Eco-Friendly and Efficient Home Heating Alternatives

Eco-Friendly and Efficient Home Heating Alternatives

With home heating bills representing a sizeable share of the average household’s winter budget, more and more people are turning to alternative methods of heating their homes. When you consider that most of us utilize less than 40% of our living space on a regular basis, providing supplemental heat to the rooms used the most can potentially reduce heating bills by 20-40%. This is known as zone heating – providing the heat you need, when and where you need it.

The first supplemental heat source that often comes to mind is the traditional wood-burning fireplace. Although both aesthetically pleasing and a source of comfort on a cold winter night, traditional fireplaces are neither efficient nor environmentally sound. Much of the heat produced by the fire literally goes up in smoke – and out the chimney. And while wood fireplace logs technically are a source of renewable energy, new trees take years, if not decades, to grow.

Smoke created from burning wood is also toxic to the environment, both indoors and out. Because it contains a wide range of gases and chemicals – including carbon monoxide – wood smoke can cause or worsen serious health problems. Those with heart or respiratory problems, as well as children and pregnant women, are advised to avoid it. Outdoor wood smoke contributes to environmental concerns, as well, such as smog and acid rain.

As a result, many people are turning to healthier and more environmentally-friendly methods of zone heating. Let’s explore a few options:

Fireplace Inserts

Do you have an existing fireplace that’s seldom used or wastes more heat than it actually provides?  Installing a fireplace insert may be the best way to convert this structure into a supplemental heat source.

Fireplace inserts are efficient, clean-burning units that are easy to install into your existing fireplace.

Like traditional fireplaces, most inserts will not heat an entire home, but will provide heat for the room containing the fireplace.

Numerous types of inserts are available. Some of the most environmentally-friendly options include bio fuel, electric and pellet stove inserts. For those without an existing fireplace, these alternative heat sources are available as free-standing units as well.

By installing an insert, you’ll save money even if you never light a fire. By sealing off the fireplace at the damper area, you’ll keep the warm air in the house and the cold air outside where it belongs!

Bio-fuel fireplaces

Fireplaces using bio fuel or bio ethanol as their fuel source are some of the greenest options on the market today. Bio fuel is a clean-burning, sustainable fuel produced by fermenting the sugars in agricultural crops. The resulting product, a denatured alcohol called ethanol, is an ideal supplemental heating source. Since the fireplaces require no venting, chimney or flue, the heat produced goes directly into the room. The fire produced can provide enough energy to heat up to 375 square feet of living space, depending on the size of the fireplace.

Bio fuel creates real flames when lit, but unlike wood, burns smokeless and odorless. There’s also no messy cleanup of soot or ashes. The only byproducts produced are a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide –about the same amount as that exhaled by humans – making it non-hazardous to the environment.

Bio fuel fireplaces are easy to install and require no gas lines or electrical connection. Fuel is typically sold by the liter, and the cost is comparable to that of wood or pre-treated wood logs. A liter of bio fuel can burn up to 5 hours.

Electric Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces – and the log sets that come with them – have come a long way. The logs, embers and flames of today’s electric fireplaces provide much more realism than those associated with the tacky electric fireplaces of the 1970s. The units are generally less expensive to purchase and cost less to operate than other supplemental heating sources.  They are easy to install, hassle-free, and require no chimney or special venting. And they can be placed anywhere in a room as long as they are within reach of a standard electrical outlet.

Electric fireplaces use less energy and produce no harmful emissions or greenhouse gases, leaving a smaller carbon footprint than their gas or wood-burning counterparts. And since they produce no emissions, they do not affect the air quality of a room – a significant health benefit especially for those suffering from respiratory issues. Some electric fireplace manufacturers even offer air purification systems as part of the package, helping to create an even safer and healthier indoor living environment.

Fireplaces are available with programmable thermostats, allowing total control of the fireplace’s heat level. They can be used with the heating element turned on or off, so their beauty can be enjoyed throughout the year. The US Department of Energy recommends that all heaters – electric or otherwise – have a thermostat and control system, as they can help you save as much as 10% on your yearly heating bill.

Newer electric fireplaces use LED technology to create realistic flame effects. The life span of an LED bulb is over 75,000 hours, compared to the 2,000 hour life span of a regular incandescent light bulb. Furthermore, the LED bulbs draw slightly more than 11 watts of power, compared to incandescent bulbs, which require 120 watts – another savings for you.

Pellet Stoves

Pellet stoves burn compact “pellets” typically made from recycled biomass wastes, such as sawdust, corn or wood shavings, that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. This material is compressed to form 1-inch pellets, which are higher in density than wood. The compression squeezes the moisture out of the pellets, dropping their moisture content to less than 8%. As a result, the pellets burn cleaner and more efficiently than wood, with less smoke and ash, and produce far less creosote. Pellets are typically sold in 40 pound bags. One ton of pellets, or 50 bags, is roughly equivalent to about 1-1/2 cords of wood.

These sophisticated appliances have an internal hopper for storing pellets which, depending on the size of the stove, will hold between 25 to 130 pounds of pellets. Pellets are automatically fed from the hopper into the stove’s burn chamber throughout the day, where the stove produces, through combustion, a small but very hot fire in the center of the unit. The stove’s internal fan helps circulate the warm air around the room.

Pellet stoves can be installed just about anywhere in your home, as long as they are close to an electrical outlet to run the automated features of the stove. Most don’t require the same type of a chimney as a conventional wood stove or fireplace; only a small hole is required to ventilate the stove to the outdoors. Heat is not radiated to the outside of the stove, thanks to the stove’s durable, air-tight construction, so the outer surfaces don’t get nearly as hot as the surfaces of other heating devices.

As emissions from pellets are virtually nonexistent, pellet stoves are an ideal choice for people with respiratory issues. And since pellet burning is not regulated by the EPA, it’s often not restricted in areas of the country where burning solid wood may be restricted.

Choosing the Right Option for You and Your Home

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding upon the best supplemental heating option for your home. For starters, where in your home will the fireplace be located?  The answer is obvious if you’re looking to purchase a fireplace insert, as it will fit into the opening of your existing fireplace. But for free-standing units, determining the fireplace’s location will also help you determine what size is appropriate and where it will be most beneficial as a heat source.

The cost and availability of fuel sources in your area is another consideration. For example, if you’re considering a pellet stove, research the availability of pellets in your area. Finding a local pellet source can result in significant savings, as freight can be a big part of the cost of pellets. Be sure to ask your pellet store dealer about sources and prices.

Most fireplace and stove products are assigned an efficiency-rating score between 0 and 100. You’ll want to choose a product with a higher efficiency score, which means the product will heat effectively and efficiently while burning less fuel.

If you’re one of the many people who have already made the switch to more efficient zone heating – let us know what you’re using and how well it’s working!

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EcoVision Sustainable Learning Center seeks to develop and promote scalable solutions for renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building and sustainable living where economic growth goes hand in hand with respect for the ecology.

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