During the relatively mild winters in Sarasota, Bradenton and the surrounding communities, home heating needs are generally moderate. Even so, home heating costs can consume a significant portion of a household budget, which makes system efficiency a leading concern when buying HVAC equipment. Choosing the most efficient heating system for your Florida home allows you to have a comfortable indoor environment at the lowest possible price, while also helping to conserve energy and preserve natural resources. Here is a brief introduction to home heating equipment that will help you choose the most efficient heating system for your needs.
The Benefits of High Efficiency
A high-efficiency home heating system makes the best possible use of the fuel or electricity it uses to produce heat. It converts a higher percentage of the energy in the fuel to usable heat, or it uses electricity efficiently to create a large amount of heat at a low price. High-efficiency heating systems can cost more initially, but the amount they save on monthly energy costs can be significant. It’s not uncommon for efficient heating equipment to cut home heating expenses by 30 to 50 percent, and in some cases, up to 70 percent. This means that the most efficient heating system can pay for itself with these savings alone in just a few years – sometimes within three to five years, but at least by about the halfway point of the system’s expected lifespan.
In addition to cost savings, the most efficient heating system also will save energy, which is good for the environment. It will reduce demand on local utility companies for fuel and electricity. It will trim your own energy use considerably, cutting down your contributions to overall energy use. Using efficient heating systems also limits the creation of greenhouse gases and other emissions, including carbon monoxide, that are released into the air in or near your home.
Finding the Most Efficient Heating System: Furnaces
Furnaces are probably the most common type of heating system found in American homes. Industry sources estimate that gas furnaces are in use in about 60 percent of homes in the country. Older furnaces, many of which are still in service, are usually not very efficient. However, newer furnace types reflect the advances in technology that have led to significant improvements in system performance and efficiency.
Residential furnaces are usually the forced-air type. In a forced-air furnace, the system creates heat that warms air inside the main unit. This warm air is then blown, or forced, into the ductwork system by powerful fans called blowers or air handlers. The warm air moves through the ductwork and exits at vents in your home’s floor, walls or ceilings, producing indoor heating.
There are three major types of furnaces: gas, oil and electric.
- Gas furnaces: Gas furnaces burn natural gas (or propane) to create heat for your home. Natural gas is a plentiful natural resource and is relatively economical as a fuel source. A local utility company will supply the gas, usually through a utility hook-up installed directly in your home. Modern condensing gas furnaces can attain high levels of efficiency. Coupled with the relatively cheap cost of natural gas, this makes them a good choice for homeowners who prefer a fuel-based heating system. Residential natural gas is frequently used to fuel other home appliances, too, such as water heaters, kitchen cookstoves and ovens.
- Oil furnaces: Oil furnaces use fuel oil to produce the heat that warms your home. Fuel oil is typically a thick fluid that must be heated and atomized before it can be burned to generate home heating. As with propane gas furnaces, the oil is provided by local suppliers who deliver the fuel in bulk, storing it in large tanks installed inside or near your home. Unlike natural gas, which provides a constant source of fuel for your heating system, oil furnace fuel supplies must be monitored to ensure they don’t become depleted before a new supply can be delivered.
- Electric furnaces: Electric furnaces use heating coils to produce heating. The coils are powered by electricity and can produce significant amounts of heat. Electric furnaces can reach near 100 percent efficiency, though that benefit is undercut by the fact that electricity, BTU by BTU, is much costlier than natural gas in most parts of the country. Also, electric heat pumps are three or four times more efficient at using electric power than electric furnaces.
Furnace efficiency is indicated by the equipment’s Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) number. AFUE is a widely accepted indicator of furnace efficiency. AFUE ratings indicate the percentage of the energy in the fuel that is converted to heat. For example, an AFUE 90 percent natural gas furnace can turn 90 percent of the energy in the gas into heat for your home. The other 10 percent of the energy is lost through exhaust and venting, dissipation, or other factors. Electric furnaces are also rated by AFUE numbers.
Remember, the higher the AFUE number, the more efficient the furnace will be. High-AFUE furnaces (90-98 percent) will typically cost more than lower-AFUE models, but their efficiency will produce substantial monthly savings on your heating costs.
Finding the Most Efficient Heating System: Boilers
Boilers are sometimes found in residential heating applications, though they are more common in commercial and institutional settings. These pieces of equipment burn fuel to produce hot water, which is then circulated through pipes inside your home. The hot water gives off heat that is dispersed by radiators. Boilers are also used in radiant heating applications, where hot water is circulated through a network of pipes installed in the floor or wall. Heat from the pipes rises and warms the room and its occupants from the floor up.
Boiler efficiency is also indicated by AFUE numbers. High-efficiency boilers will carry AFUE ratings of 90 percent or higher.
If a boiler is a viable option for you, consider installing a condensing boiler. These systems produced heating efficiently, but also boost efficiency by capturing additional heat from the boiler’s exhaust gases before they are vented to the outdoors. In this way, a condensing boiler uses more of the heat it produces with less waste of energy or money.
Finding the Most Efficient Heating System: Heat Pumps
The most efficient heating system for a Sarasota area home is probably a heat pump. Heat pumps operate very quietly and safely, with none of the potential problems that could result from using a system that combines a volatile fuel with flame. Heat pumps also do not burn fossil fuels, which means the unit inside your home does not produce any greenhouse gases or carbon monoxide.
These systems are very efficient and are much more practical in geographical areas where temperatures do not often dip below 32 degrees. They provide exceptionally efficient levels of heating, with heating efficiency commonly approaching an amazing 400 percent. This means that the heat pump produces four units of heating for each unit of electricity is consumes. Heat pumps are also highly efficiency sources of home cooling.
Heat pumps achieve their remarkable efficiency by capturing heat and moving it from place to place. They can pull heat out of the inside of your home and disperse it outdoors, which produces cooling. They can also capture heat from an outdoor source and bring it into your home to provide heating. Improving your home’s seal and energy efficiency will boost heat pump efficiency even higher.
Air-source heat pumps are designed to use the air around the indoor and outdoor units as the source of heat capture and release. Heat pumps use a refrigerant flowing through a set of pipes between the indoor and outdoor units. As the refrigerant changes state from liquid to gas, it captures heat from the air. The gaseous refrigerant is circulated either into your home for heating or outside for cooling. When the gas is condensed back into its liquid form, it releases the heat it contains. This heat is either dispersed outdoors or released indoors to produce heating for your living spaces.
Geothermal, or ground-source heat pumps work on a similar principle of heat capture and release. Geothermal models, however, use the ground or a body of water such as a pond or well as the source of outdoor heat capture and release. The outdoor pipes, called the loop, are either buried in the ground or submerged in a water source to a depth where the temperature stays consistently moderate all year long, no matter how hot or cold it gets on the surface. This provides a consistent source for heat capture and release throughout every season.
Geothermal heat pumps will provide the greatest level of heating and cooling at the highest rate of efficiency. As with other high-efficiency systems, they are usually more expensive, but their extremely high efficiency makes them very cost effective from month to month and allows recovery of the initial investment within about three to five years. Keep in mind, too, that a geothermal unit will also require digging and trenching in your yard for installation of the ground loop, so landscaping or other outdoor features may be disrupted. More than any other type of system, however, geothermal heat pumps may qualify for a variety of government, utility and manufacturer incentives, including a 30 percent federal tax credit for qualifying systems.
Aqua Plumbing and Air provides expert heating, cooling and plumbing services for customers in Sarasota, Bradenton and Manatee County. Contact us today for more information on choosing the most efficient heating system for your Florida home.