Don’t Put All Your Heating Dollars Into One Blanket

June 16, 2010

My apology to those readers (if there are any) expecting a post about American Clay.  My scheduled meeting with an American Clay applicator was rescheduled for next week, so I am postponing that post.  For today, the subject is heating renovation.

Don’t Put All Of Your Blankets In One Basket

As a part-time builder of energy efficient homes, my recent decision with my wife to purchase an existing home has provoked some trepidation within me.  The reason is simple: construction of a new, super efficient home would likely have greater chance of success than retro-fitting an existing home that was built without sustainable principals in mind.  Never-the-less, circumstances have deemed purchasing an existing home to be the best option when factoring other considerations such as proximity to local resources.

Among those who are not experienced with energy efficient building, most assume slapping on solar panels or installing a new modulating boiler will solve all of your home’s energy deficiencies.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Homeowners and builders need to understand products and their individual performance characteristics, as well as how those products function in conjunction with other equipment and materials.

Several pieces of equipment, in addition to design ideas can help make your home efficient, but having all of these pieces working together can create significant energy demand and savings.  For example, at Greenovations ( ) we supply Runtal Radiators.  Installed in a house with an outdated furnace or boiler, Runtal Radiators ( )will provide a fabulous modern touch to your decorating, but they won’t save you energy.  The advantage of a Runtal wall panel or towel radiator is that these gems can heat a room while using lower water temperatures.  Most furnaces, and the standard hydronic basedboard we see in most homes, operate and require temperatures at 180 degrees.  While Runtal will operate well at 180 degress, it doesn’t have to.  Runtal is most efficient when used with a low temperature boiler.  This is in part due to the cold rolled steel of the apparatus that retains heat longer, as well the flattened tube technology (among other factors).  The end result is that your heating system will permit a smaller boiler and pump; one other way that Runtal can save you energy costs.  Because the house we are moving into has glued down hardwood floors that are in good condition, my wife and I won’t be tearing them up to install radiant heat in the floors.  Instead, installing Runtal radiators will be one component of our retrofit.

Still, we can put the best mechanical equipment on the market today in our home and see little savings.  A poorly insulated and poorly sealed home will waste dollars on top of the dollars a good mechanical system requires.  It only makes sense that we properly seal the house and insulate at the same time that we update the heating system.  Most often, a blown-in insulation offers the highest performance due to their ability to seal up a house.  But that won’t stop me from getting into the rim joists and other such joints with spray cans of PurFill.  Most likely, we will insulate our house with paper cellulose over spray foam, but we won’t finalize that decision until after a careful energy audit.

There are numerous other factors to consider regarding the ambient temperature of your home.  How good are your windows?  Are your doors fitted properly so that air doesn’t flow through them?  If you have a woodstove or a fireplace does it have a system to stop air leakage through the flue.  At our home we will be installing a wood stove insert from Rais ( ), the best stove maker out there.  Rais is the world leader when it comes to heating efficiency and the reduction of particle emissions of woodstoves.  As well, their doors have a unique hinging system that locks them nearly air-tight.

If you are retrofitting your home for energy efficiency there are many steps you can take, but all of the steps are only good as the whole plan.  Before taking the plunge, get an energy audit so that you can prioritize your spending.  Not all of these steps need to be done at the same time.  The budget always dictates.  But these steps all must be acted upon in concert to maximize your home heating efficiency.  Eventually (sooner than later) you should complete the plan and make your house the most efficient, and therefore, comfortable house in the neighborhood.

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