As our world gets more interconnected, as it becomes easier to communicate with vast numbers of people across the globe and trade resources from one city or country to another, there is a growing trend within a civilization that points in the opposite direction. Some of those in countries such as ours, who grew up and have spent their entire lives connected by every thread to the community at large have a desire to disconnect to a certain extent. It’s an impulse that comes from the base human desire to be independent and self-reliant. We’re a contradictory species and as much as we’re a social species at heart there’s also this undeniable tug towards independence.
For those who feel that tug and wonder at times how possible it would be to disconnect from the infrastructure of the cities we live in there’s a growing movement called going off-grid. Put simply going off-grid means living without a physical connection to the infrastructure of the city, town, or county one lives in. There are many things involved in this endeavor, many factors one has to tackle, one of which is how someone in our area can get Austin heating without natural gas or electricity supplied by the city. That’s what this tip of the day is going to be about, how to heat your home without using city utilities, how to heat your home with as little reliance on the services and products of others as possible.
Start With the Insulation
You might be wondering why the first step in heating your home off the grid would be to look at the insulation of the house. The answer is that going off-grid can be expensive if not done carefully. You want to squeeze as much energy efficiency as you possibly can out of whatever method of heating you end up choosing. That means you want to make sure you’re wasting as little heat as possible that you produce for your house. The way to do that is to make sure your house is as insulated as possible. Think of insulation as a protection against wasted heat. The more heat you can trap in your house and the less that escapes the less money you’ll be spending in the long term. And considering that heating and cooling are the two biggest expenses that most people have in the residential realm this is something worth focusing on.
Attics is a very important area to insulate, simply because heat rises. If your home is more than 10 years old, you might want to check your attic insulation to make sure it hasn’t settled. Don’t forget about windows and doors when working on your insulation. Windows have the lowest insulation value of anything you can use in a home. So, a home with lots of windows will be less efficient than one that has no windows.
Weather-stripping can be an effective way at adding some insulation to windows. If you don’t replace your windows with more insulated ones then that is something you can do instead. And if you have any windows that you’re pretty sure you’re never going to want to open you can even replace them with sealed, non-functional windows. They’re functional in the sense that you can see through them but these kinds of windows don’t open, making them significantly more insulated.
The windows, the attic, and the doors are the biggest insulation weak spots that you’ll want to focus on. The best way to go about this is actually to have an energy audit professionally done. This will tell you exactly where you’re losing the most heat in your home and the auditor will be able to tell you what can be done about these weak points whether that’s eliminating drafts under doors or improving the structural insulation in the walls.
Now we’re going to investigate a few of the methods for off-grid heating. Fire is an appealing source of heat for those looking to go off-grid because it doesn’t require electricity or gas in many cases. What you burn can vary. There’s wood, pellets, coal, etc. And what you burn the fuel in can vary as well. A standard fireplace might be what you think of first but there are several reasons why this isn’t the most efficient or effective way to heat a home. If you’ve ever used a fireplace you know that it has a fairly limited range. Unless you live in a very small house you’re unlikely to be satisfied with the heat that a fireplace gives off if you’re anywhere other than the living room.
A wood furnace that runs on firewood or wood pellets might be another appealing option but the biggest downside is that it does require some electricity in order to turn the fan that blows the hot air through the vents in the house. This is a possibility but it would have to involve generating electricity on your own if you want it to be off-grid. The most common forms of self-generated electricity would be a propane generator outside your house or active solar. Solar panels are subject to inconsistencies like how cloudy the day is and they require a house situated in a place that gets a lot of suns. Plus if you want to be fully off-grid and you still want electricity to run appliances and other electronic devices then you probably don’t want a significant amount of the electricity you generate to go to the fans in a furnace if you can avoid it.
One fire-based heater that avoids all of these problems is the masonry heater. These heaters are over 95% efficient. Some claim they are the cleanest heat source available in terms of emissions. They burn so hotly that all of the gases and toxins are burnt up before they go out the chimney. Once the fire is started they are virtually smokeless. They are a solid mass of brick and/or stone with a unique course for the exhaust to travel from the firebox to the chimney. The exhaust chamber starts at the firebox and then winds through the mass of masonry before it exits out the chimney. This allows the masonry mass to be heated thoroughly in a short time.
