Biomass Heating in Residential Homes

Terry   March 12, 2016   Comments Off on Biomass Heating in Residential Homes

For most of humanity’s existence, biomass heating in homes in the form of wood burning stoves and furnaces was the only way to provide warmth. Today, fossil fuels, which leave a heavier carbon footprint, are the primary way home heating occurs. Regardless of fossil fuel pricing, many people today are concerned about the acquisition of fuel for warmth as well as other energy needs. Whether it is oil from the Gulf of Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or oil from shale mined in Colorado and North Dakota, there are a growing number of people who are increasingly nervous about being plugged into a system they have no control over.

biomass-heating

Image courtesy of AbacusOrangeEenergy.com

In the middle of the decision-making process to switch from conventional energy sources to a biomass system for the home comes the reality of measuring cost versus value.
For example, you may look at a pellet-fired system and determine that though its more expensive to operate, you can do so knowing it’s a little friendlier to the environment plus the added advantage of functioning off the grid. There are two main types of heating using biomass equipment.

Stoves

Typically, these units burn wood logs or the newer condensed product known as pellets.  Stoves can be modified to include a back boiler for hot water use in kitchens and bathrooms. I general, stoves produce approximately 7Kw of energy with an efficiency rating somewhere between 60% and 80%.

Boilers

This heating unit is bigger and has a design that is more industrial in nature.  The wood boilers produce anywhere from 20Kw to 50Kw in energy and you have to keep stoking them regularly.  If you pursue the pellet boiler option, its energy output has a maximum of 30Kw. It often includes a hopper for the pellets which is handy when you can’t manually supply the biomass material every few hours yourself. As described above, the three main types of wood fuel are logs and pellets but there are wood chips that are available as well.

  1. Logs are often easier to acquire and require very little preparation before use.  However, they do require up to three years to dry out so that the moisture content at or below 20%.  This is necessary for a hotter burning log with less smoke. Logs also require larger amounts of storage and must be manually fed into the boiler.
  2. Wood chips can be a good source of energy, however, you need a steady supplier of these forestry clippings. For home use, the chips have to be a standard size and with little moisture.
  3. Wood pellets come from saw dust. Their moisture content is generally between 8% and 10%. Because of this, they are more energy dense than the previous two types mentioned above. Additional ideal factors include less storage space and their uniform size and shape, which works well with automated systems.

Cost Versus Savings

So how much does all this conversion from fossil fuels to biomass energy cost? It will depend on several factors.

  1. How much energy is needed?
  2. Is the home well insulated?
  3. Can a lower cost manual system work for you or do you need something a little more automated?
  4. Are you more concerned about potential environmental damage than operating costs?

A log burning stove might cost approximately $2,000. A pellet stove without an automatic feeder is likely to be $4K to $5K, while the auto-feed boiler type could cost $8K to $10K.

The savings you generate from your biomass system will largely depend on the source you are using now such as, natural gas, oil, coal, electric or propane. Across the spectrum of these sources you may save $100 to $750 per year. The carbon savings will be ranked accordingly as well.

Before engaging in any energy conversion projects keep the following in mind:

  • Consult local planning boards and follow all ordinances.
  • Keep your supply of biomass material as close as possible so that transportation of such material doesn’t eat up all your carbon savings.

Check with current tax laws to see if you might get favorable tax treatment for such a changeover. Finally, only you can decide the real value of biomass conversion.

Residental Solar Heating

Terry   March 11, 2016   Comments Off on Residental Solar Heating

Whether you want to convert your house to run on solar energy, to convert to solar space heating, or to solar water heating for your home or pool, any step towards conversion to green energy not only reduces your monthly spending but also provides you with the peace of mind of contributing to a healthy planet through living green.

The biggest misconception regarding solar water heating is that if there’s no sun, you will have no hot water in the house. While it’s true that warmer, sunnier climates such as in the Southwest will be the best candidates for solar water heaters, solar heating still makes sense other places, even in the Pacific NW. Typically, solar water heaters work in partnership with an existing water heater which acts as a backup, so you will never be without hot water, you will simply save more money year round.

solar-water-heater

Benefits

Short Term Financial Savings

There will be initial purchase and installation costs but you will make your money back. After installation you will immediately decrease your monthly spending. The average price of installing a solar heating system in a residential home ranges between $6,000-$10,000. However, with the combination of state tax credit incentives and federal tax credit incentives, the cost is virtually cut in half. So be sure to look into incentives before buying.

Long Term Financial Savings

Think of it as an investment! The EIA (energy information administration) states the average household spending per winter as follows: $679 for houses using natural gas, $1,666 for houses using propane, $909 for houses using electric heat, and $2,046 for houses using heating oils. Not only will you earn money back with through cutting down your annual spendings on heating to next to nothing, as well as through tax credit, but you will increase the value of your home. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills, the value of your house increases $20 on average.

