Alternative Ways To Heat Your Home

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With the price of heating a home increasing sharply each year, and concern about the effect of home heating on your carbon footprint, exploring alternative heating methods becomes increasingly practical.

Heating Your Home with Stoves

People have been using stoves to heat their homes for centuries. This traditional heating method has had a recent increase in popularity as homeowners look for ways to reduce their monthly heating bills. When deciding if a stove is right for you, bear in mind that many insurers consider stoves a potential fire risk. You may have to have your stove inspected for safety by your insurer and your rates may increase.

Wood stoves are trusted workhorses that have stood the test of time. Advantages include:

  • Savings: Generally less expensive than conventional heating methods.
  • Installation: Easier to install than a regular furnace or a fireplace.
  • Appearance: Wood stoves add an attractive, rustic charm to a room and don't have to be hidden away like ugly, traditional furnaces.
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Wood Stove

If you're thinking about a wood stove, you may also want to consider these potential drawbacks:

  • Physical Labor: You'll have to invest time and energy to keep your wood burning stove burning. Remember you'll have to carry in all that wood and load it into the stove.
  • Clean up: Wood stoves tend to be messy. You'll have to sweep up soot, dust and bark frequently.
  • Smoke: Smoky air may irritate your lungs or eyes, and can contain harmful emissions.

Corn and wood pellet stoves are a newer development, using small corn, sawdust or other wood waste pellets rather than logs. They offer significant savings over conventional heating methods as well as these specific advantages:

  • Push button starting
  • Cleaner burning with less ash and Co2 emissions than traditional wood stoves produce.
  • Easy temperature adjustment using a thermostat.
  • Convenient pellets that are easier to store and handle than large pieces of wood.

If you're considering a pellet stove, you should also be aware of these potential disadvantages:

  • Pellet stoves need electricity to run, which adds to your total monthly expense.
  • These stoves are noisy, producing a constant rumbling sound.
  • Since they are mechanical, they're vulnerable to breakdowns and need to be regularly maintained to keep them running well.
  • Pellets are more expensive than wood.

Radiant Heat

Another alternative approach to home heating is radiant heat, which works by heating an object, usually the floor, instead of heating the air. Energy efficient boilers heat water that is pumped through plastic tubing beneath the floor.

Warming a room with radiant heat takes longer than with conventional methods, however, the heat created is long lasting and you won't experience any cold spots in the room. Additionally, this heating method produces less dust and allergens than other methods, making it a good choice for allergy sufferers.

Solar Heat

The sun is constantly producing massive amounts of energy, and solar heating systems heating tap some of energy to keep our homes warm. Renewable solar heating can provide as much as 40 to 80 percent of your home's heat. This energy can be collected actively or passively, using a liquid or air method.

  • Passive systems: The existing building design is used to collect energy.
  • Active systems: Collectors, pumps, tanks and exchangers are used to trap and manage the sun's rays.
  • Liquid: This system heats a liquid in a hydronic collector, and works in homes that have boilers or radiant heating systems.
  • Air based: This method heats air, and is works in homes that have forced hot air heating systems.

Cold Wind to Produce Warm Heat

With wind energy, you can use the power of the cold wind to generate heat for your home. Turbines spin in the wind like the pinwheels kids play with. The rotor of the turbine is connected to a generator that produces wild three-phase alternating current. This AC current is then converted to direct current (DC), which is either stored in a battery bank or routed through an inverter to be modified into the proper AC current for home use. Wind systems are either:

  • Grid tied systems: Power goes directly to your home's main circuit panel when it is windy outside. On windless days, you'll get electric power from your regular carrier.
  • Battery systems: Power is sent directly to a battery bank for current and future use, opening up the possibility of living "off the grid."
  • Hybrid systems: A grid-tied system with a battery backup to provide energy for windless days.

Geothermal Heating

No matter how cold it gets outside, the temperature deep under the ground remains constant, usually between 45 and 75 degrees, depending on where you live. Geothermal heating takes advantage of this by bringing the ground's natural warmth into your home, rather than using the frigid outside air as a heating base.

A liquid mixture of water and anti-freeze fills large coils buried underground. The liquid, which is naturally warmed to the temperature of the surrounding earth, is then run though your home. Heat is extracted from the water with a compressor to raise the temperature in your home according to your thermostat.

Tips to Save on Home Heating

No matter which method you use for home heating, you can save money by:

  • Installing weather stripping, insulation and a programmable thermostat
  • Choosing a high efficiency boiler
  • Taking advantage of portable electric heaters
  • Dialing down the thermostat a few degrees and wearing a sweater.

No matter what your budget, a little research and creativity will help you control the cost of heating your home.

Last Updated: October 7, 2011
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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