Three Steps to Sustainable Home Heating

By: Bob DeAngelis

Photo credit: HeatSmart Westchester

For much of history, we have burned things to heat our homes:  wood, oil and gas.  Now we know that burning fossil fuels contributes significantly to global warming as well as creating other forms of pollution.  So what option do we have?

If I were building a new home, I would choose a passive solar design.  It leverages the heat from the sun, and is extremely well insulated.  I recommend this to anyone building a new home.  But most houses in our area already exist and were built without strong regard for energy use.  So now what?

For our existing homes, let’s start out by understanding how much heat we need and where  it goes.  We lose heat through ceilings, walls and windows (conduction).  We also lose heat due to air infiltration.  If a house were perfectly insulated and air tight, it would need almost no heat.  But we need fresh air to breathe, and existing houses are typically not very well insulated.  Therefore, there is a first step everyone should take:

STEP 1 – Get a free home energy audit and implement suggested improvements.  This will minimize the  amount of heat (and air conditioning) you need.  Please refer to our website Yorktown100.org and visit our blog page to review our latest article on home energy audits available through NYSERDA.  

Now let’s talk about the heating systems.  Most burn oil or gas, and operate with around 80-90% efficiency.  There is also a form of electric heat that operates like the coils of a toaster.  It uses electrical resistance and is typically baseboard style. It takes a lot of electricity to heat a house this way, and this type of heat has fallen out of favor due to its high operating cost.  But technology is advancing and there is a new form of heat that uses electricity more efficiently.  It  moves heat from outside to inside and is called a heat pump.  

Heat pumps are essentially air conditioners that operate in reverse (cooling outside, and heating inside). Their typical efficiency is around 300 to 400%. That’s right, they contribute more heat to the house than the energy they use (because they are moving heat, not creating it.)   Some heat pumps reject the cold to outside air (called air-source heat pumps), and some use the geothermal mass below our homes. All heat pumps also function as air conditioners. So how can we leverage this?

STEP 2 – When replacing an air conditioner or furnace, switch to a heat pump.  It will both cool and heat your home.  (Members of Yorktown100 may be able to advise you during the process or visit Sustainable Westchester’s website and select Energy Smart Homes for more information).  We also have a great video on our website currently titled “HVAC Module” which explains home heating systems and heat pumps.   Additionally, there are financial incentives in place to help you make the transition.

STEP 3 – Buy clean electricity.  As we electrify our heating systems, we must be aware of the electricity we purchase.  Not all electricity is generated from clean sources.  Please review our previous article on selecting a clean source of electricity on the Yorktown100 website on our blog page. (https://yorktown100.org/blog/f/stepping-towards-a-better-environment—converting-to-clean-elect)

With these 3 steps, you can enjoy a comfortable home, stop the vicious cycle of carbon generation, and often save money.  This is a win, win, win!

Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs.  We welcome new members!  We meet via Zoom on the 2nd Monday of each month.  Visit us at https://yorktown100.org/ to learn more about how you can make a difference.  

Our next Community Meeting will be on Monday, March 8th. Our topic will be Green Electricity.

Bob DeAngelis is a retired IBM engineering manager.  He lives in Yorktown with his wife,  and can often be seen hiking or biking.

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