5 Ways to Heat a Home

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1. Geothermal

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Exhibit A: The raw power of nature exploding from the Earth, which could no longer contain it.

When most people hear geothermal, I suspect they think of the Earth exploding with steam and hot lava, volcanoes erupting, noxious gases combusting, and stone on the surface smoldering as it melts freshly fallen snow. It’s a Michael Bay explodaganza that some SMRT engineer has tapped and harnessed and sold to you, the homeowner to heat and cool your house.

That’s what I thought; that’s why I bought it. Unfortunately, the ground around my house doesn’t look like Exhibit A (that would be dangerous). It looks more like Exhibit B. Notice the total lack of explosions around the frolicking toddler.

 

 

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Exhibit B – Mud, a toddler and a broken fence where the trench digger passed through. No explosions.

Geothermal Pros

  • no explosions
  • very cheap fuel costs
  • combined heating/cooling
  • eco friendly

Geothermal Cons

  • Very expensive
  • higher hydro bill
  • Slow warm-up (unless you turn on the electric heating supplement, which at that point you’re just using electric heating).
  • Long-term maintenance
  • flickering lights when the system turns on
  • no explosions
  • Justifying it to every HVAC person you discuss it with

I started this post after reading about Mr. Slim on a log home forum. heating your house is one of those decisions that will be with you for a long time.  If you ever played Starcraft, CivilzationSettlers of Catan or any other of the million resource management games out there, you probably know the feeling when you’ve invested too much into a thing that may not be the best decision.

Heating your house is really about managing your resources: buying fuel at the right price at the right time. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have time. I had to put a new heating system into the house (we moved in December 2012) and I needed to update the system to get insured. Without insurance I wouldn’t get the mortgage approved. You can probably imagine the van down by the river we would have ended up in without doing something.

I had the following options: more oil, propane, wood, geo and electric/solar. Natural gas wasn’t an option as there is no service. I settled on geo: a very big fridge you can run in reverse. I can understand why reverse ground fridge is not a name commonly used for this heating method, nevertheless its what I settled on.

2. Natural Gas

I’m going to say it right here. Natural gas is still probably the best way to heat your house. 

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A gas stove and a  gas barbecue are two things I will never enjoy in my log home

Natural Gas Pros

  • cheap to install
  • cheap to maintain
  • mostly available

Natural Gas Cons

  • not all areas have service
  • extremely slim chance of explosion
  • fuel costs

On the off chance your house explodes because of natural gas, I’m sorry for your terrible misfortune, but you are extremely unlucky. Now an argument can be made that natural gas isn’t all that environmentally friendly. I disagree and if you put in a combined heat power system you can be very energy efficient.

3. Oil/Propane

Mid-post copout grouping two heating methods together I know, but bear with me.

Oil/Propane Pros

  • energy efficient (both produce a high level of heat per litre)
  • available everywhere
  • cheap to install
  • cheap to maintain

Oil/Propane Cons

  • moderately slim chance of explosions
  • moderately slim chance of a tank leak leading to an oil spill
  • tied to a smaller fuel market
  • moderate to high fuel costs
  • carbon monoxide risk
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Diesel: the hipster of gasolines

I have heard the argument made that oil trumps propane in all things except cost of fuel. Oil burns more efficiently and produces a good heat. The problem is regulations are shutting down the residential fuel oil market with requirements for newer and safer fuel tanks. Propane is filling that gap where fuel oil heating is being retired and in my case–replacing fuel oil heat–propane was a very close runner-up for me. Did you know heating oil is just diesel fuel with a color additive?

4. Electric/Solar

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My neighbour’s super cool tech shed

My neighbour went the electric/solar route. He built a shed, put some solar panels on it, some battery packs in it, and tied in a diesel generator just in case.

His house has a smaller footprint, and his yard is already a little bit of a mess. He does have some good sun exposure in the back where the shed is.

Electric/Solar Pros

  • off grid/zombie proof
  • nominal fuel bill (diesel backup generator)
  • eco friendly

Electric/Solar Cons

  • irregular consumption vs. solar collection
  • expensive
  • aesthetically unattractive
  • high maintenance
  • sun exposure required (preferably south facing)

I like solar. If I can I want to put panels on the garage (if it gets built this summer). But I don’t like it on the house. I think it makes the roof look unattractive. This is obviously a debatable opinion. When I was considering geo, solar was a very very close third option. I found this post about a log house with this kind of heating. Maybe they’ll be nice enough to comment.

5. Wood

Wood. I love wood. I love cutting wood. I love my axe. I love my chainsaw. I love my fireplace. I love my log house. It smells nice. It feels nice to touch. Wood is great.

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My beautiful wood pile. I piled it myself. Three times no less as I looked for the perfect spot

Wood Incinerator Pros

  • you can heat an olympic-size swimming pool + your house
  • semi zombie proof
  • inexpensive to install
  • inexpensive to maintain

Wood Incinerator Cons

  • incinerator needs to be fed daily
  • high fuel cost (wood is expensive)
  • requires a separate structure housing the incinerator
  • fire risk (maybe explosions?)

Now you may look at this list and think the order is nonsensical, but it isn’t. It’s the order I had my heating options in. Natural gas was my number 1 choice, but it wasn’t available so I had to go with my number 2. Wood is my least preferred method. It’s main disadvantage is the cost of fuel and the maintenance activity (feeding the fire). My dad’s HVAC guy told me a story about a builder who put in the municipal pool in New Tecumseth heating both his house and the pool using a wood incinerator. I haven’t confirmed this is correct, but I buy it.

The dream is wood heating the pool and garage while electric solar powers the geo for the house. Then all I’ll need is a room full of guns canned beans and I will totally be ready for fantasy doomsday scenarios.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “5 Ways to Heat a Home”

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  1. We installed a solar thermal heating system a few years ago (see link above) and totally loved it! It heated over 3000 sq ft as well as provided heat for our domestic water – all from the sun. Our area has over 200 days of sunshine so this works best in this area.

  2. You missed one very excellent heating method. This is passive solar and combined with other systems (or done right – by itself) it is by far the best method. See post http://www.yourecofriend.com/passive-solar-with-superior-thermal-mass

    1. Thanks Terry this is great. I am definitely going to look into passive solar more.

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