Guide to Greener Heating: Your Best and Cheapest Home Heating Options

Cleaner, greener home heating options are abundant, but they’re not all equal. Compare the pros and cons before you decide which should heat your home.

  • Energy Efficiency
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Gary Reysa's Montana home has a shed (right) that collects and transfers heat to the house (left) through underground water pipes. The garage (middle) is heated by solar hot air collectors.  
    Photo By Gary Reysa
  • Easily Add Insulation to Attics and Crawl Spaces
    You can easily add insulation to attics and crawl spaces to help reduce your energy bills in winter. 
    Photo By Ottmar Bierwagen
  • A Blower Door
    A blower door test will help you discover and seal leaks in your home.  
    Photo By Fotolia/Macdreid
  • Solar Thermal Heating Systems
    Solar thermal heating systems can be installed on new or existing homes. 
    Photo By Ottmar Bierwagen
  • Reliable Solar Thermal Systems
    Solar thermal systems are a reliable, cost-effective way to heat your home. 
    Photo By
  • Radiant Floor Heating
    Solar thermal systems can tie into new or existing radiant floor, baseboard hot water and forced-air systems. 
    Photo By Fotolia/Chlorophylle
  • Tie Into a New or Existing Radiant Floor System
    Solar thermal systems can tie into new or existing radiant floor, baseboard hot water and forced-air systems. 
    Illustration By Len Churchill

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Easily Add Insulation to Attics and Crawl Spaces
  • A Blower Door
  • Solar Thermal Heating Systems
  • Reliable Solar Thermal Systems
  • Radiant Floor Heating
  • Tie Into a New or Existing Radiant Floor System

Heating our homes and businesses is expensive, and doing so is getting more costly each year. As costs rise and climate change complications increase, more and more of us are searching for cleaner, greener and more affordable home heating options. Fortunately, there are many. Choose carefully, however, as not all options are equal. Some greener home heating options rely on nonrenewable fuels, such as natural gas. Moreover, some are ideally suited for new construction while others work best for retrofitting existing buildings.

Efficiency First

Before you start shopping for a home heating system, remember that significant gains in comfort and energy savings can be achieved quickly and inexpensively by making your home or business more energy-efficient. Doing so requires a series of relatively simple steps — most important, sealing leaks in the walls, ceilings and floors, and around doors and windows.

To get started, you can hire a professional energy auditor, who will give your home a complete energy physical examination. A home energy audit can also help you determine the exact costs and savings of upgrading your heating system to one of the available options described here. The cost of an energy audit will vary depending on where you live, but it can be $500 or more. (If that’s too expensive, you can do a free online energy survey or a DIY audit — for more information read Home Energy Audits: Measure Your Energy Costs and Add Up the Savings!. 

One of the most valuable tests an energy auditor will perform is a blower door test, which determines how leaky your house is. The test will also help you identify where leaks are located so they can be sealed with caulk, liquid spray foam or weatherstripping, depending on their location.

After the building has been sealed up, it’s time to pile on the insulation. Significant energy savings call for generous amounts of insulation that exceed current code requirements. Like caulk and weatherstripping, insulation not only reduces energy bills in winter, it also reduces heat gain in the cooling season, helping you slash your fuel bills while keeping you and your family comfortable.

You can easily add insulation to most attics and under floors lying over unconditioned (not heated or cooled) spaces, such as crawl spaces. You can also easily add insulation to uninsulated walls. Beefing up existing wall insulation is more demanding than adding insulation to an attic, but it can be done. Consult an insulation expert to find out your choices. Also consider installing insulated window shades and using them diligently to stay warm in winter.

11/6/2015 8:27:08 AM

As mentioned above, the very first thing homeowners should do is increase their insulation in attic spaces. My house was built in 1997. The insulation codes have changed since then to require much deeper insulation. I hired a contractor to increase the insulation in the attic to meet the new code at least. The difference in year-round temperatures inside are notable. The house rarely becomes too hot in the summer (stays roughly at 65-70 degrees) and in the winter stays at 59-64 without any added heating. Therefore I use heating and cooling about 50-75% less of the time. A HUGE savings to say the least. The cost of the insulation work was about 3,000 dollars but so totally worth it.

2/26/2015 8:32:04 AM

Very Exciting! Thank you for the concise guide. We're replacing the boiler after Hurricane Irene and are considering better ways to heat our home. New York also offers On Bill Recovery to help spread out costs of new more efficient heat and solar power. This brings systems into reach that used to have too many up front costs.

6/11/2014 10:54:09 AM

Having an efficient heating system in your home is so important and overlooked by so many people. They think that prices for things such as and solar panels are expensive, but in the long run they are paying huge amounts more on their annual heating expenses!



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