessible, relatively efficient and typically much cheaper than electricity.
If you live in a colder climate it definitely makes sense to heat your home using natural gas, as mentioned, this is due to the cheaper cost of gas. It also reaches its maximum heat output much sooner than electrical appliances.
This is mainly due to electrical appliances taking much longer to reach their maximum heat capacity since they often utilize a metallic element, which can take a considerable amount of time to radiate heat.
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In terms of environmentally friendliness, natural gas also beats electricity as it produces far fewer greenhouse gases. This may be surprising, but the production process involved in the generation of electricity produces more pollution.
Of course, natural gas is often not a viable option for those who live in remote locations with limited access to the supply lines. Nor is it justified in warmer locations where the upfront costs of the appliance and installation make little use with limited heating demands. Still, the efficiency of natural gas is definitely worth noting.
Wood Heat: Wood Fireplaces & Pellet Stoves
Another popular option for homestead heating is relying on wood as a fuel source. Wood is considered sustainable as trees can be re-planted, unlike fossil fuels, which once used are gone for good.
Wood is also considered a carbon neutral practice. Since if the trees used are re-planted the carbon released into the atmosphere through combustion can be stored in the new tree.
Deciding whether or not to heat your home with wood depends on a variety of factors. For instance, many people love the aesthetic appeal of a real wood fire and have little concern for anything else. On the other hand, other individuals are far more concerned about the practical implications, including the cost, efficiency and energy security.
In general, wood heat makes more sense for those who live in rural settings, since accessing wood is often more convenient and cheaper than it is elsewhere.
Wood heat also offers homeowners the ability to process, store and even grow their own fuel. This is ideal for individuals who want to live off-grid and be completely self-reliant.
Unfortunately, in terms of efficiency wood burning stoves typically produce 28 pounds of particulate emissions per MM Btus (one million British thermal units), while gas emits as much as 99% less than this.
Additionally, wood stoves are one of the biggest contributors of airborne pollutants when improperly cured wood is used. Therefore, responsible wood heating is essential if you are going to be taking this route.
Electrical Heating Methods: Space Heaters & Heat Pumps
As previously mentioned, electric heating is the second most popular option for home heating. On the whole electric appliances are cheaper to buy than other heating systems and they require little, if any installation.
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However, the reality is that the majority of electrical appliances such as baseboard heaters are terribly inefficient and for those that live in colder climates, largely remain a poor choice.
Using electricity as a primary heat source only ever really makes financial sense in warmer parts of the country. This is due to the heating demands in these parts of the country being lower, therefore, heating demands will be reduced and it makes little sense to install a more expensive system e.g. a gas furnace.
Electrical appliances sometimes make sense when used in certain circumstances. For example, if a heater is used to warm a certain part of the home instead of the whole house. This is often called zonal heating and many people save a considerable amount of money by employing this tactic by only heating the room they are currently using.
Heat pumps also utilize electricity and new models can be very efficient, not only that but they can provide your homestead with both cooling and heating. Today, many models are much more efficient than gas furnaces, since they simply transfer heat from one location to another and do not rely on combustion.
Ultimately, heat pumps are not appropriate for colder climates as when the temperature drops they lose their efficiency and are prone to freezing up. Still, if you live in a south eastern state it’s certainly worth considering.
The Bottom Line
As you may have realized, selecting the right heating method for your home is not as simple as it sounds. In order to make the best decision you will need to consider things such as your local climate, heating use and the square foot of your homestead.
If you live in the northern states where it can get cold, then electricity is not the way to go, especially as a whole house heating solution. Instead, gas remains the preferred choice due to the cost and efficiency.
Although, if you live in the south where heating demands are limited, then you can probably do quite well with an energy efficient heat pump.