Heating your home is always an important consideration during the frigid winters of central Ohio. We’ve seen some instances of heating expenses consuming almost half of a household’s annual energy budget, putting energy efficiency at the top of the list to achieve savings. If your home will need a new heating system, you have several options to install a highly-efficient, low-cost operating system that will allow your family the greatest comfort for the best price.
Why is Energy Efficiency Important?
Of course, the most basic reason to select a high-efficiency heating system is cost. Because of frequent efficiency improvements to heating and air conditioning equipment, older equipment can become less efficient and cost more fairly quickly. Even a system that’s only about ten years old is literally light years lower in efficiency than a new system. A new system can often slash energy expenses by 50% or more, even when you factor in the slightly higher cost of a new energy-efficient system.
No matter what type of heating system you purchase, it’s absolutely imperative that it’s properly sized and correctly installed for the highest efficiency available. If you’re shopping for a system, have your HVAC contractor conduct a heating load calculation to accurately determine how much heating your home needs. Using this information, we can determine the ideal system for your home.
Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE)
When selecting your heating system, check the system’s AFUE rating. It’s a standard measure of furnace efficiency. The rating indicates how much of the energy in the fuel is converted to usable heat, and how much will probably get wasted.
For example, a “standard” gas furnace with an 80 percent AFUE rating will convert only 80 percent of the energy in the gas to energy, while the remaining 20 percent is lost through exhaust. Higher AFUE ratings translate to higher furnace efficiency, with 90 percent AFUE and higher considered a “high-efficiency” system.
The Most Efficient Heating System: Heat Pumps?
From a technical perspective, heat pumps are the most efficient heating system available. These devices capture heat and move it from place to place: in the summer, they move heat from indoors to outside; in the winter, from the outside to inside. Studies have shown heat pumps to be amazingly efficient, producing as much as 4x the energy used to power them. Even though they are very efficient, they are often not the best choice for the colder winters we typically endure in central Ohio. Read more about heat pumps vs. furnaces here.
We’ve also seen that heat pumps, because they use less energy, are easier on the environment. Since they don’t burn fossil fuels to generate heat, they generate zero exhaust emissions from your home, making them a slightly better choice for the environment. Just remember, though, that if you live in Ohio, chances are your electricity is being generated with fossil fuels, so it’s probably a zero-sum game, with power plants emitting their share of emissions.
Air-source heat pumps capture heat from the surrounding air and move it inside during the winter months. Heat pumps can extract heat from cooler outdoor air, but their efficiency is reduced quite a bit when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next Most Efficient Heating System: Furnaces
Next in line in terms of efficiency are residential furnaces. Industry estimates are that about 60 percent of homes in America have a gas fired furnace installed. As they age, furnaces lose efficiency, but as we mentioned earlier, newer models contain updated technology and features than can improve efficiency to very high levels.
Let’s review three of the most common types of residential furnaces.
- Electric This type of furnace uses heating coils powered by electricity to generate heat. Since they don’t burn fossil fuels, there are no exhaust gases produced and no chance of generating carbon monoxide to endanger your family. They are not a common choice in the central Ohio area, since apples to apples comparison of gas vs. electric shows that electricity costs more. These are usually installed in areas that don’t have easy access to natural gas lines, such as in the country.
- Oil Fuel oil is another fairly common fuel used in furnaces in our area, especially in outlying areas, and most often in manufactured homes or mobile homes. You must monitor the oil level to ensure you don’t run out when you need it the most. The fuel is typically stored in a large external tank near the home, and must be delivered in bulk, so you typically must have cash on hand to pay for a large purchase when it’s delivered. Fuel oil is relatively expensive.
- Natural Gas Natural gas is plentiful and fairly clean-burning compared to fuel oil. In our market area, natural gas heating is usually cheaper to operate than even a heat pump. Thanks to hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. ‘fracking’) in our area, the price of natural gas has plummeted. While fracking is done primarily to extract oil from shale to produce gasoline, a great deal of natural gas is also extracted from the same process. And newer technology has made natural gas furnaces more efficient than ever.
What About Residential Boilers?
While there are residential boiler systems available to install in homes as a heat source, they are fairly rare. Typically reserved for large installations like schools or hospitals, they can actually provide a decent option for efficient home heating. A boiler produces hot water that gets circulated through pipes and radiators throughout the home.
Boilers are also rated by AFUE, and have high-efficiency units of 90 percent and higher. Condensing boilers can provide efficiency ratings up to 95 percent. Unfortunately, most HVAC contractors don’t have a qualified service technician to work on these systems. The only practical time to install boiler heat in a home is during construction, so that rules it out for most homeowners.
Additional Efficiency Upgrades
While it’s certainly possible to achieve a high degree of energy efficiency by installing a high-efficiency heating system, you can also reduce your energy bills with these quick tips.
- Ductwork Leaks in your home’s ductwork can allow substantial amounts of heat, equaling more money spent. Be sure to seal all your ducts tightly with metal-backed tape. You can also insulate them to prevent additional heat loss.
- Airtight Home Inspect your home for any holes, cracks, gaps or other openings where warm air can escape or where cold air can get in. Think about areas around windows or doors, or where wiring or pipes enter the home through the walls. Use caulking or expanding foam to seal openings to make them completely air tight.
- Controls System controls, like programmable thermostats and smart thermostats, can give you incredible options for controlling the heating system’s operation. With a programmable thermostat, you can create a schedule to reduce heat when your home isn’t occupied, and increase the temperature before people return home. A smart thermostat actually uses artificial intelligence to learn your family’s habits and preferences and anticipates when you will need heating. Many newer smart thermostats also include Wi-Fi connections, allowing you to control heat remotely with a smart phone app. An added bonus is they can call the “mothership” and let your HVAC professional know when something is wrong in the system, or when maintenance is needed.
All these features contribute to saving you additional energy dollars beyond running your HVAC system.
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Our estimator will measure your home and perform an assessment, then recommend the size and type of furnace you should install, and available furnace options for your home. He’ll also review any available rebates or special promotions to save you more.
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*Please note: neither the Centers for Disease Control(CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), nor the manufacturer of our UV-C Devices have officially announced whether UV-C kills the current strain of Corona Virus (COVID-19). We urge you to err on the side of caution until we have a definitive answer, and take other measures to prevent the acquisition or spread of this virus.