Many Americans now share an increasing level of concern with the state of the environment. It’s part of what’s driven the installation of more than 3 million solar panel systems across the nation.
While managing electricity costs and the associated environmental impact of electricity production is a good start, it’s not the only household system with environmental impacts.
Many heating systems in the US rely on directly burning fossil fuel products like natural gas, heating oil, and propane. If you’re looking for more ways to protect the environment, keep reading for some tips on choosing the right eco-friendly heater for your home.
Eco-Friendly Heater Types
There are several options when it comes to picking an eco-friendly or at least eco-friendlier heating system. Let’s look at the main options first before digging into the tips.
Heat pumps are a system that has enjoyed a lot of positive press over the years. A heat pump is a system that basically pulls in warmth or coolness from the surrounding environment. There are two main heat systems: ground and air.
With a ground system, you essentially sink pipes into the ground below the frost line and fill them with an antifreeze liquid mixture. The temperature below ground is fairly stable.
When it’s cold outside, the antifreeze mixture can pick up heat from the ground. The heat pump then condenses the heat and pushes it into your home. During warm weather, the heat pump uses the antifreeze mixture to bleed heat from your home into the ground and soak up the cooler temperatures.
Air systems do essentially the same thing but use the outside air rather than the ground.
A masonry heater has some superficial resemblance to a brick fireplace, but they operate in different ways. A masonry heater has a firebox where you can burn wood, but there is a complex series of channels or chambers made out of heat-absorbing masonry built around that firebox.
The goal is that you’ll make a fire that burns very hot and fast. The gases from that fire will then move through the channels or chambers. The heat-absorbing masonry will soak up the heat from those gases before letting them escape through the chimney.
Then, the fire goes out. The masonry then radiates heat into your home for anywhere from several hours to a day or more.
Pellet heating is a bit of a variation on the traditional wood burners. Wood burner stoves are simply that, stoves that burn wood and vent the waste gases into the air. These traditional wood stoves aren’t that eco-friendly.
With pellet heating, you use densely compressed wood pellets that burn very hot. These systems typically burn off a lot of the non-eco-friendly gases and particulates that traditional wood stoves simply vent into the air.
Active Solar Heating
When it comes to a heating system, active solar heating is one of the most eco-friendly options. A collector on your roof absorbs solar radiation. A pump moves liquid through the collector to absorb heat. At that point, system designs vary.
Some systems use a liquid storage system that stores the heated liquid at temperature. When needed, the liquid passes through a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger can then direct the warmed air into the house.
Some liquid systems use a radiant heating method where the warmed liquid passes through piping underneath the floor.
In air systems, the liquid from the solar collector goes directly to the heat exchanger and then passes into the house.
Yes, natural gas systems do use fossil fuels. That doesn’t make them entirely non-eco-friendly. Compared with a traditional wood stove, for example, natural gas systems are comparatively clean burning.
It’s also important to note that you can find high-efficiency gas fireplaces and furnaces that also boost their eco-friendliness. That being said, you’ll want to focus your attention on the best gas fireplace manufacturers when exploring this option.
While you want to steer clear of traditional wood-burning fireplaces if you’re looking for ways to be eco-friendly, that doesn’t exclude wood fireplaces entirely. Much like natural gas fireplaces and furnaces, you can also find high-efficiency wood-burning stoves for your home.
With the basic systems covered, let’s look at how to pick one.
One of the biggest misconceptions about eco-friendly heating is that every system works equally well in every location. That’s just not the case. Different systems operate with different efficiencies based on location.
For example, systems like heat pumps and solar heating typically work best in the moderate southeast or southwest climates where below-freezing temperatures are rare. Once temperatures drop below freezing, these systems often struggle to keep pace.
Beyond that, solar heating systems become increasingly inefficient the farther north you go. The available sunlight that the system needs to work in the winter shrinks as you move north.
Masonry heaters can work in any location, although they might prove a bit of overkill in warming climes.
Systems like wood burners, pellet stoves, and natural gas systems work in all locations because they can keep providing heat or add more heat as necessary. Their fuel source is, all things being equal, readily available at need.
Ease of Installation
Your next main concern is the ease of installation. The difficulty of installation ranges from pretty easy to difficult.
As a general rule, systems like wood burners, gas stoves, and pellet stoves will offer the easiest installation options.
Many homes already come with a chimney or exhaust system for these kinds of heaters. Plus, these are systems that technicians already know how to install. That makes the process relatively painless for most homeowners.
In-ground heat pump systems are not always easy to install. They typically require fairly extensive vertical or horizonal excavation to install the piping.
Because they require that excavation, you may struggle to get permits for the system in urban areas where underground systems are common. You must also find a company that knows how to install the systems. These companies are much less common than more traditional HVAC installers.
Air-based heat pump systems are much easier to install and shouldn’t create permitting problems. Most HVAC installers will understand how to install them.
Solar heating installation is another option with a higher-than-average difficulty. Again, you must find a company that knows how to install the system.
You may also face a lot of installation woes inside your home, since liquid-based systems may need tanks. Tying into existing systems or installing radiant heating can also prove disruptive.
Masonry heaters provide a lot of logistical challenges. A company needs specialized knowledge to assemble or install a masonry heater, which is relatively rare.
Beyond that, masonry heaters are extremely heavy. Most home construction techniques cannot support the weight of a masonry heater without substantial reinforcement.
In most cases, masonry heater installation works best when it’s part of the original design.
With installation out of the way, let’s look at the last and, for many, most important consideration.
Those with an interest in eco-friendly systems are not necessarily averse to paying extra, but they may well balk at the upfront costs for some heating systems.
Lower Cost Options
If you want to balance your environmental concerns with a bit of frugality, you’ll want one of the lower cost options. As a general rule, you’ll pay the least for pellet stoves, gas stoves, and wood burner stoves. However, many locations have strict rules about whether and what kind of wood-burning stoves you can use in that location.
For the mid-range of price points, you have a few options. Gas furnaces, air-to-air heat pumps, and solar heating systems all fall into a general range of around $4000 to $7000. Operating costs vary, but you must balance that against overall efficiency.
The priciest option on the list is an in-ground or geothermal heat pump system. These systems can cost you tens of thousands of dollars to install.
In other words, this is a system you pick when you know that you won’t sell the house for a long time. Otherwise, you likely will never recoup the money you sink into your heating system.
The second most expensive option on the list is a masonry heater. Delivery and installation can run you as much as $10,000 and that’s without even considering the reinforcement work that most homes need.
Find Your Eco-Friendly Heater
Picking your eco-friendly heater isn’t a complicated matter.
You must consider your location. While solar or air-to-air heat pumps might work great in the south, they’re not great in the north.
You must consider ease of installation. While most companies can install gas, pellet, or wood-burning stoves, companies that specialize in geothermal, solar, or masonry heaters are rarer.
You must also consider the installation costs. The most eco-friendly options are often the most expensive.
Looking for more home improvement tips? Check out the posts in our Articles section.