As we continue our series on your home’s HVAC system with today’s look at the heating system, we have to state two things:
- We’re from Boston. It’s just November now and our municipal snow pile from last winter melted four months ago.
- Is it really heating season already? Really?
(OK, you can do this. Deep breaths.)
And we’re back. Let’s talk about home heating—how it works, how it could work better, and one handy lifehack to boot.
Central heating was originally developed in the late-18th to mid-19th centuries—and three main systems remain today: centralized hot air, steam and hot water systems for distributing heat throughout your home.
Figure 1: From the 1902 Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalog. Two important changes: 1. Furnaces cost much more than $79 now. 2. They are also much less frightening looking.
Carrying off of the cardiovascular analogy from last post, if your home’s ductwork distribute air much like arteries and veins distribute blood throughout the body, your heating system—a furnace, “boiler” or heat pump—is the heart of the HVAC, responsible for pumping the air throughout the home.
Figure 2: Coal-fired “octopus” furnace with asbestos-covered ductwork. Nothing scary to see here! (Photo from Library of Congress Collection)
While early furnaces were coal-fired behemoths with nicknames like “The Octopus,” today’s furnaces are more than likely powered by natural gas or electricity, and certainly are more efficient, more friendly to the environment, and quite frankly, less scary looking.
Home heating systems have four primary parts:
- The “burner”—for delivering fuel to the system;
- The “heat exchanger,” which warms the air passing over it;
- The “blower,” for moving the warmed air throughout the ductwork; and
- Like your fireplace, a “flue”—a duct, pipe or opening in a chimney, for the external evacuation of potentially harmful byproducts of the heating process.
The Heart of the Matter—and the Cost
In humans, heart disease is at the core of many serious illnesses. Likewise, “sick” furnaces present myriad problems—from the merely annoying (noisy vents) to the uncomfortable, rooms that are either too hot or too cold, without the ability to control the temperature in each room. And while the Ecovent system is a clear solution for room-by-room comfort, through our network of sensors and “smart vents” throughout your home, none of this matters if you don’t fix issues with the root cause—your heating system.
Beyond climate, there are a variety of factors that affect both your comfort and your heating bill each winter:
Heart “inefficiencies” can have serious consequences. A “normal” heart is pumping blood at between 50-75 percent efficiency—below that, and you could have serious problems. While your home’s heating system is likely higher than 50-75 percent, the annual fuel utilization efficiency for most units is well below 100 percent.
We’ve felt the sting these past few winters—particularly in northeastern climates—of high heating bills. But things are looking up in 2016. The U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting expenditures for natural gas, heating oil, and propane during the coming season to be 10%, 25%, and 18% lower, respectively, than last winter.
There is a certain amount of heat loss that can’t be helped—and there are many calculators that help you to determine expected heat loss and the size of system you’ll need to help overcome them. According to GreenBuildingAdvisor, heat loss happens when:
- It is transmitted to the exterior through a home’s floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and penetrations.
- Warm indoor air leaks through cracks in the home’s envelope.
- Air is deliberately exhausted by bathroom fans, range hoods, and clothes dryers.
- Warm water goes down the drain and flows to municipal sewer pipes or a septic tank.
- Combustion gases from a furnace, boiler, or water heater exit via a flue.
Keep Heat Inside
A Dow Study showed that up to 38 percent of heat loss can prevented by fixing leaks in walls, ceilings and floors. The Department of Energy estimates that the amount of energy lost annually through windows is a staggering $35 Billion. Solutions from the simple—plastic seals adhered to the window with a hairdryer or heavier drapes—to the complex–new, energy efficient windows—can help with some of this.
So in closing—take care of your heating system, and it will take care of you. Some costs and challenges can’t be avoided, but many can—so do what you can to make certain the heat your systems pumps throughout the house stays in the house.
Oh, and the winter lifehack?
Change the direction of your ceiling fans from counterclockwise to clockwise—it will move rising hot air and push it back down along walls, away from the ceiling. When used alongside a room by room temperature control system like Ecovent, this means your rooms will stay at the perfect temperature for your comfort even longer – while trimming energy bills by up to 40%.