When it comes to air conditioning, there’s generally only one source of energy that runs the whole system, electricity. Electricity powers the fans and the compressor and the refrigerant is the vessel which carries out the transfer of heat, cooling the air which is then blown into the house. With heating it’s a little different, partially because there’s more variety in heating systems. You may have a boiler, a heat pump, or most likely, a furnace. But even furnaces can run on a variety of fuel sources. This creates a choice. It means that when it comes time to purchase a new heater, you’ll have to decide what kind of heater you want, and what it will run on.
This tip is going to delve into the different fuel sources that power heaters. We’ll look at everything from electric heaters to wood burning stoves and we’ll compare the benefits and disadvantageous of each. The ultimate goal of which will be to lay out a guide to heating fuel sources so that you can be informed about what you may be getting in your house the next time you’re in the market for a new heater.
Cost and Availably
The first factor which is going to influence the relative advantages and disadvantages of any fuel type is going to be how available it is and how much it costs. And this is going to vary by region and over time. To put it broadly, homeowners are relatively limited in their options for heating fuels and this is greatly determined by region. In the Northeast, the choices are largely fuel oil or electricity, although natural gas is becoming available to more homes. For people in rural areas, heating fuels may be limited to propane and wood. People in most of the rest of the country, like those of us getting our heating in Austin, have natural gas and electricity as their main choices.
But this leaves out some options. It’s a little more complicated than that when you take into account things like solar energy, wood, and pellets. Solar energy, for example, is available throughout the country, and new homes in cold or moderate climates should be designed to take advantage of passive solar heating. Active solar heating systems can be used as a supplemental heating source in new or existing homes and are compatible with most heating and systems. Homeowners can use either solar air heating devices for preheating of ventilation air or solar water heating devices to supplement hot water heating systems. Solar energy can also be used to boost the performance of heat pumps, and an absorption heat pump will actually allow you to power an air conditioning system with solar energy. So take solar into account when you’re considering your options because there are a lot of ways it can be beneficial.
And then there’s wood and wood product, like pellet fuels, which are generally made from recycled wood waste, and are available nationwide. These fuels may be available at competitive prices. Plain old wood is also available in most parts of the country, although of course it is most cost-effective if you can harvest it for free (note that even "free" firewood requires expenses for hauling it, so it may be more expensive than you think). Propane is also available throughout the country. As far as cost goes, that’s going to vary even more. Let’s take a wood stove for example. This is a surprisingly attractive option in some cases, especially for those who don’t have a lot of space to heat up and those in milder winter climates like in Austin. If you’re in a situation that allows you to harvest your own wood it can be far and beyond the most cost effective option. Wood can be as cheap as the fuel and maintenance for your chainsaw. If you’re buying it, expect to spend $145 to$225 per cord (a stack that is four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long) depending on your location and the type of wood. Most people use four to six cords per season.
Pellet stoves are becoming a more common choice as there are benefits to using pellets over fire wood. They’re cleaner, easier to move, take up less space, and produce less smoke. Price varies considerably based on location, but estimates as of 2014 are $250 to $309 per ton. Most homeowners burn three to five tons per winter.
Heating oil is most popular in the northeast and most widely available there. As far as cost goes, full-service fuel delivery was roughly $3 per gallon in early 2014. Propane is similar at $2.75 per gallon. Propane is often used as a fuel for wall furnaces as opposed to heating oil which can generally be found in standard central heating furnaces. Wall furnaces are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to add supplemental heat or warm up a cold spot in the house. They typically cost $1,000 to $2,000 to be installed. They can be vented directly through the wall.
Natural gas is the hardest to pin a number to when it comes to cost. Costs are highly variable depending on your region. Transportation charges and taxes also play a significant part in determining your final bill. A natural gas burning furnace is the most popular form of heating system in the south.
Other Pros and Cons
When you look into what kind of fuel and what kind of heater you’ll be getting, there’s more to the choice than the price of the fuel in your region. Each type of fuel has its own benefits and drawbacks that need to be looked at closely.
The environmental consideration is a big one. You probably generate more greenhouse gases by heating and cooling your home than by any other activity, including driving. Electricity seems like it would be a clean energy source, but most electricity in the United States is generated by burning coal, which emits sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, particulates, and greenhouse gases. So you may not be creating the greenhouse gases yourself but your carbon footprint is still large with electricity. Some electricity is generated from natural gas, which burns cleaner, but at least half of the energy is lost in converting it to electricity and delivering it to your home. On the other hand, electricity is used to run heat pumps, which have the benefit of producing more energy than they consume. An electric heat pump system can balance out the efficiency losses at the power plant by using the electricity to draw energy from the outside environment.
Burning natural gas, oil, propane, wood, or pellets in your home with a high-efficiency furnace or boiler can be a very efficient way to deliver heat to your home. Of all these choices, natural gas burns cleanest. According to the Energy Communications Council, heating oil burns nearly 95% cleaner than it did in 1970, and with new fuel blends, the industry is aiming for zero emissions. Of course, the cleanest fuel for heating (and possibly cooling) your home is solar energy, which produces no pollution at all. In most homes, solar energy will merely supplement the main heating and cooling source, although the Department of Energy is building homes that aim to consume net zero energy over the course of a year
You also have to look at efficiency. There’s a wide range out there when it comes to energy efficiency in heating and as much of it depends on the quality of the heater as it does on the type of fuel, but still, fuel type is a significant factor. For example, when talking about central, high efficiency furnaces, natural gas beats out heating oil in efficiency with 97% to heating oil’s 89%, and it’s on par with the efficiency of an electric furnace.
Exhaust is something to think about too. It’s more convenient in a lot of situations to have a type of fuel that doesn’t put out too much into the air in waste such as soot and smoke. Soot needs to be vacuumed and cleaned out and smoke has to be vented out of the house. Wood, coal, and pellets are all going to need the most maintenance as far as fuel burning goes and natural gas is going to need the least.
A lot of this decision is going to rest on what you have available to you today. If you can get natural gas into your home, a natural gas furnace is an easy option. Natural gas is one of the cheapest forms of energy available to the residential consumer. In fact, natural gas has historically been much cheaper than electricity as a source of energy. If you’re replacing an existing gas furnace, this is the easiest way to go. If you don’t have natural gas but have access to it, it’s an easier option than getting a large propane tank installed on your property if you don’t already have one.
A propane furnace generates hotter air than a standard electric model, runs cleaner and more efficiently than oil furnaces, and can provide all the advantages of gas heat when you don’t have access to a natural gas pipeline. All in all, it depends on what you have access to and your specific heating needs in your home.
Fuel Types and Heating Repair in Austin
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when you’re choosing a heating system. From coal to pellets to gas and oil, there are more fuel sources for your next potential heater than you can count on two hands. They all have their advantages and drawbacks and they all have their varying costs. What you pick is going to depend largely on what region you’re in and what kind of home you have, what you have access to.
Moreover, if you ever find yourself in need of a new heater of just heater repair in Austin, you’ll want only the best technicians providing you the service you deserve. AC Express is an Austin heater repair company dedicated to bringing that service to your doorstep any time, any day. That’s why we offer same day heater repair service so that you can rest assured that you’ll never have to go without heating in Austin for long, regardless of whether you’re in Buda or Hutto, Pflugerville or Manor. Call today!