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Alternative Heating: Something For Everyone

Even if you owned a million dollar townhouse in Bostonís Back Bay, there just isn't enough room on a 25í x 100í lot for a townhouse, small deck, a couple of parking spaces AND a closed loop geothermal heating system.

If you live in high humidity Alabama, the less expensive and environmentally friendly
swamp cooler will never be a viable substitute for central air conditioning.

Only when you narrow down the choices for alternative heating or cooling based on
where you live, can you begin to focus your time and energy on the most relevant, cost effective heating solution.

Urban Alternative Heating
Geothermal, outdoor furnaces and most wind power are not suitable for urban or small-lot suburban homes. Except for very small wind turbines (i.e., with rotors one meter or less in diameter) on very small towers, a property size of one acre or more is desirable.

Wood burning stoves have been used in urban areas for as long as I can remember.
I bought my first air tight stove in 1976. Corn and wood pellet stoves are quickly gaining acceptance as new installations or replacements for existing wood stoves.

One Connecticut pellet stove dealer I spoke with said he sold so many wood pellet and corn stoves last winter he was forced to temporarily close one of his two stores for lack of product.

An adaptation of the wood or pellet stove is the fully vented fireplace insert. They are
comparably priced to freestanding stoves and offer a simple way to turn an otherwise inefficient fireplace into a source of heat for multiple rooms.

Unvented gas log fireplaces or propane space heaters are less expensive to purchase
and install but are controversial with respect to health risks and are prohibited in some localities. Make sure the unit you purchase has an ODS (Oxygen Depletion Sensor). This safety device turns off the heater when the oxygen in the room drops below 18%. (Normal is around 21%)

Decorative gel fireplaces are nice to look at, but arenít considered legitimate heating

Electric and hydronic (hot water) radiant heat are extremely versatile and can be
installed anywhere. The hydronic application of radiant heat can be fueled by anything from corn to gas and can be adapted to heat driveways, hot tubs and of course, your home.

Electric radiant heat panels, such as those pioneered by Enerjoy, can be installed for half the cost of a forced air system and provide the ultimate in zoned heating. Individual rooms can easily be retrofitted using the existing wiring and will bring the room up to temperature in as little as four minutes.

Electric heating mats or cables are another retrofit solution that can be installed under floor joists or sandwiched between the sub floor and any floor covering, even carpets.

Solar for hot water is on the rise in urban areas. A neighbor of mine in the Port Norfolk section of Boston recently installed a solar array on the roof of his two family home. His contractor did a first rate job and it doesnít detract from the visual appeal of his house at all. He also says his hot water bill now costs him ďchump changeĒ.

Letís not forget the ever popular space heater. For many elderly homeowners who
spend most of their time in one room of their home, a space heater is the least expensive way to supplement their conventional heating system.

Suburban Alternative Heating
Suburban lot sizes can run anywhere from ľ of an acre to three acres. But even a quarter acre lot opens up the possibility of a vertical closed loop geothermal system.

A three acre lot will afford you the space to install a slightly less expensive horizontal
closed loop geothermal system, a wind turbine or even an outdoor wood, pellet or corn furnace.

At approximately 00, the outdoor furnace is your least expensive option. A quality 1,800 watt wind turbine and tower can be purchased for ,000. If geothermal is your system of choice, a new 3,000 sq. ft. home can be heated and cooled for around ,000. Rebates and tax credits could reduce this amount substantially.

For instance, if you partner with a program such as Energy Crafted Home in Connecticut, itís possible to receive a rebate of 3 per ton of geothermal heating/cooling capacity. For the 3,000 sq. ft. home just mentioned, it would mean a rebate of ,971.

Although wind, geothermal and outdoor furnace systems are more expensive than the typical 00 wood pellet stove, they are very efficient and pay for themselves in only a few years.

The increasingly popular manufactured home is a growing segment of the suburban real estate market, and fire safety codes are very specific as to what you can use to heat your home.

Check with your insurance agent and local building department to find out exactly which alternative heating appliances are permitted before you start shopping.

Rural Alternative Heating
Just as the sky and landscape open up in rural America, so do opportunities for
alternative heating.

With so much room to work with, you could easily design a CHP (Combined Heat and
Power Unit) and heat your home for 70% less than fuel oil.

A possible CHP for homeowners in the Corn Belt would be an outdoor corn furnace for heat and hot water, coupled with a wind turbine for electricity

If your property includes a shallow pond or lake, a closed loop geothermal system will heat and cool your home for the cost of electricity to operate a heat pump.

The choices for alternative heating are plentiful no matter where you live. Itís just a matter of knowing where you fit in.

About the Author: offers a unique look into geothermal heating and cooling, radiant heating, solar heating systems and pellet burning stoves.

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