The change of season provides a good opportunity to think about how you heat your home. About half of the homes in Massachusetts use natural gas heat. This is part of a 50-year trend away from using heating oil as a primary fuel source. If you’re thinking about replacing your current heating system, there are a few things to consider.
Your overall heating and cooling objectives.
Do you simply want to update your existing heating and cooling system? Are you trying to reduce your energy consumption? Change your carbon footprint? Switch from one fuel type to another? Add air conditioning? These questions help determine which options best suit your home.
Efficiency.If you have a furnace or boiler that’s more than 30 years old, you’re probably wasting money on heating in the winter. Although some heating systems can last forever, that’s not necessarily a good thing – especially if your die-hard isn’t efficient. Replacing an old system with one that’s more efficient can reduce your carbon output and save money on operating costs, regardless of your fuel type.
Environment. The environment is a consideration for many people. Burning fossil fuels of any kind releases carbon into the atmosphere. Electricity is “clean” from the user’s perspective, but if it comes from a power plant that burns coal, that’s not a big win. Switching from fuel oil to natural gas can reduce (but not eliminate) your home’s carbon footprint. It can also eliminate the possibility of fuel oil spills in and around your home.
Very few homes in Massachusetts rely on wood for primary heat, but wood is carbon-neutral. Burning wood releases the same amount of carbon that the tree would release if it were rotting instead. Further, trees – which sequester carbon -are renewable resources. If you cut down a tree, but replace it with another tree, you’ve (at least in theory) provided a new carbon trap.
While wood is carbon-neutral, it’s not particulate-neutral. Burning wood releases waste particles (smoke, ash, creosote, etc.) into your chimney and into the air. Some communities are trying to limit the use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to improve air quality. Wood burning also increases the risk of an accidental fire.
Other “clean” energy resources include solar and wind power, but most homes have limits to how much power they can produce independently.
More than any other factor, your choice of fuel will determine your lifetime operating costs. The price of natural gas has been relatively stable, so homeowners who heat with gas have enjoyed significant cost savings. Some homeowners are giving electric heat a second look, thanks to massive improvements in efficiency. If your concept of electric heat involves baseboard or space heaters, you haven’t been keeping up with the times! Mini-split ductless systems have become highly efficient and can produce enough heat to keep your home comfortable in winter. In addition, these systems can provide cooling during the summer months. They’re ideal as a primary or supplementary system in homes that don’t have ductwork, and they make zone heating easy. In other words, a ductless mini-split could make a nice case for itself among homeowners wondering what to do about their old boilers. The good thing about mini-splits is that they don’t have to replace your existing heating equipment. You could use a mini-split as a primary heat system but leave the boiler in place as a backup.
Regardless of your current heating and cooling plan, there are a number of energy-efficient options available to you. If you’re interested in learning more about the heating and cooling options available for your home, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation. We can show you how you can meet your heating and cooling objectives.
Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab, via Flickr