By Emily Folk
Heating the average home creates 6,400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions if it uses natural gas and 4,700 pounds if it uses electricity. In colder states, heating could make up two thirds of a household’s energy costs each year. All of those greenhouse gas emissions can take quite a toll on the environment.
Even if you want to run your home in an eco-friendly way, you still want to stay warm during the winter. Although throwing an extra sweater might help on some days, when it really gets cold, you’re going to want to throw on the heat. But how can you do that without significantly growing your carbon footprint?
Environmentally friendly home heating strategies can be broken down into main categories – efficiency and heat source. Efficiency has to do with how well you use the resources you have. Heat source is the way you get your heat, and some methods are more eco-friendly than others. We’ll start with the first part.
Efficiency improvements allow you to save energy and reduce emissions without having to completely change your heat source. One of the best ways to improve efficiency is by using insulation to stop heat from escaping your home. A home energy audit can help you determine where you might be losing hot air. Opening like windows and doors are typical culprits.
Program Your Thermostat
Your thermostat is a powerful tool for improving efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save 10 percent on your energy bill by turning your thermostat down by seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day.
Turn down the temperatures when you don’t really need it, such as when you’re not home or when you’re asleep under the covers. You could even consider a smart thermostat, which can automatically adjust the temperature based on your heating. For example, it will turn it up right before you wake up in the morning, back down when you leave for work and up again when you’re on your way home.
Alternative Heat Sources
If you want to go even further in your efforts to make your heat greener, you could start using one of these alternative, eco-friendly heating methods.
Most solar panels today can achieve an energy efficiency rating of 11 to 15 percent, which represents the amount of sunlight they convert into usable energy. Engineers are also continuously improving the functionality of these devices, and their prices continue to drop.
Solar panels can work with systems that heat a liquid or heat air. The type you choose will largely depend on the system you already use. Chances are you’ll be able to hook your solar system into your current heating equipment.
While installing solar panels requires an upfront investment, you’ll save money in the long run because of all the energy your solar panels generate.
Another renewable heating source takes advantage of the warmth that’s already in the ground. Geothermal heating systems pipe the earth’s natural heat from underground into a heat pump that circulates the resulting warm air through your house.
Geothermal heating is extremely eco-friendly. While it, like solar, requires an upfront investment, a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost is available. Geothermal will save you money in the long run – as much as 60 percent compared to using a traditional furnace.
Pellet Stove Heating
Pellet stoves, while similar to a wood stove, are more eco-friendly and less expensive. Instead of burning wood, you burn small pellets made of things like grasses and sawdust. The ingredients used to make pellets are either renewable or waste products, like sawdust, that would normally be thrown away.
A pellet stove costs around $2500 and pellets for one heating season could cost as little as $600. Pellet stoves have an overall efficiency rating of 75 to 90 percent, but typically require electricity, meaning that electricity use creates some additional emissions unless it’s generated by an emissions-free energy source.
You don’t have to suffer through the cold this winter to have an eco-friendly home. By taking measures to increase your energy efficiency and using green heat sources, you can heat your home without a huge increase in your carbon footprint.
Emily is a sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.
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