Peace of Mind

It’s green and it’s natural. You will do your part in making environmentally smart decisions by reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases through the use and emission of fossil fuels (oil, propane, gas), and in doing so you will sleep better at night knowing you have contributed to creating a healthier planet. Some may say that having a solar water heater system will make it more likely to develop a water heater leak, but your odds don’t change much since the rest of the system operates under fairly low water pressure.

Solar Collectors

Solar heating technologies use solar collectors to capture thermal energy from sunlight and transfer it into usable energy for space heating, water heating, and pool heating. The most common solar collectors are as follows: flat plate, evacuated tube, integral collector storage, thermosiphon, and concentrating. The type of solar collector or combination of solar collectors you choose will depend on what type of heating you want.

Three Types

  1. Solar Space Heating – Solar space heating technologies typically use liquids to transfer heat from the collectors to the air. Here are three types: radiant floors, low temperature baseboards, and FHA (forced hot air systems).
  1. Solar Water Heating – The two types of solar water heating technologies are active systems and passive systems. Active systems are the most common, requiring electric pumps to circulate the water after transferring the heat from the solar collector. Passive systems are even more economically efficient, relying on thermodynamics to circulate the water.
  1. Solar Pool Heating – Solar pool heating applies solar water heating technologies to transfer heat from solar collectors through the pools filtration system to the pool water.

What’s the next step?

Of course if you are up to the challenge you can Do It Yourself and save even more. First, be sure to check your state’s local permits and covenants before buying or building. Otherwise, here are a few sites you can check out in order to get the ball rolling and start living green!

Resources:

http://www.cleanenergyauthority.com
http://www.waterheaterhub.com
http://www.seia.org
http://solarlove.org

Keeping Your Garage Warm in the Winter

Terry   March 11, 2016   Comments Off on Keeping Your Garage Warm in the Winter

Even if you don’t spend much time in your garage, having a winter-proof and heated garage is very helpful because it also helps in maintaining a warm temperature in your house during the cold season. A well-insulated garage provides you with a usable workspace all year round even when temperatures get downright nasty. The garage is often one of the most neglected areas in the construction of energy-efficient homes.

The many leaks present in your garage walls, roof, doors, and windows present a great and expensive challenge for you to make sure that your garage is maintained warm all through winter. Here are some great ways, courtesy of Garage Tool Advisor, to keep your garage warm in the winter:

Seal the Gaps

Cold air does not seep in through the door only. Cracks and crevices that are present in your garage also contribute to the problem. The main areas that you should check and ensure that they are sealed include:

  • Windows
  • Vents
  • Areas around the pipes
  • Electrical sockets

You should seal these areas and all other openings you may find using expanding foam insulation or caulking foam. Sealing the gaps will help you to create a buffer between you and the outdoors keeping warmer are inside your garage. For anyone who works on cars in their garage, a cold garage is most frustrating. You just bought the best socket set you’ve ever had and while trying to untighten a rusted bolt under the car, the ratchet slips knocking your knuckles into a sharp corner. It’s bad enough happening on a warm summer day, but with half-numb fingers because of a freezing garage, the pain is ten-fold. Sealing any noticeable gaps is time well spent.

Insulate your Walls

Your garage walls can be efficiently insulated using a fiberglass batt insulation material. To ensure that it serves its intended purpose effectively, select the most appropriate thickness for your walls and install correctly. Make sure that you securely fasten the batt insulation on your wall. A perfectly fitted installation is necessary for the insulation to remain functional for long.

garage-door-insulationUpgrade your Garage Door

There are a variety of specially designed kits available for you to insulate your garage door. You can wrap your door using reflective barriers, foam boards, and fiberglass batt insulation. Regardless of your chosen option, it should be cut to fit into all the garage door panels correctly. Also, you should secure your insulation installation with adhesive to keep it in the desired position. Nonetheless, if you find that your garage door can’t be fully insulated, you should replace it with a more modern, insulated design.

Fix your Weather-stripping

Weather-stripping forms a protective seal between the garage door and its opening. After prolonged use, the material can become brittle and cracked. The deterioration of the weather-stripping material allows air to enter into your garage between the door and frame creating cold drafts inside your garage. The best ways to keep your garage warm in the winter is fixing or replace your weather-stripping material entirely.

Before installing a new sealant, make sure that the surface is scraped smoothly and clean for a better and successful installation. To align your sealant during installation, you should close the garage door and then align the weather stripping ensuring that the rubber flattens slightly against the door. The alignment will ensure that you install a functional seal that will not tamper with the operation of your garage door.

