Barron Heating AC Electrical & Plumbing Blog: Archive for the ‘Fuel Costs’ Category

How important is a “Home Energy Checkup”?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Only if you believe that a “leaky home” can waste money

And you should! Whether you are heating or cooling your home, leaky homes can waste your hard-earned dollars!

The best way to evaluate your home is to have it professionally tested. Home energy assessments, home energy audits and home energy check-ups are all pretty much the same thing. The important element is to choose the right type of professional contractor to perform any one of these evaluations of your home.

As explained in this video from the U.S. Department of Energy, a home energy checkup is a series of tests and inspections to help determine how your home can be more efficient. Finding the source of inefficiencies in the home will help you understand how you could be wasting money. It is common to find problems in most homes like:

  1. insulation
  2. trap doors/access doors to attics
  3. lighting
  4. appliances
  5. dirty filters
  6. leaky duct work
  7. airflow and sources of air leakage in the home

The good news is that all of these problems areas can be fixed! Many times, homeowners are tricked into purchasing new heating or cooling systems that can cost thousands of dollars. But it is quite common that a new system is not what the homeowner needs. What’s worse is that the new system will not operate as efficiently as expected because the true source of inefficiencies in the home have not been addressed. It is common that homeowners can save more money in the long run by doing a little bit of investigative work on the front end.

So why wait until those energy bills start adding up?

You may also be interested in:
Solving Drafts (and Other Common Problems) with Duct Repairs
The Importance of Sealing Attic Penetrations 

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Selecting Heating Fuel and System Types

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Selecting the fuel and heating system best suited for your needs depends on the following factors:

  • The cost and availability of the fuel or energy source
  • The type of appliance used to convert that fuel to heat and how the heat is distributed in your house
  • The cost to purchase, install, and maintain the heating appliance
  • The heating appliance’s and heat delivery system’s efficiency
  • The environmental impacts associated with the heating fuel.

Fuel Costs

One somewhat simple way to evaluate heating options is to compare the cost of the fuel. To do that, you have to know the energy content of the fuel and the efficiency by which it is converted to useful heat.

Fuels are measured in physical units, such as gallons of oil or propane, cubic feet of natural gas, or kilowatt hours of electricity (kWh). They are also measured by heat content. In the United States, the most commonly used value for expressing the energy value or heat content of a fuel is the British thermal unit (Btu). One Btu is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water 1°F, when water is at about 39°F. One “therm” is 100,000 Btu.

The chart below provides a list of typical heating fuels and the Btu content in the units that they are typically sold in the United States.

Fuel Type                 No. of Btu/Unit

Fuel Oil (No. 2)        140,000/gallon

Electricity                  3,412/kWh

Natural Gas               1,025,000/thousand cubic feet

Propane                      91,330/gallon

Wood (air dried)*      20,000,000/cord or 8,000/pound

Pellets                        16,500,000/ton

Kerosene                    135,000/gallon

Coal                           28,000,000/ton

The efficiency of the heating appliance is an important factor when determining the cost of a given amount of heat. In general, the efficiency is determined by measuring how well an appliance turns fuel into useful heat. (The condition of the heat distribution or delivery system also affects the overall system efficiency.) Many types of space heating appliances must meet minimum standards for efficiency developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. This next chart provides average efficiencies for common heating appliances.

Environmental and Efficiency Considerations

In addition to cost, you might consider the environmental impact of your heating fuel. You probably generate more greenhouse gases by heating and cooling your home than by any other activity, including driving.
Burning natural gas, oil, propane, wood, or pellets in your home with a high-efficiency furnace or boiler can be a very efficient way to deliver heat to your home. Of all these choices, natural gas burns cleanest.
In the NW, due to hydro power, using a heat pump is one of the most cost effective and clean ways to heat your home.

Of course, the cleanest fuel for heating your home is solar energy, which produces no pollution at all. In most homes, solar energy will merely supplement the main heating and cooling source, although many are building homes that aim to consume net zero energy over the course of a year.

Choosing a Heating and Cooling System

When choosing a heating and cooling system, there is no one answer; it’s largely a personal choice. For existing systems, your choices are pretty much set by the limitations of replacing the system with something significantly different. But for a new home, if your building contractor doesn’t impose limitations, the choices are wide open.

Choosing between systems depends in part on your fuel options, but also on your preferences. Here are some questions you might consider:

  • Do you want a central air conditioning system? If so, are any heat pump options—particularly geothermal heat pumps—practical for your home?
  • If you don’t want central air conditioning, could a baseboard hot water system or a radiant heating system meet your needs?
  • If you need to cool your home but don’t want a central air conditioning system, could a room air conditioner, or a ductless mini-split system meet your needs?

Answering these questions, and exploring the information in the heating, cooling, and heat pump sections of this Web site, should lead you to an answer

Posted by Wes Diskin

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