atHome // Warm toes, cool Earth: Efficient home heating is just beneath your feet

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Photo provided by the Passive Home Institute.

Traditionally, homes have been heated by forced-air systems that rely on natural gas or fossil fuels.

Today’s builders and homeowners, however, understand the problems these systems cause, which extend use of precious resources and cause inefficiencies that translate into increased costs, not to mention the damage done to the Earth though high carbon dioxide emissions. Of course, these problems are compounded by the fact that our homes use 37 percent more energy today than they did in 1980, according to the Department of Energy.

Homeowners now have multiple ways to increase heating efficiencies, lower heating costs, and have less impact on the environment through innovative home-heating solutions. In geothermal heating, heat from the earth is harnessed through a variety of closed-loop systems, while in popular radiant heating, a liquid transfer warms from beneath the floor. Both eco-friendly heating solutions continue to evolve as scientists and engineers work to create the perfect balance of comfort and efficiency.

Taking the idea of radiant heating one step further, a company in St. Louis, Missouri, manufactures the Step Warmfloor, a strong, flexible, flat, and thin polymer heating element designed for installation under most floors. Unlike other radiant systems, it does not require water to create heat; instead, nanotechnology research led to the creation of a special plastic that is electrically conductive and creates heat based on resistance in the material. This system is self-regulating, which means it cannot overheat and is both safe and extremely energy efficient.

Perhaps the ultimate in eco-friendly heating systems is the passive home, wherein heat is gained through sun exposure and the normal operation of appliances within the home. The home is warmed through these means coupled with maximum insulation and total control of air seepage, creating an airtight structure that maintains a comfortable temperature. This sort of home requires several considerations when building: a build site that maximizes sun exposure, a smaller footprint (roughly 500 square feet per person), high-performance (think triple paned) windows and doors, and a superior ventilation system. While this may seem extreme, by using modern technologies, passive-home construction could be the model for heating (and cooling) of homes in the future.

Of course, maximum heating efficiency and comfort cannot be achieved through the heating system alone. Programmable thermostats, which can easily be retrofitted with an older system, can save up to 10 percent on heating bills. And proper insulation, air sealing, and energy-efficient doors and windows are key for your heating system to operate at peak efficiency and to keep your toes toasty on those cool autumn nights.

Corley Plumbing, Air, Electric in Greenville offers the Nest thermostat. It learns the temperatures you prefer and programs itself to adapt. In a study, it saved on average of 10 to 12 percent on heating bills. And it’s Wi-Fi enabled, so you can track usage from anywhere, any time.

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