Install a Garage Heater

garage-heaterSome of the best ways to keep your garage warm in the winter need not to be complicated. Sealing your garage will protect it from the severe cold weather but on their own, they will not increase the temperatures in your workspace. A garage heater is a great addition to your garage since it’s affordable and doesn’t take up much space.

Choose between a gas and electric model depending on your requirements. Keeping your garage warm in the winter will save your money and offer you a more comfortable place to work in. All the above solutions are fairly quick to do and don’t cost a lot of money.

Hydronic Heating for the Home

Terry   March 11, 2016   Comments Off on Hydronic Heating for the Home

Are you looking for a home heating system that is king of energy efficiency? You may want to look into hydronic heating. Hydronic heating is when hot liquid is run through plastic tubing along base boards, beneath the floors, or through radiators to heat your home.

Understanding Hydronic Heating

Hydronic heating in residential homes is a closed loop, plastic tubing system that is installed within your homes floor joists or concrete slab, often referred to as radiant flooring that uses hot water for heating. The system allows heat to evenly radiate across the entire surface of your floors.  The use of radiators and baseboard heating units are also sources of hydronic heating.

Most homes are still using forced air furnaces, which delivers warm air through duct work that runs through ceilings, walls, and floors to vents in rooms throughout your home. The problem with forced air systems is the hot and cold spots found due to poor circulation when the furnace turns on and off.  Another problem with forced air furnaces is the dust and dirt that is transferred in the air flow and collects in the air ducts and the air you and your family breaths.

hydronic-heating-homeUnder floor hydronic systems prevent this from happening as it produces a steady flow of heat, which radiates from the floor throughout your entire room. With the heat warming the floors you and your pets will never have to worry about walking on cold floors ever again. Some homebuilders are beginning to use hydronic heating in bedrooms. It is one of the best ways to create constant uniform heating in a room which makes it perfect for baby nurseries. One of the biggest dangers for babies is overheating. If they sleep under a furnace vent or in a warm sleep sack, the situation can become dangerous pretty quickly. Hydronic heating is the gentlest way to heat a room with no hot spots.

The Basic Equipment Neede

There are six different components to every hydronic heating systems for residential homes.

The following are the basic equipment needed:

  • Boiler – Which heats the liquid
  • A liquid medium – Usually this is water, however, some systems work with water and antifreeze mixes.
  • Manifold – the plumbing manifold is connected to the thermostat, which is the hub for directing the water flow and the room temperatures.
  • Tubing – Plastic tubing known as PEX is universal for all hydronic heating systems, there is little rigid piping or copper used.
  • Heat Exchanger – Transfers the heat in your home through baseboard heater, radiator or floor elements.
  • A Pump – Circulates the heated liquid replenishing the warmth constantly.

Hydronic Heating System Benefits

There are many benefits to using hydronic heating systems compared to traditional blown air systems.

Hydronic heat is:

  • Cleaner and more comfortable with no air pollutants or filters to change, while keeping your home at a regulated warmth.
  • Energy efficient and quieter since there is no blowers in use; you save money and enjoy quieter days and nights, without hearing your heating unit starting up and shutting down.
  • Design flexibility allows you to design your hydronic heating system around your needs and works well with most flooring types, such as, tiles, hardwood floors, vinyl and carpeting.

Hydronic heating systems are becoming more and more popular today and can be installed while remodeling or during a new build. If you are considering using hydronic heating it is best to consult with your building crew to cover the basics of your system, the layout and design of your system so that you can reap the many benefits of a cleaner and more comfortable, alternative heating system for your home and family.

Resources:

http://www.laars.com/hydronic-heating.aspx
http://www.sleepsackstore.com
http://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-water-heating/space-heating/renewable-hydronic-heating

 

Geothermal Heating – Be Smart From the Ground Up

Terry   March 10, 2016   Comments Off on Geothermal Heating – Be Smart From the Ground Up

Before you even begin to think about geothermal heating, it’s important to get the first important piece of information out of the way.  It is a fact that the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency have indeed validated that GSHP (ground source heat pump systems) and it is listed along with the most energy efficient and environmentally-friendly systems available on the market today.

The EPA, in fact, issued a report in 1993 concluding that this technology denotes a foremost opportunity in reducing national energy use as well as pollution, and at the same time, delivers to the home owner the reliability, comfort and savings.

Image courtesy of RMFaught.com

Image courtesy of RMFaught.com

The convenience of this system is that you can install it in any residential building of any size and on any size lot.  It can be installed in a single or multi-family dwelling and anywhere you want it installed. This system can be installed even under landscaping or driveways or even if you wanted it installed under the house itself. According to Life Jacket Advisor, other than water, the ground has one of the highest heat capacities out there. There’s a reason when you’re out on the river in your kayaking life vest and the sun feels hotter than you think it was on shore.

