Solutions to Rising Energy Costs and a Warming Climate

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Few things have an overall impact on a homeowner’s comfort more than an expertly and efficiently designed heating system. Yet, many homeowners do not know the slightest thing about the system currently heating their home. My husband, a plumbing/heating contractor, worked for years installing heating systems in some of the most beautiful homes on Cape Cod. He became increasingly frustrated when he was called to work in beautiful multi-million dollar homes with inferior heating systems. These homeowners would spend thousands of dollars selecting just the right grain for their marble countertops without giving a thought to the heating system warming their home. Contractors building homes know that people notice things like counters, cabinetry, and size of rooms while few people stop to consider what type of system will be heating their home. These homes were often beautiful to look at, but the furnaces or boilers would be problematic after only a few years of operation. The baseboard would be poor quality, ugly to look at, and covered in rust within a short period. Little thought was placed on design or layout of the baseboard so the rooms would often feature cold spots and drafts. Having lived with a plumber obsessed with beautiful heating systems I know that there’s a better way.

First, let’s look at some of the most common heating systems and the major differences between these systems. Forced hot air heat utilizes an oil or gas burner that produces warm air that is circulated usually through sheet metal ductwork to various areas of a home. This type of system is usually referred to as a “warm air” system. A homeowner who wants to install air conditioning will often opt for a warm air system since air conditioning can be added easily and utilizes the same ductwork being used to heat the home. A hydro-air system combines the benefits of forced hot air and circulating hot water. It is less drying than a convention hot air system and because the air is infused with water it doesn’t congregate at ceiling level. Another type of system, known as forced hot water uses a boiler to heat water that is then transferred into either copper pipes or plastic tubing that travels throughout the house. Baseboard or radiators are placed throughout the home that allow for the heat from the hot water to be transferred into the rooms. Since a forced hot water system uses copper pipe or tubing the system is less invasive than the ductwork used in a traditional forced hot air application.

Radiant heat is the Cadillac of all heating systems. It can be installed in conjunction with a forced hot water system by heating specific areas of the home with the radiant heat and others with more conventional baseboard. Radiant heat uses hot water to heat the floors, walls or ceilings of a room. Though more costly to install it is less costly to operate since the water utilized is heated to a lower temperature than a conventional forced hot water system. Radiant heat is subtle and passive; you barely know it’s there yet every surface in the home is gently warmed. Counters and furnishings that would feel harshly cold with a conventional heating system feel comfortably warm to the touch with a radiant system. Ceramic tile responds wonderfully to radiant heat. Tile floors that would feel shockingly cold underfoot take on the texture of gently warmed stone when radiant heat is installed beneath. I cannot imagine having ceramic floors without radiant heat. Radiant heating can be installed in both new and existing homes.

For a homeowner looking to install both heat and air conditioning an ideal system would combine radiant floor heat in target areas, attractive panel radiators and a hydro-air system that would allow both heat and air conditioning to travel through the same ductwork. A hydro-air system will provide a higher comfort level than a conventional gas or oil-fired furnace. This type of system would provide maximum comfort, reasonable installation cost and high overall efficiency.

Whether you are installing a new system or evaluating an old system efficiency should be a factor in your decision making process. The rising oil and gas prices have made it more costly to heat our homes. Additionally, our nation’s dependency on foreign oil can be reduced if consumers take advantage of newer more energy efficient products. A boiler or furnace manufactured today has a much higher efficiency rating than one manufactured more than fifteen years ago. The AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) measures how efficiently a furnace or boiler will operate. The AFUE is a percentage of the amount of energy consumed that is converted to useful heat. The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the system. Most furnaces installed from the 1950s through the early 1980s had AFUEs of around 65%. Federal law now requires gas furnaces to have minimum AFUEs of 78%. Some furnaces on the market today have AFUEs as high as 97%. The components of a heating system are also a factor in overall efficiency. A boiler or furnace manufactured within the last fifteen years can be retrofitted with new parts and controls to increase its efficiency. This upgrade could improve the efficiency of a sound but older system. The U.S. Department of Energy has a website (www.eere.energy.gov) with a table to help estimate the amount of savings that a new more efficient boiler or furnace could provide.

Today’s heating industry is buzzing with a multitude of options designed with our appreciation of comfort and technology in mind. A homeowner can program his thermostat or heating system to lower the temperature at night for sleeping then raise it before his family wakes for optimal comfort and energy savings. A second homeowner can phone into his computer operated heating system to have his home comfortably warm prior to his arrival for the weekend. Sleek European panel radiators can provide a far more attractive and less intrusive option than conventional baseboard. Your choices are endless limited only by what your budget can afford. Seek out a qualified heating contractor to help you explore the wonderful new options that today’s heating industry has available for you.

