Even if you owned a million dollar townhouse in Boston’s Back Bay, there just isn’t enough room on a 25′ x 100′ lot for a townhouse, small deck, a couple of parking spaces AND a closed loop geothermal heating system.
However, a roof top solar system for hot water would be doable if you could get the idea past the Historical Preservation groups.
If you live in high humidity Alabama, the environmentally friendly swamp cooler will never be a viable substitute for more expensive air conditioning.
Only when you narrow down the choices for alternative heating based on where you live, can you begin to focus your time and energy on the most relevant, cost effective heating solution.
Urban Alternative Heating
Geothermal, outdoor furnaces and most wind power are not suitable for urban or small-lot suburban homes. Except for very small wind turbines (i.e., with rotors one meter or less in diameter) on very small towers, a property size of one acre or more is desirable.
Wood burning stoves have been used in urban areas for as long as I can remember. I bought my first air tight stove in 1976. Corn and wood pellet stoves are quickly gaining acceptance as new installations or replacements for existing wood stoves.
One Connecticut pellet stove dealer I spoke with said he sold so many wood pellet and corn stoves last winter he was forced to temporarily close one of his two stores for lack of product.
An adaptation of the wood or pellet stove is the fully vented fireplace insert. They are comparably priced to freestanding stoves and offer a simple way to turn an otherwise inefficient fireplace into a source of heat for multiple rooms.
Unvented gas log fireplaces or propane space heaters are less expensive to purchase and install but are controversial with respect to health risks and are prohibited in some localities. Make sure the unit you purchase has an ODS (Oxygen Depletion Sensor). This safety device turns off the heater when the oxygen in the room drops below 18%. (Normal is around 21%)
Decorative gel fireplaces are nice to look at, but aren’t considered legitimate heating devices.
Electric and hydronic (hot water) radiant heat are extremely versatile and can be installed anywhere. The hydronic application of radiant heat can be fueled by anything from corn to gas and can be adapted to heat driveways, hot tubs and of course, your home.
Solar for hot water is on the rise in urban areas. A neighbor of mine in the Port Norfolk section of Boston recently installed a solar array on the roof of his two family home. His contractor did a first rate job and it doesn’t detract from the visual appeal of his house at all. He also says his hot water bill now costs him “chump change”.
Let’s not forget the lowly space heater. For many homeowners who spend most of their time in only one room of an eight room house, an inexpensive space heater is often the first choice to supplement their conventional heating system.
Suburban Alternative Heating
Suburban lot sizes can run anywhere from ¼ of an acre to three acres. But even a quarter acre lot opens up the possibility of a vertical closed loop geothermal system.
A three acre lot will afford you the space to install a slightly less expensive horizontal closed loop geothermal system, a wind turbine or even an outdoor wood, pellet or corn furnace.
At approximately $5000, the outdoor furnace is your least expensive option. A quality 1,800 watt wind turbine and tower can be purchased for $7,000. If geothermal is your system of choice, a new, 3,000 sq. ft. home can be heated and cooled for around $20,000.
If you partner with a program such as Energy Crafted Home in Connecticut, it’s possible to receive a rebate of $713 per ton of geothermal heating/cooling capacity. For the 3,000 sq. ft. home just mentioned, it would mean a rebate totaling $2,971.
Although wind, geothermal and outdoor furnace systems are more expensive than the typical $2000 wood pellet stove, they are very efficient and pay for themselves in only a few years.
The increasingly popular manufactured home is a growing segment of the suburban real estate market, and fire safety codes are very specific as to what you can use to heat your home.
Check with your local building department to find out exactly which alternative heating appliances are permitted before you start shopping for the best deal.
Rural Alternative Heating
Just as the sky and landscape open up in rural America, so do opportunities for alternative heating.
With so much room to work with you could design a CHP (Combined Heat and Power Unit).
An obvious choice for homeowners in the Corn Belt would be an outdoor corn furnace for heat and hot water. Couple this with a low maintenance wind turbine for electricity and it’s possible to achieve a 70%+ reduction in energy costs when compared to fuel oil.
If your property includes a shallow pond or lake, a closed loop geothermal system will heat and cool your home for the cost of electricity to operate a heat pump.
The choices for alternative heating are plentiful no matter where you live. It’s just a matter of knowing where you fit in.
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