Curbing Your Consumption:
Heating and Cooling Alternatives
By John Ford
Most of us have homes heated with traditional systems using oil, gas,
or in some cases electricity. An increasing number of us have air
conditioning systems running on electricity. As these systems age and
you start thinking about replacement, it's a good idea to explore, in
advance, the alternatives that could save you money in the long run as
energy costs change.
There is a heating and cooling system which has been around for
awhile, but is getting more attention: the heat pump. Most air
conditioning systems are heat pumps that move the heat from inside to
outside using an air-to-air exchanger. This transfer can be reversed
to heat your home in the winter. However, as the air temperature goes
down, they become less efficient. When pipes are used to transfer heat
to and from the ground (Earth-Energy System), the process becomes more
efficient, but at a higher installation cost. EESs can be built on a
large scale to service whole communities and pool the cost. They can
also provide domestic hot water.
The Coefficient Of Performance (COP) of an EES can range from 2.5 to
4.0. Compared of a 1000 watt baseboard heater, an EES would provide
2500 watts of heating (or more) with the same energy input. At today's
prices, that could be cheaper than natural gas.
If one of your goals is to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, then
EES may be the way to go. If Ontario's mix of generation moves away
from fossil fuels, an EES system will be GHG free. You could even buy
from a renewable supplier now to reduce your carbon footprint.
One of the fuels receiving more attention as others increase in cost
is wood. Since the CO2 created is recaptured when a tree grows, it is
also a renewable energy source.
Traditional fireplaces have an efficiency of between -10% and
10%. Many actually carry more heat up the chimney than they produce,
and the thermal radiation is blocked by the glass. Newer advanced
combustion designs (including inserts for your old fireplace) have
efficiency ratings of 50% to 70%, and use a special ceramic glass that
allows thermal radiation to heat the room. More importantly, the new
designs reduce the high emissions typical of old stoves by promoting
more thorough combustion.
Europeans have been building another type of wood heating which is
starting to catch on here, called masonry heaters. They burn at a
higher rate of combustion for a shorter time, trap the heat in a large
mass, and gradually release the heat. They are also quite attractive,
and can feature built-in seating – great for warming up after a
skate on the canal.
John Ford is a technology consultant, owner of a small energy
conservation business, and the Energy Advocate for the Green Party of