Saving money is at the top of the list for homeowners.
“How can my home run more efficiently?”
“What’s the best way to save on my energy bills?”
To start, the best investment for any homeowner, new home or existing, is proper air sealing and insulation. Having a high performance building envelope is the key to comfort and efficient performance of any heating or cooling system. Cottonwood Custom Builders specializes in the attention to detail necessary to properly air seal, waterproof, and insulate a home for our Colorado weather extremes.
There are two main types of heating and cooling systems – radiant and forced air.
To help you discover how to save money and energy when heating your home, we have put together an outline of different systems, how they work and some pros and cons of each system.
Need to Know: Radiant Heat
Radiant heat is extremely comfortable and provides a consistent warm feeling throughout the living space. It is very common in homes along the Front Range and comes in many different forms – heated floors, wall mounted radiators, ceiling panels, and stand alone heat sources like wood or gas stoves. (NOTE: There are clean burning, EPA rated wood stoves that can be burned on any day of the winter, provide a very green heat source and are powered by biofuel).
In general, radiant is more expensive than forced air and also doesn’t include the duct work usually needed for air conditioning. If your home gets plenty of passive solar heat, a radiant heating system can conflict with the comfort level of the house, but when designed properly, homeowners can enjoy radiant heat without compromising comfort on sunny days.
The Traditional Route: Forced Air Heating and Cooling
Forced air heat is the most common type of system in Colorado homes. Today, there is extremely high-efficiency equipment available that is far superior to what was available 10 years ago. In homes that are properly insulated and air sealed, forced air can provide a very consistent and comfortable interior environment. This kind of heat also provides an easy way to add humidification, which is absolutely necessary for comfort in our cold winter weather.
Which System Is Right For You?
Your heating should be designed to match your lifestyle and budget. Once you decide which system is best, the next choice is how to power that system.
Before deciding, consider the location, your self-sufficiency goals, local building codes and budget. Options range from high-efficiency gas fired and electric powered equipment, to solar hot water (solar thermal panels), solar electric (photovoltaic panels) and geothermal.
Gas Fired Heating and Cooling
High efficiency gas fired heating systems can include a 95% efficient condensing boiler for radiant heat or a 95% efficient furnace for forced air. These are much more efficient than any of the boilers or furnaces installed in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Solar Heating Systems
Solar Thermal is a great fit for homes with radiant hot water heat and homes with swimming pools or outdoor spas. A small solar thermal system is also a great choice for heating hot water used in the home. This system uses the power of the abundant Colorado sunshine to heat water with zero fossil fuels or utility bills. Solar thermal does require a larger upfront investment and on-going maintenance, but is a great choice over the long term for a high performance home.
Solar photovoltaic heating is also a great choice to subsidize the energy use of any home. There are rebates offered by many utility companies and any excess electricity produced can be sold back to the utility to offset the electric use of the home. PV has the advantage of needing almost no maintenance and will perform for the lifetime of the home.
Geothermal can be used for both radiant or forced air systems and uses the earth’s temperature to boost the heating or cooling of a home. Like solar, geothermal also requires a larger upfront investment, but provides a great long term payback and is a great approach to reach a net zero level of performance.
The Most Important Factor?
No matter which type you choose for your home, the most critical component of any heating system is a very tight building envelope (i.e. the construction of the exterior of the house—roof, walls, floors, windows) to ensure the home is air tight, water proof, has thermal breaks in materials from interior to exterior, and is well insulated. If your home isn’t built well, your heating systems can’t work efficiently.
Cottonwood Custom Builders works closely with you to design a system that matches your budget, your lifestyle and your commitment to “being green.” Give us a call, so we can help you get started.