But what if your house is already built?  Can that house be retrofitted with this system? 

Well, the surprising answer is yes!  And it can be retrofitted using the ductwork that is already present. Your installer can determine the requirements of the ductwork and can determine what modifications need to be made, if any.

The following is a list of additional benefits of a GSHP:

Financing:

  • Both builders and home owners can benefit from the special financing that is offered through the manufacturer or the utility

Safety:

  • There are no open flames whatsoever, nor are there dangerous storage tanks for fuel
  • It’s a very quiet system
  • Any equipment outdoors will not be exposed so there can be no damage to the system, nor can anyone, children or pets, be hurt

Savings:

  • The GSHP system can save you up to fifty-percent on your heating and water bill.  It does this by pre-heating the tank water
  • It is made of components that are either located in the dwelling or buried underground
  • The GSHP piping carries up to a fifty year warranty
  • The size of the unit is approximately equivalent to your traditional heating and cooling unit
  • Your energy consumption may be cut up to fifty percent thereby reducing costs of maintenance
  • In the winter, the unit keeps the air warmer and keeps the temperature consistent.  No more hot and cold spots!
  • The heating efficiencies are at least fifty to seventy percent higher than other systems
  • You will save money in maintenance and operating costs
  • Your investment can be recovered in just a few years

Environment

  • The unit conserves natural resources.  It provides control of climate and lowers emissions
  • The ozone layer destruction is at a minimum because it uses refrigeration systems that never have to be re-charged
  • Because of the underground loops transferring heat, there are no external vents to promote air pollution

According to Energyhomes.org, the Economic Stimulus Recovery Act of 2009 has removed the cap limit on residential dwellings GSHP.  In fact, it states that you can now receive a federal tax incentive which is equal to thirty percent of the cost of a qualified GSHP.

So, all in all, according to the above information, doesn’t it seem worthwhile to take a look at this system? It is worth reading about it to become well informed of the advantages of installing the Geothermal System Heat Pump to yourself and the environment.

The Biodiesel Heating Alternative

Terry   March 10, 2016   Comments Off on The Biodiesel Heating Alternative

Biodiesel fuel may most often get linked to efficient fuel vehicles, but it has become a strong alternative for heating fuel in residential homes.

What makes it enticing to some is that biodiesel fuel is also a source of renewable energy. It has developed into a nice clean-burning fuel alternative that reduces dependence on petroleum. This makes it popular to some people who are environmentally-conscious.

The substance is derived from a mix of vegetable oil, recycled cooking oil, and animal fats to form what is biodiesel. An advanced form of biofuel, biodiesel is referred to as the pure fuel before it gets blended in with diesel fuel, usually between five to 20 percent, to become biodiesel fuel.

According to Biodiesel.org, “biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 57 percent and up to 86 percent when compared to petroleum diesel – making it one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to immediately address climate change.”

Here are some areas where biodiesel fuel can help in your own home.

Heating

Biodiesel fuel can actually be used as home heating oil either as an additive or as an alternative fuel source in a furnace or boiler. When used as such, it is often referred to as “bioheat.”Whatever its name, the fuel source creates far less pollution in your own home. It is also biodegradable meaning it can be decomposed easier than other types of fuels.

Usually a 20 percent blend of biodiesel is appropriate. Anything higher could have a negative impact on gaskets and rubber seals. Also, the 20 percent blend can cut down on certain emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Higher blends can also help in cleaning out in-house fuel pipes to improve heating efficiency. However, avoid using large amounts to provide potential clogging.

Image courtesy of EcoFriend.com

Electricity

Biodiesel can be a co-generating source for indoor power due to methane found in it from the vegetable component of its makeup. It can be used in conjunction with coal in order to generate some electric power. Some people use it as a supplement on solar power for days involving a lack of sun. It also is an option as a source to run transportation vehicles, given the environmental benefits.

Cleaning and Paint Removal

In the form of B100, biodiesel is actually makes for an effective solvent against grease. Some use a bucket to drop tools and other items into the mix. It also does a good job of cleaning metal. It is effective because it is less toxic than table salt. So it causes less air pollution within your home when used and it doesn’t cause as much potential damage to the tools due to its low toxicity.

Tax Credits

Yes, using biodiesel fuel once again can be used to help you come income tax time. After letting it expire at the end of 2014, Congress reinstated a federal $1 per gallon blenders tax credit in December 2015. The government branch also retroactively renewed it for the 2015 calendar year and it doesn’t expire until the end of 2016.

This means that those who install equipment concerning biodiesel fuel in both 2015 and 2016 can be eligible for up to $500 over all years combined. Those who already claimed the full $500 tax credit in previous years are ineligible.