Few things have an overall impact on a homeowner’s comfort more than an expertly and efficiently designed heating system. Yet, many homeowners do not know the slightest thing about the system currently heating their home. My husband, a plumbing/heating contractor, worked for years installing heating systems in some of the most beautiful homes on Cape Cod. He became increasingly frustrated when he was called to work in beautiful multi-million dollar homes with inferior heating systems. These homeowners would spend thousands of dollars selecting just the right grain for their marble countertops without giving a thought to the heating system warming their home. Contractors building homes know that people notice things like counters, cabinetry, and size of rooms while few people stop to consider what type of system will be heating their home. These homes were often beautiful to look at, but the furnaces or boilers would be problematic after only a few years of operation. The baseboard would be poor quality, ugly to look at, and covered in rust within a short period. Little thought was placed on design or layout of the baseboard so the rooms would often feature cold spots and drafts. Having lived with a plumber obsessed with beautiful heating systems I know that there’s a better way.

First, let’s look at some of the most common heating systems and the major differences between these systems. Forced hot air heat utilizes an oil or gas burner that produces warm air that is circulated usually through sheet metal ductwork to various areas of a home. This type of system is usually referred to as a “warm air” system. A homeowner who wants to install air conditioning will often opt for a warm air system since air conditioning can be added easily and utilizes the same ductwork being used to heat the home. A hydro-air system combines the benefits of forced hot air and circulating hot water. It is less drying than a convention hot air system and because the air is infused with water it doesn’t congregate at ceiling level. Another type of system, known as forced hot water uses a boiler to heat water that is then transferred into either copper pipes or plastic tubing that travels throughout the house. Baseboard or radiators are placed throughout the home that allow for the heat from the hot water to be transferred into the rooms. Since a forced hot water system uses copper pipe or tubing the system is less invasive than the ductwork used in a traditional forced hot air application.

Radiant heat is the Cadillac of all heating systems. It can be installed in conjunction with a forced hot water system by heating specific areas of the home with the radiant heat and others with more conventional baseboard. Radiant heat uses hot water to heat the floors, walls or ceilings of a room. Though more costly to install it is less costly to operate since the water utilized is heated to a lower temperature than a conventional forced hot water system. Radiant heat is subtle and passive; you barely know it’s there yet every surface in the home is gently warmed. Counters and furnishings that would feel harshly cold with a conventional heating system feel comfortably warm to the touch with a radiant system. Ceramic tile responds wonderfully to radiant heat. Tile floors that would feel shockingly cold underfoot take on the texture of gently warmed stone when radiant heat is installed beneath. I cannot imagine having ceramic floors without radiant heat. Radiant heating can be installed in both new and existing homes.

For a homeowner looking to install both heat and air conditioning an ideal system would combine radiant floor heat in target areas, attractive panel radiators and a hydro-air system that would allow both heat and air conditioning to travel through the same ductwork. A hydro-air system will provide a higher comfort level than a conventional gas or oil-fired furnace. This type of system would provide maximum comfort, reasonable installation cost and high overall efficiency.

Whether you are installing a new system or evaluating an old system efficiency should be a factor in your decision making process. The rising oil and gas prices have made it more costly to heat our homes. Additionally, our nation’s dependency on foreign oil can be reduced if consumers take advantage of newer more energy efficient products. A boiler or furnace manufactured today has a much higher efficiency rating than one manufactured more than fifteen years ago. The AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) measures how efficiently a furnace or boiler will operate. The AFUE is a percentage of the amount of energy consumed that is converted to useful heat. The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the system. Most furnaces installed from the 1950s through the early 1980s had AFUEs of around 65%. Federal law now requires gas furnaces to have minimum AFUEs of 78%. Some furnaces on the market today have AFUEs as high as 97%. The components of a heating system are also a factor in overall efficiency. A boiler or furnace manufactured within the last fifteen years can be retrofitted with new parts and controls to increase its efficiency. This upgrade could improve the efficiency of a sound but older system. The U.S. Department of Energy has a website (www.eere.energy.gov) with a table to help estimate the amount of savings that a new more efficient boiler or furnace could provide.

Today’s heating industry is buzzing with a multitude of options designed with our appreciation of comfort and technology in mind. A homeowner can program his thermostat or heating system to lower the temperature at night for sleeping then raise it before his family wakes for optimal comfort and energy savings. A second homeowner can phone into his computer operated heating system to have his home comfortably warm prior to his arrival for the weekend. Sleek European panel radiators can provide a far more attractive and less intrusive option than conventional baseboard. Your choices are endless limited only by what your budget can afford. Seek out a qualified heating contractor to help you explore the wonderful new options that today’s heating industry has available for you.

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