Regardless of your climate or the style of your home, finding the appropriate heating and cooling system is essential. Maintaining a comfortable indoor climate makes life more comfortable, but it is also important for your family’s general health. There are a number of systems to consider based on your budget, the type of heat source, and size and location of your home. If the task seems overwhelming, it is best to consult a professional; a specialist will examine your home, recommend the best options, and provide the best advice for cutting the cost of your utility bill.
Approximately half of the energy use in the average Pennsylvania home goes toward heating costs, 9% more than the national average. Delaware has notoriously high electricity rates, putting it in the top ten nationally for average utility costs despite relatively low consumption rates. Among all the available fuel options, nearly 50 percent of homes today use natural gas, followed by the 34 percent of household heating system sources that rely on electricity. Rounding out the remaining are propane/LPG, oil, and wood.
Let’s first look at the latest trend in residential heating systems: the heat pump. What exactly is a heat pump? Heat pumps have been around for many years and are available in three main types: air-to-air, water source, and geothermal. As a home heating and cooling system, air-to-air are the most widely used, but heat pumps which draw water from the ground are increasing in popularity.
A heat pump is essentially a device which transfers heat from one place to another. Refrigerators and air conditioners are prime examples of the concept. A refrigerator works when the system moves heat to the outside from an evaporator coil normally found in the freezer. In the same way, an air conditioner takes heat from the indoors to the outdoors.
A heat pump is ideal for homes without natural gas. They use electricity to provide an energy-efficient means of maintaining temperatures throughout the year and in all climates. The air-to-air variety works through a reversible cycle, circulating air between the home and outside. In essence, they make warm rooms warmer and cool rooms cooler. By moving heat from a cooler area of the home to a warmer area, homeowners notice the difference not only on the comfort scale, but in their energy bills. Current heat pumps have the ability to save about 50 percent of electrical use compared to similarly run furnaces and baseboard heaters.
Mini-Split Heat Pump
What if your home does not have ducts? Ductless mini-split heating systems are available as an air-source mini-split heat pump. They work well in small spaces that require a heating and cooling system. And apart from their size, they are similar to their standard-size counterpart, in that they both distribute air between the outdoors and indoors.
Reverse Cycle Chiller
In homes with radiant floor heating systems, which directs infrared heat from the floor or walls, a specific type of air-source heat pump is the best option. This “reverse cycle chiller” uses hot and cold water to generate warm and cool temperatures.
Geothermal Heat Pump
Ground-based or water-sourced geothermal heating systems are another option for those wanting to benefit from even greater energy efficiency. They work by taking advantage of nearby land or water and draw heat into the home. Although the initial cost of installing the pump itself is greater than that of air-source heat pumps, the long-term savings come from sources, the ground and water, that typically do not experience drastic variations in temperature. Geothermal heat pumps should be customized for each home based on its lot size and access to ideal ground and water sources.
Absorption Heat Pump
Relatively new on the market is the absorption heat pump, or gas-fired heat pump. They have one role: to either heat or cool a home. Rather than using electricity like other air-source heat pumps, the absorption heat pump requires an alternative source of heat, including natural gas, propane, solar-heated water, or water heated through geothermal means. A separate unit can be purchased as a cooler and works in a similar manner. Absorption heat pumps originated for use in commercial or industrial buildings, but lately have been installed in homes. Their large size requires a minimum residential square footage of 4,000.
Furnaces and Boilers
Furnaces and boiler systems are common among the majority of homes in the United States. Furnaces use ducts to transport heat throughout the house, whereas boilers use hot water to warm the air. Furnaces have a lifespan of 15 to 30 years and can be used with natural gas, propane, heating oil, and electricity. They are relatively inexpensive to run, but the fans are generally loud when they kick in.
Boiler heating systems depend on devices such as radiators to distribute heat to each room in a house. As opposed to furnaces using air as a means of heat transfer, boilers use hot water. The system is cyclical, so when the warm water loses heat, the cooler water returns to the starting point where it is reheated in the boiler. They are ideal for targeting only the rooms in use, but are harder on the pocketbook when it comes to the cost of installation. Similar to furnaces, they can run on natural gas, propane, heating oil, biodiesel blends, and electricity.
Homes without fans or duct systems can use boilers to pump and circulate water to the radiators and other similar devices.
Boiler heating systems can be more expensive than furnaces because of the necessary thermostats, aquastats, and controls that regulate temperature and flow. Additional add-ons to the standard boiler can add efficiency. Some to consider are timers, a tankless coil water heater to use as a stand-alone in warmer weather when the heat system is off, programmable thermostats, adjustable radiator vents and valves which will eliminate much of the heat going to unoccupied rooms, an automatic vent damper to shut off the flue as soon as the burner turns off, or a time delay relay so water is heated when needed.
Consider the Future
If you are thinking of upgrading your heating system, look first at improving the efficiency of your house. More people are looking at alternative, experimental means of heating including solar, which is reliant on the sun, and electric resistance heating. Still not sure which option is the best for your home? Give R Brooks HVAC a call to hear an HVAC expert’s opinion with a 100% no-obligation consultation.