Nothing spins the meter like a heater. What is the most energy-efficient way of staying warm?
One of the oldest ways of heating the house–ye olde woodstove–is now embraced by some as an environmental option because it’s considered carbon-neutral. I have my doubts about this, but properly done, burning wood is a good way to heat the house.
Geo-thermal heat pumps are a good way to go if you have a lot of upfront money–perhaps as much as $30,000. A geo-thermal system is cheap to operate, but be prepared to hire heavy equipment to sink all those pipes into the ground. Yes, a heavy carbon footprint for installation, but geo-thermal pays for itself both financially and environmentally.
Air-to-air heat pumps are also energy-efficient. They’re not as expensive to install as the geo-thermal pumps, but still pretty expensive upfront. Our small system cost $7,000. However, it is also cheap to operate. Air-to-air heat pumps require electricity–as do geo-thermal–but delivers much more heat per dollar than regular electric heat.
What about natural gas and propane? Well, the advantage of both is that they’re direct. You’re burning something in your own home to make heat, so you can actually calculate how much carbon you’re emitting.
If you’re using utility-based electricity, it’s harder to calculate because you’d need to know what your utility company is doing to generate electricity. Very likely it’s burning something–whether natural gas or coal or bio-mass–in order to turn those turbines, and then you convert the electricity back into heat at your house, losing some efficiency in the process. The carbon emissions of electric heaters vary, according to what your utility company uses to generate power, but the price is usually pretty high.
Unfortunately, fracking the daylights out of the planet is giving natural gas a bad name. Too bad. Natural gas does have the potential to be our “bridge fuel” if there weren’t so many drawbacks. Like wells contaminated by waste water, air polluted by radon gas, methane leaks, the amount of water needed, and oh yes–earthquakes, Oklahoma! Many of these problems could be addressed if drilling companies act responsibly, or were forced to act more responsibly by tighter regulations and enforcement.
I almost forgot the very best way to heat your house. Passive solar. You can reduce your heating costs by up to 40% by taking advantage of the sun. You know, that big fiery ball of heat up in the sky.