Living comfortably presents many expenses. There’s the price of food and drink, the costs of stylish décor and furniture, and then we add on extra factors such as fuel, clothing, mobile phones, etc.
And then a few months later, the seasons change, and with it, our never-ending list of requirements for comfy living. Cool t-shirts and shorts make way for sweaters and jackets, while fans and air-conditioners are tucked away so that fireplaces and heaters are kick-started.
It should come as no surprise that approximately 50% of a household’s energy consumption is attributed to heating costs, depending on which country you live, of course. However, the rising prices of gas, electricity and fuel affect all of us, and when those temperatures start dropping, there’s no better cure than a cosy warm home.
On that note, let’s take a look at some (pocket-friendly and environment-friendly) options in terms of heating up a home, as well as some hard-hitting facts regarding our sources of heat.
Let’s face it: winter is cold, and it’s impractical to spend those chilly months wrapped in blankets, staying in our homes and not moving at all to keep warm. Generating heat is, unfortunately, a necessity. However, before we delve into the different types of heat (and some not-so-pleasant facts about their costs), let’s review some DIY ways of retaining warmth inside our homes.
• Let the sun in. Even on cold days, the sun is still quite warm – so make use of it! Before you leave your house, open up those curtains where you know some sunshine will enter your house for a good part of the day.
• Close those curtains at night. Once the sun sets, close your drapes to stop that heat from escaping. If you live in a particularly cold area, consider getting insulated curtains for winter use, which will prevent some of that nice heat escaping.
• We really don’t mean to put out the passion on your romantic evening in front of the fire. And although a fireplace generates fantastic heat for that particular room, it is quite inefficient for the rest of your house. While all that heat is being exhausted up through the fireplace, cold air is being pulled into the rest of the house (called the stack effect – feel free to look it up). If you have to have a fire with that red wine, use a glass front for your fireplace, which keeps some of that heated air in your home from escaping up the chimney once the flames have gone out.
• Move your furniture away from the vents. Double check that one of your couches or bookcases isn't inadvertently blocking a vent, and move them somewhere else (at least for the winter).
When it comes to heating up a home (and oneself), there are numerous options to consider. However, all of those choices have some basic factors in common: they require an energy source to jump start their heat.
Depending on which heating system you opt for will depend on a few factors such as its storage possibilities (i.e. selecting a mobile heater you can store in the cupboard during summer months versus a fireplace), its price (including possible long-term cost fluctuations), and the means of installation.
But don’t think that buying cheap is necessarily the way to go. Certain equipment, although a bit pricey in the store, can save you lots of costs in the long run compared to a low-priced option that will have your bills rising thereafter thanks to the rising energy costs.
Fossil fuel is a general term used for buried flammable geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years.
The three major forms of fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas.
Coal: Of the three main forms, coal is the only one still in a solid state. Its natural form is a pitch-black piece of rock, harvested from the Earth by workers in mining operations. It is certainly a dynamic fossil fuel in terms of usage, and is used for everything from producing steel and cement to lighting up homes and businesses.
Oil: Also called petroleum, oil is arguably the most discussed form of fossil fuel, not the least of which includes vehicular fuel economy and rising gas prices. Although we primarily think of oil as the fuel that we pump into our cars, the Native Americans used it for treating wounds and waterproofing their canoes. However, in its natural and raw state, crude oil is what comes out of the ground at oil wells. From these, oil refineries produce a range of different oil substances used for different applications, from asphalt and jet fuel to kerosene and lubricants. This gives us an idea of how truly widespread the use of oil is.
Natural gas: Incredibly lightweight, but also exceptionally flammable, natural gas is a big source of heating up homes, powering up air conditioners, and fuelling stoves and a range of other cooking appliances. Where oil is pumped from the ground by massive oil rigs, natural gas is channelled into pipelines, which make their way to storage facilities and, eventually, into homes to meet our energy needs. Natural gas is characterised by a distinctive smell; interestingly, it is completely odourless when mined from beneath the Earth’s surface, and the smell is only added later as a means of alerting us to a possible leakage.
Baseboards, electric fireplaces and inserts, floor heating, space heaters… electricity really spoils us for choice when it comes to ensuring a warm and snug home. But it’s not all good news.
80% of electricity is generated by nuclear plants and about 14% by means of hydropower. However, to cope with the growing demand for energy by our ever-increasing electrical technologies, 6% of electricity is produced from fossil energy (thermal plants that run on gas and oil), which results in the emission of CO2 gases.
Because of the use of increasingly large thermal power plants, electricity has become the most expensive form of heating, and there is no sign of this improving.
In recent decades it was discovered that fossil fuel was, unfortunately, not an infinite source of power. Experts predict that in the next 40 years we will have used up every last bit left in the Earth.
Of course this shortage was not planned for. And with more and more people realising that the greenhouse effect and global warming are concrete realities (which contribute greatly to climate change), this has forced us into finding new alternatives for the future.
A lot of homes generate their heat through either furnaces or boilers. While furnaces heat up air and distribute it through the house using ducts, boilers heat up water to provide either hot water or steam for heating. The steam is then distributed via pipes to steam radiators, and hot water can be distributed through baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems – or can heat air via a coil.
Steam boilers generally operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers, and are less efficient. However, high-efficiency versions of all types of furnaces and boilers are available for choosing.
Picking out a boiler for your home will depend on your type of house, budget, space availability, etc. But investing in an efficient boiler is already a more profitable solution, as its helps in reducing your energy bill and also the emission of greenhouse gasses and pollutants.
Opting for wood energy is definitely a more positive option. Wood is a renewable source of energy, since it is a form of biomass (all biomass is considered renewable energy, as it forms part of the natural carbon cycle on Earth).
Burning wood is considered carbon-neutral because it does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide (a regularly occurring molecule, but also a greenhouse gas) cycling through the atmosphere. Carbon is continually cycling through all living plants and animals. In addition, wood is also much cheaper than oil and gas, helps to maintain biodiversity, and contributes to employment.
Since we love the option of warmth through wood, let’s take a look at The Heat Is On: Installing A Wood Stove.