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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
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Heating Efficiently

Posted by Jason Haupt - Energy

Heating your home is an expensive endeavor. According to Department of Energy estimates in the average American home, 29% of energy costs are for heating the home. This is by far the largest percentage of energy costs on an annual basis. But there are ways to make sure that you are using your money as efficiently as possible.

The simplest and least expensive way to save money on your heating bill is to turn the temperature down. For every degree you lower the temperature in your home, you will save an average of 1% on your heating bill. Though that does not sound significant, in the long run you will save a lot of money. A programmable thermostat can raise and lower the temperature in your home when you are not there, and you do not have to break the bank to get one. A basic programmable thermostat costs between $25 and $30. They can be programmed to lower the temperature while you are at work and bring it back to what you feel is comfortable when you get home. The Department of Energy recommends that the temperature should not fluctuate more than 10 degrees, because you will then lose the benefits of lowering the temperature.

Making sure your furnace is operating at peak efficiency is another good way to reduce energy usage. Having your furnace checked during the fall before you need the furnace is an easy and cost-effective way of ensuring that your heating system is working properly and that you will not have any nasty surprises later in the year. Changing the furnace filter is an easy, inexpensive way to improve the efficiency of your furnace, as well. The older the filter, the harder it is to move air through the filter. More energy is required to move the heated air through your home. Filters should be changed every three months for best efficiency, though if you have pets that shed, you may have to change it more often. If you are noticing that your heat is running for long periods and shutting down for a short time, checking your filter is a good place to start.

If you want to put a new heating system in your home, there are many options from which to choose. There are also some rebates that might be available through your energy provider. Check with your energy provider to see if there are any available. Choosing a new heating system can be a little daunting, but knowing your options can be helpful.

  • If you are able, an in-floor radiant heating system is a good option. In radiant heat, always choose hot water. The electric options are so inefficient they will end up costing you more over the life of the system, which is much shorter than the heated water systems. In testing done with in-floor systems, subjects reported being more comfortable in rooms fitted with the in-floor system than a forced air system set to the same temperature.
  • Gas heating is always going to be the most efficient way of heating your home. If you have to replace the furnace in your home, when practical choose gas over electric.
  • In Illinois, heat pumps are more efficient, but during a particularly cold winter they tend to be less efficient than other options. They have to rely on the gas or electric element to augment the heating needs in the home.
  • Geothermal is an excellent and very efficient choice for heating your home. Geothermal heating is a great option for a new home and is not going to have a significant increase in cost of construction. In an existing home, however, it can be difficult and very expensive to put in. Sizing is very important in these systems. If the system is too small, you will have to rely on a backup system a lot. Though it will offset the cost of heating your home, you will not receive all of the benefits of the geothermal heating. Going the other way is not the answer either. A system that is too large will be inefficient, because it is constantly cycling on and off. A backup system is also needed with geothermal. When it is particularly cold outside, your geothermal system may not be able to keep up with your demand for heat. Having a gas back-up system is a good idea.

If you have any questions about heating your home efficiently, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).



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