You only have to burn the wood for about two hours and then you can shut it down completely. The heated masonry mass then continues to emit passive heat for the next 10 hours. Passive heat is the most comfortable heat there is. It is the same type of heat the sun puts out. You can even touch the outer stone with your hand without getting burnt so they are much safer for children and pets to be around. Because you only burn for two hours twice a day you save on wood, making this an all-around efficient and comfortable way to heat a home with no electricity or gas needed in the process.
A masonry heater is a great way to heat a home but it is also a large expenditure. Installing it in an already existing home would be a massive undertaking making it impractical as a retrofit method of making your current home off the grid. One other option for such an endeavor would be running your house on a propane generator.
Propane is an attractive fuel source for a variety of reasons. Some of these include the ease of handling and the ability to store massive amounts on your property with little effort. If you are living off the grid, you will likely use gas for cooking and hot water. Adding a propane heating system is the logical next step. There is a lot of variety when looking for a gas heating system. Some are good, while some are horribly inefficient.
For example, if you go to your local home improvement store and buy the cheapest propane heater you can get you should expect an efficiency of about 50%. For every liter of propane you purchase and consume, one half goes into home heating and the other half goes out the chimney. The better option is purchasing a high-end propane boiler/water heater. Some of these top-of-line propane-based boilers have an energy efficiency of up to 96%.
You can quickly assess the efficiency of a gas heater by looking at the chimney or venting system. If the gas heater requires a steel vent or full-blown chimney, you can expect it to waste a lot of propane. If it is vented by a small plastic (ABS or PVC) vent you can be pretty sure it will be efficient. Less heat going out the vent means more heat in your home.
Hot water boilers are the most common type of gas-based heaters but there are also hot air furnaces, water heaters, vented space heaters, fireplaces, and non-vented space heaters (most require no electricity and are 100% efficient). The efficiencies can vary widely between any of the above heaters except the non-vented space heater. As it is non-vented, all of the heat stays in your home making it as close to 100% efficient as possible. Check out the different propane heating systems before making a decision.
When people think of high-tech, off-the-grid homes, the first thing that probably comes to their minds is a roof covered in slick and shiny solar panels. Solar energy is a great option for generating power without being connected to the grid but it has a lot of weak spots too and isn’t a reliable option as the primary source of heating for many.
Still, for those of us in central Texas, it can be. That’s because we have milder winters here than most of the country and plenty of sunshine most of the year-round. Because of these two facts, solar power can be some of the cheapest alternative energy systems to set up and use and has the benefit of being completely sustainable and green, and completely self-reliant.
To take full advantage of the sun’s heat you’re going to want to implement both passive and active solar energy methods. Passive solar heating uses the intensity of the sun to heat homes quite efficiently. Assuming you have a well-insulated home, you can take advantage of passive solar heating simply by opening the blinds or curtains of sun-facing windows during the day. Proper insulation helps to keep that heat in during the night hours when the sun is no longer heating your home.
With active solar energy, you’ve got solar panels. A standard array is very low maintenance and has an extremely long lifetime. Such panels can be left unmonitored for extended periods, their operation is silent and unobtrusive, and they offer reliable, predictable levels of power output based on the amount of sunlight they receive. If your house is in an area that gets a lot of direct sunlight then with the combination of house design for the purpose of passive solar heating and the installation of solar panels, you could easily get all your home heating needs to be met with nothing other than the power of the sun.
Off the Grid Heating and Heating Repair in Austin
The dream of self-sustainability is out there and it is more achievable these days than ever. With careful planning and the right tools and knowledge, you can accomplish all of your home heating without any connection to the central infrastructure of the country that we call the grid. You have many options in this endeavor, from masonry heaters that burn wood and efficiently expel the heat through stone to passive and active solar energy systems that harness the power of the sun.
If you ever need any kind of help with your heating systems, from installation or maintenance to heater repair in Austin, call on AC Express. We’re an Austin heater repair company that does heating service in Austin and around, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Leander and Liberty Hill. For the best heater repair in town, including same-day heater repair, call today!