There's no shortage of home heating methods to choose from, but don't shortchange yourself by selecting a system that's not suited to your lifestyle or your budget. Each type of heating system has benefits and drawbacks. Which system will work best for you depends on considerations such as home design, installation requirements, fuel costs and personal preferences. Some of the most popular choices for home heating include gas furnaces, oil burning furnaces, solar heating, electric heat and wood burning stoves.
Most gas furnaces are equipped to burn either propane or natural gas; both are cleaner than fuel oil and provide odorless heat. In terms of cost, natural gas prices have risen in recent years and propane gas can be fairly expensive when used for extensive heating, such as that required for a home, as opposed to heating something small such as an outdoor grill. You can easily determine the energy efficiency of a gas furnace by looking at its Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating; the higher the rating, the more efficient the furnace.
Fuel oil provides good energy content, also known as heating value. (This term refers to a diesel fuel's heat of combustion, the heat released when a known quantity of fuel is burned under specific conditions). A central system requires ductwork, piping and a fuel oil storage tank. In general, oil furnaces are less expensive and longer lasting than gas furnaces. Because oil prices are unpredictable, an oil furnace may not be the best choice if you're looking for a heating method that offers stable energy costs. In addition, heating with oil is not considered a "green' solution as it involves the burning of a nonrenewable resource.
There's a reason why solar heating is often overlooked as a home heating method: When used as the sole source of heat, solar alternatives are not as cost effective as other fuel sources unless other fuel costs have risen to exorbitant levels. Solar heating is a good choice when used as a complement to other heating methods. Homes that use solar heating techniques in conjunction with other heating methods are called passive solar homes. This type of home is designed to attract and store the sun's heat when you need it and keep it out when you want the house to be cooler.
Electricity is 100 percent efficient; all of the power generated is turned into heat. However, if you're looking for a "green" heating method, electricity isn't necessarily a better choice than gas, oil or propane, and it may actually be generated from a coal-burning plant. Due to dramatic increases in electric costs over the years, heating with electricity has become less popular and may be an economical solution only if you have access to inexpensive or free electricity.
If you can easily obtain free or low-cost firewood, a wood-burning stove may be a cost-efficient method for heating your home. Because standard wood-burning stoves don't have the capacity to heat an entire house, many homeowners also must rely on a secondary heat source to meet all of their heating needs. Fairly easy to install, wood stoves do have some drawbacks: wood smoke is an air pollutant and can aggravate respiratory problems; you need ample storage space for a firewood supply; precut firewood can be expensive; and your house insurance company will require you to pay an additional premium for having a working wood stove on the premises.
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