Energy-Efficient Heating Options for New Home Building

Energy efficient heating

One of the largest projects that a person can undertake in his or her lifetime is building a new home with a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient heating system. In fact the experience comes with a broad spectrum of emotions from the thrill of seeing the plans unfold into a dream home that uses the minimum amount of energy for heating to the stress caused by the complications that arise from such an undertaking. However, there is no better time to choose heating options than when the home is still in the planning stages.

In many ways building anew home is like planning for a long vacation such as a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world. First there is the planning stage, then there is the commitments to funding and, finally, the execution of the plan. Just like a sudden eruption from a volcano in Iceland can change, and even cancel, expected flight plans that could put the whole grand vacation into jeopardy, rain, snow or the loss of a plumber can slow down a new home building project. But the end result of having a beautiful, new home will quickly erase the small hiccups along the way.

The Code for Energy-Efficient Homes

During the past few years the steady rise in cost of heating homes in Canada has prompted new regulations regarding heat retention in homes. This includes insulation r-values, window specifications and even the structure. Foam insulation around the foundation and basements, insulated concrete forms and structural insulated panels have tightened up the old family homestead into a miser on both heat and, in the summer, air conditioning. And when it comes to heat and HVAC systems the industry has brought forward many new innovations that are most cost-effective when installed during construction rather than when renovating a home.

1. Condensing Gas Furnaces

In Canada, natural gas has been increasing in price along with the other energy sources but is still a relatively cheap source for heating as compared with oil or electricity. However, the spike in gas prices has not been all bad because it has forced the manufacturers of gas furnaces to build new, high-efficient units that can transfer up to 97% of the all energy consumed into useable heat.

One of the new innovations in gas furnace design is the placement of a second heat exchanger. Normally the heat exchanger takes in as much heat as it can hold before it is blown throughout the home. The excess follows the burnt gases up the chimney. With a condensing gas furnace these gases are passed by a second heat exchanger. As these gases cool they release more heat and then condense into a liquid that is sent to a drain. The bottom line is that more heat goes into the heating system and not wasted up the chimney. Precision valves, electronic motors and Teflon bearings add to the smooth operation and further reduce energy consumption.

2. Heat Pumps

Air Heat Pumps: Although they are just now becoming popular in Canada heat pumps have been around for a few generations. Operating much like a refrigerator in reverse they take heat from the outside air and distribute it throughout the home. In the summer they can be reversed used as an air conditioning system. The only drawback with air heat pumps that most units will only work to minus-10 Celsius and then a backup system is needed

Geothermal Heat Pumps: Since the temperature of the ground in Canada hovers at around 12 degrees Celsius at a four foot depth they are not affected by the drastic changes in Canadian weather. Using either groundwater or loops of pipes buried geothermal heat pumps provide a steady supply of heat in the winter.

Either type of heat pumps can be used in a forced-air or a hydronic heating system.

3. Active and Passive Solar

One of the lesser known facts about the cold Canadian winter is that many of the coldest spots in the country have direct sunlight even in February. Studies have shown that two hours of direct sunlight can subsidize home heating by either passive solar hot water or hot air.

Active: Solar hot water systems utilize vacuum tubes that are mounted in an array on the roof or side of a home in a south-facing direction. The tubes magnify the sun's heat which is then transferred to glycol, an anti-freeze liquid. The heated coolant is moved into a storage tank to either pre-heat the water coming into the dwelling or into a home's hot water system.

Passive: The heat from a winter's sun can create a "greenhouse effect" in rooms facing the south. If these rooms have large windows the sun's heat is trapped and can be distributed through the home with a series of fans. Many homeowners are taking advantage of this "free heat" by lining the room with ceramic tiles to trap more of the heat.

4. Electric Thermal Storage

In Canada, most power utilities sell power during the non-peak hours of the day for as low as 40% of the retail cost of the power in peak times. This surplus power rate is during the hours of 11pm to 7am and weekends. ETS - Electric Thermal Storage - units can be operated during the off-peak hours to store up heat for dispersal during the peak times. ETS units are metal-skinned cabinets that contain ceramic bricks wrapped with heating coils. During the times when power is cheap a microprocessor switches on the electricity so that the ceramic bricks are heated. When the peak times begin the power is shut off to the heating units and a small fan starts to circulate the stored heat into the home.

For more information on replacing or upgrading your present gas furnace into a condensing gas furnace consult our Contractor Directory for a heating contractor or simply post your project online.

Posted by: Kim Kinrade
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