If you have an older, inefficient furnace, upgrading to high efficiency heating equipment can cut your costs by more than one-third. Using a programmable thermostat adds even more savings. Your energy costs will decrease about 1% for every 1 degree you lower the thermostat.
The additional savings from installing smaller heating equipment is significant. Properly sized equipment runs more efficiently, lasting longer and requiring less maintenance. Smaller equipment requires that the home "envelope" be tight, which means adequate insulation, sealing air leaks, and having efficient windows. It is also critical to evaluate and address any leaks or defects in the duct work. The savings comes from multiple sources. For a handy reference tool, download ENERGY STAR’s guide to energy efficient heating and cooling:
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Building America house in Longmont, CO
Additionally, some efficient equipment qualifies for federal tax credits. Learn more at: (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index)
Your heating system is the engine that keeps your home comfortable. By plugging leaks in your home, your heating system will actually heat the rooms you live in by fixing the problems that allow expensive heated air from escaping to the outdoors or into wall cavities where it doesn’t get the job done. You will enjoy living in a more comfortable home that costs less to heat every month.
Individual actions at home can add up to a lot of pollution prevention. If just one in ten households bought ENERGY STAR heating and cooling products, the change would keep about 17 billion pounds of pollution out of the air.
Equipment for heating your home includes:
Natural gas furnaces.
Furnaces are rated by an Average Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). While the minimum standard is an 80% AFUE, investing a bit more in a 90%+ AFUE furnace is provides more energy savings. These high efficiency units are closed combustion, which eliminates any potential for carbon monoxide poisoning from the furnace. They also provide more comfort and variable speed units save electricity.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, researcher standing next to a solar optical furnace developed at NREL
Electric air-source heat pumps use the difference between outdoor air temperatures and indoor air temperatures to cool and heat your home. The systems use either electricity or the natural gas furnace, whichever is more efficient to heat your home depending on the outdoor winter temperature. In the summer, the heat pump works in reverse to provide central air conditioning. ENERGY STAR models are 9% more efficient than standard models.
Boilers provide heat by burning natural gas, propane or oil to heat water or steam. The heated steam circulates through radiators or similar systems rather than through ducts as heated air does. Boilers that have earned the Energy Star label AFUE ratings of 85 percent or higher..
Hot-water heating systems.
Sometimes called hydronic systems, these are more common today than steam systems. Some hot-water systems circulate water through plastic tubing in the floor, a system called radiant floor heating.
These take advantage of the relatively even temperature of the earth by running liquid through underground tubes. This is a more expensive option upfront, but geothermal systems, also called ground-source heat pumps, are up to 45 percent more efficient than conventional heating systems.
Qualified systems are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit until December 2016. Learn more at: (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index)
Leaky air ducts are a major source of heating inefficiency. A Fort Collins study of 38 new homes found that the ducts leaked, on average, 12 times more than what is considered acceptable for a good duct work system. There are some repairs you may be able to do yourself, in places where the ducts are accessible (attic, basement, crawlspace). Otherwise, you can hire a contractor that specializes in duct repair.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in Yellowstone
Making sure you have the right ventilation levels is a health and safety issue. Using mechanical ventilation allows you to control the ventilation in your home, saving money and improving indoor air quality.
Questions to ask when looking for a heating contractor
Quality heating contractors will evaluate your home with an on-site inspection. Do not accept over-the-phone estimates because there is no way for a contractor to properly size and design your new heating system without an on-site inspection.
Look for heating contractors that are certified by North American Technical Excellence (NATE). NATE is the only certification that is supported by the entire industry, and the testing process is quite rigorous. The core test covers basic math, customer relations, and fundamentals of electricity, heat transfer and comfort. The specialty tests cover system components, applied knowledge, diagnostics, troubleshooting, and service and installation topics. The certification is good for five years, and then the technician must re-certify to maintain their NATE accreditation. Learn more online, (http://www.natex.org).
For more information on boilers, visit the American Boiler Manufacturers Association online, (http://www.abma.com).
Air Duct cleaners are certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. Learn more online, (http://www.nadca.com).
References, licensing, insurance
It is always important to speak with previous customers, check with the Better Business Bureau and ask for verification of the necessary licensing and insurance requirements. Download a home improvement hiring checklist from the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro20.shtm).