The Ultimate Guide to Green Heating

The Ultimate Guide to Green Heating

The path to climate change progress can feel overwhelming. This Green Heating guide outlines how our individual actions, choices, and investments can make the biggest impact. Knowledge is power. When we understand all the components that play a role in green heating, we’ll save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while saving costs over the long term and increasing our home’s value.

Green Heating has just as big climate impact as transportation and electric generation
The surprising comparison of potential energy savings between three energy upgrades: solar panels, hybrid cars, and green heating.

Green Heat Matters!

Heat and hot water are the biggest parts of home energy use even as far south as Virginia.

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How do we figure out what to do first? Would it be better to add a heat pump or insulation?  What’s the best way to get off of fossil fuels or at least minimize oil and gas? The answer is to take an incremental approach to our green energy projects. Remember, green energy is all about accounting for the value of future savings.

Green Heating Solution 1. Minimize Heat Loss

We can save money and reduce our carbon footprint by creating a continuous thermal boundary around the building with air sealing and insulation. Proper air sealing and insulation help maintain consistent indoor temperatures and enhance overall comfort. This not only lowers energy bills but also reduces the load on your HVAC system, prolonging its lifespan. If possible, insulate and weather-seal first so your HVAC contractor can size the HVAC equipment efficiently.

Your local home energy contractor can provide a data-driven process for tightening up air leaks with a blower door test. For those who prefer a DIY approach, Energy Star provides a useful guide. The EPA provides resources to connect with state efficiency utilities and other energy efficiency program sponsors.

Air leaks illustration
Air Leak Checks and Inspections
Source: Energy Star.

Green Heating Solution 2. Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are efficient electric appliances that transfer heat using a thermodynamic cycle. They come in three main types: air-to-air (air source), geothermal (ground source), or new air-to-water. Heat pumps can be integrated with both ducted whole house delivery system or ductless mini-split room heaters.

Benefits of Heat Pumps:

  • Energy Efficiency: Heat pumps are highly efficient, using less energy compared to traditional heating systems.
  • Versatility: Suitable for various climates, although their efficiency decreases in extremely cold temperatures.
  • Lower Emissions: Switching from fossil fuels to heat pumps can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially when powered by a renewable energy source like solar panels.

Can a heat pump completely replace an oil or gas central heating system?

[Climate zones discussion. I must have written this article already]

Pairing a heat pump with solar panels

Green Heating Option 3. Partially reduce fossil fuel heating by adding a pellet or wood stove

Modern EPA-approved pellet and wood stoves provide an effective way to offset GHG emissions from the home’s central heating system in the room where the appliance is located. These stoves are particularly useful in homes with an open floor plan or great room.

wood stove with BiobrickConsiderations for Pellet and Wood Stoves:

  • Fuel Storage: Adequate storage for pellets or firewood is necessary.
  • Maintenance: Regular cleaning and maintenance are required to ensure optimal performance.
  • Emission Reduction: Newer models are designed to minimize emissions, making them a more environmentally friendly option compared to older stoves.

Green Heating Option 4. Completely eliminate fossil fuel heating with a pellet boiler or furnace

Automated Pellet DeliveryIn zones 5, 6, or 7 the only renewable fuel that can achieve the high temperatures needed to keep up with the heat loss from our example home is wood, but until recently, wood couldn’t compete with the automated convenience of oil and gas. Today, renewable wood pellet heating fuel has matured from stoves and forty-pound bags to boilers, furnaces, and hands-free automated delivery with bulk pneumatic trucks.

Upgrading an oil or gas boiler or furnace to one that runs on clean, renewable wood pellets avoids the cost and disruption of changing the heat emitters found around the house. All the radiant floors, baseboard heaters, or ductwork can remain exactly the same.

It’s more difficult to combust a solid fuel than a liquid or gas fuel. That makes pellet boilers and furnances more expensive than their fossil fuel counterparts. Fortunately, many states have incentives to help make pellet boilers and furnaces more affordable. Low-interest green energy loans are also widely available.

What about the climate, forest, and health effects of wood heat?

This issue is too important to settle for easy assumptions. The complete answer can be found in the article Why Wood Heat is Essential to Carbon Sequestration. The short answer is:

  • Heat from renewable wood pellets reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 54% compared to oil and 59% to natural gas.
  • The EPA requires a wood pellet boiler to meet a higher standard for particulate emissions than oil or gas heating appliances.
  • Preservation alone doesn’t work. We are currently losing over a hundreds acres of forest a day to development; that’s the real threat.
  • We need a mix of preservation and conservation of working forests. More than 60% of US forest are privately held.
  • 20% of forest harvest is sequestered for generations in our buildings, furniture, and other wood products.
  • That leaves tons and tons of waste wood. It’s those markets for waste wood that drive sustainable forest operations.

Since a dead tree is going to give up its carbon anyway, what’s the best use for all that waste wood? If our example home has a heat loss profile that demands a combustion fuel other than electricity, our only options are oil, gas, or wood.

Green Heating Option 5. Think outside the Basement

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Green Heating Option 6. Consider adding connected devices

Smart heating systems use advanced technology, such as smart thermostats and sensors, to manage home heating efficiently. These systems learn household patterns and preferences, automatically adjusting temperatures to maintain comfort while optimizing energy use. They can be controlled remotely via smartphone apps, offering convenience and potential energy savings. By reducing overall energy consumption and integrating with other Green Heating solutions like heat pumps and improved insulation, smart heating systems contribute to environmental sustainability and help lower utility bills.

How to Choose the Right Clean Heat System for Your Home

Assess Your Home’s Needs

Consider factors like the size of your home, existing heating systems, and your budget. Larger homes may benefit more from geothermal systems, while smaller homes might find air source heat pumps more suitable.

Evaluate the Climate

Different clean heat systems perform better in different climates. For instance, air source heat pumps are more effective in milder climates, while ground source heat pumps can be efficient even in colder areas.

Check for Incentives

Many governments offer incentives, rebates, or tax credits for installing clean heat systems. These can significantly reduce the initial cost and make clean heating more affordable.

Conclusion

Choosing the right green heat solution depends on several factors, including geographic location, the building’s thermal performance, the legacy heating system, and investment in energy improvements.

Understanding and addressing heat loss, integrating renewable energy, and selecting the appropriate green heating options can significantly reduce our energy consumption and environmental impact.