Eco-Warmth 101: How to Achieve Sustainable Residential Heating

Heating-Appliances

Space heating is one of the most energy-consuming activities at home. It’s impossible to achieve a desirable comfort level without hurting the environment using mainstream heating appliances. 

Is there a way to enjoy warmth sustainably?

What’s Wrong With Mainstream Heating Appliances?

Relying on fossil fuels is what’s wrong with mainstream heating appliances. Furnaces and boilers are popular because they’re cheap to operate. In urban areas, natural gas is the most affordable fuel to heat space throughout the house. In rural areas with no gas supply, heating oil is the most budget-friendly option.

Natural gas and heating oil are mainly responsible for global warming. These previously dormant energy repositories emit or leak gasses — such as carbon dioxide and methane — that prevent solar radiation from escaping the planet. This phenomenon occurs naturally, but processing and burning fossil fuels worsen the greenhouse effect exponentially. The result is climate change.

Climate change affects weather patterns. Ironically, global warming has caused temperatures to drop uncharacteristically, driving up space heating needs.

This vicious cycle will only stop or slow down if you — and millions of other people — choose a more sustainable way to generate warmth at home.

What Is the Most Eco-Friendly Home Heating System?

The ideal eco-friendly home heating system:

  • Runs purely on clean energy 
  • Emits zero pollution 
  • Converts 100% of the fuel it consumes into heat 
  • Produces adequate British thermal units with less power 
  • Leaves no waste 
  • Is installable universally 
  • Lasts forever 

Such a machine doesn’t exist yet. Still, there are many excellent candidates worth considering. The most sustainable alternatives to gas- or oil-fired furnaces and boilers are pellet stoves, heat pumps, solar heating, modern wood burners and electric central heating systems.

These home heating options are imperfect. Some have technical limitations, while geography and space constraints make others infeasible in certain situations.

11 Tips for Achieving Sustainable Residential Heating

How can you heat your home more sustainably? Use these 11 tips.

1. Rethink Your Power Source

If your heating system burns natural gas, oil or propane — another non-renewable carbon dioxide-producing fuel — upgrade to a more eco-friendly unit. 

Switching to electric heating is the logical next step. Gas- and oil-fired furnaces and boilers are already electrified anyway.

Going completely electric eliminates air pollution at home, but this route isn’t necessarily green. The United States power grid is still 60% dirty, rendering electricity sustainable as a space heating fuel for net zero houses.

Biomass is an easier sell. This energy source is renewable because it generally comes from recycled wood waste. The federal government considers it the cleanest solid fuel for residential heating.

It does release carbon dioxide when burned, though. The good news is that the plants deriving it capture the same amount of greenhouse gas. Therefore, biomass is carbon-neutral.

2. Use the Most Efficient Equipment

Regarding heating efficiency, the performance of pellet stoves is promising. A unit certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 70% to 83% efficient.

Pellet stoves have low fuel waste, but how much space can they heat? Some models can generate enough heat output to make a typical house toasty.

3. Consider Air Pollution

Aside from keeping your family healthy, mitigating the effects of climate change is another reason to minimize, if not eliminate, indoor air pollutants when heating space. They indirectly contribute to global warming.

The best example is carbon monoxide. This lethal, colorless, odorless gas helps increase ozone concentrations in the atmosphere as it reacts with some chemicals.

Ozone is another greenhouse gas but environmentally gray. It stops the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation at the stratosphere, protecting life on Earth. Still, surface-level ozone is a climate change contributor — just not as big an offender as the other greenhouse gasses.

4. Contemplate Fuel Availability

Powering your home with a clean energy source means nothing when it’s unreliable. Dependability is one of the problems holding back renewables, like solar. Storage difficulty is another pressing issue.

Ensure your chosen sustainable fuel is available on tap or conveniently replenishable. Can you expect electricity around the clock from where you live? How easy is it to obtain wood pellets in your area? Ask yourself these questions to select a suitable green heating system for your situation.

5. Pay Attention to Longevity

Installing an emission-free heating system you must replace after a few years is still bad news for the environment. Tossing an old machine will congest a landfill if a recycling yard can’t give all its components new leases on life.

Fortunately, modern space heating units can last for decades, but don’t skimp on quality. Compare products from trusted vendors to ensure your equipment does exactly what it says on the tin and doesn’t quit on you ahead of its advertised service life.

6. Mull Over Waste

Unlike other fuels, wood pellets generate litter because of their packaging. If you lack ample space to house them in bulk, you’ll have to buy them in small quantities. That can translate into one plastic bag thrown out a day.

Be mindful of the impact of your purchase decisions on the environment, and be discerning with what you buy to minimize waste. Eco-warriors want biodegradable plastics, but they’re still not commercially viable. Products with recyclable packaging are the next sustainable thing.

7. Turn Your Thermostat Back

Dialing down your thermostat 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day from its typical setting can save you 10% on heating and cooling yearly.

Your unit doesn’t have to work as much when you’re asleep or not around. Make your home colder than usual using a programmable thermostat when there’s less demand. This practice will move the needle in sustainability and add more years to your heating equipment’s life.

8. Maintain Your Heating System Properly

Heating systems are subject to wear and tear. Still, you must clean your unit as often as its manufacturer recommends, identify signs of inefficiency and malfunction early, and get them fixed urgently to head off bigger headaches.

Every type of heating equipment has unique routine maintenance needs. A good rule of thumb is to schedule professional inspections once a year — sometime before the coldest months. You’re responsible for basic tasks, like cleaning the unit and changing thermostat batteries.

9. Round Out Your Home’s Thermal Enclosure

Having a sustainable heating machine makes no difference if you have a leaky house. Ensure your property has a complete thermal enclosure system to keep your heated air indoors and reduce energy waste.

A complete thermal enclosure system has three elements — air sealing, adequate insulation and high-performance windows. They work hand in hand to minimize heat loss through convection and conduction.

10. Catch More Sun

The sun’s infrared light is free heat. Letting it in will reduce your home’s heating load and your household’s carbon footprint.

Choose high-performance windows with low U-factor and high Solar Heat Gain Coefficient. Units with these qualities trap indoor warmth and allow heat gain through the glass. These details are on National Fenestration Rating Council labels.

11. Wear Cozy Clothing

Another sustainable heating solution is dressing appropriately in cold weather. Wear two layers of clothing to keep your skin dry and contain your body heat as much as possible.

The base layer must have a fabric excellent at wicking and drying and a snug fit. Its thickness can either be midweight or lightweight since you’re indoors.

In addition to material and thickness, the insulating layer must have full coverage to ensure your body’s top and bottom sides are evenly warm.

Sustainable Residential Heating Is Achievable

The perfect heating equipment hasn’t seen the light of day. But if you use these tips, you can maintain your desired comfort level at home without feeling guilty for damaging the environment.

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