The weather in northern Illinois requires a home heating system that can provide reliable indoor comfort for several months out of the year. Maintaining home comfort while also spending the least amount possible on heating expenses requires a high-efficiency heating system that makes the best use of the energy it consumes to produce heat. The following information can help you choose the most efficient heating system for your needs while also taking care of issues that can boost HVAC equipment effectiveness even further.
Why Look for the Most Efficient Heating System Possible?
Heating costs account for about 45 percent of the amount of money spent on energy in an average American home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With this much money being devoted to heating, it makes good economic sense to choose the most efficient heating system you can afford for your home comfort needs.
High-efficiency heating systems also use less energy than their less efficient counterparts. The most efficient heating system will burn less fuel to generate heat, which reduces overall reliance on these limited natural resources. Electric furnaces will use less electricity, which will reduce demand on the local electric company to generate power. In total, using efficient heating equipment will be good for the environment and will contribute to energy conservation in your home and your community.
Efficiency Ratings for the Most Efficient Heating System
The efficiency indicator for both gas and electric heating systems is the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). This rating tells you how much of the energy in the fuel used by the furnace is converted to heat that can be used in your home. For example, if your natural gas furnace has an AFUE rating of 90, then 90 percent of the energy in the gas will be converted to heat. The remaining 10 percent of the energy will be lost through ventilation, exhaust, leaks, or dissipation. Higher AFUE numbers translate to higher system efficiency. In general, a heating system with an AFUE of 90 or higher can be considered a high-efficiency system.
Factors that Affect Furnace Efficiency
Before choosing a new or replacement furnace, have your local trusted HVAC professional conduct a heating load calculation on your home. This process will evaluate thermal characteristics of your home and other factors that can affect heating system performance. With the results of a heating load calculation, you’ll know how much heating your home actually needs and can choose a system that is properly sized to provide it.
Remember that these factors will affect heating system efficiency and performance:
- Local weather and climate: Homeowners in geographical regions that have more cold days over the course of a winter will need a heating system that produces enough heat to sustain indoor comfort even when temperatures are at their lowest. Running your heating system more often and at a higher level will increase energy consumption and overall costs. Having the most efficient heating system possible is essential to minimizing energy use and expenses.
- Building seal: This term refers to how tightly your home is sealed to prevent the loss of warm inside air and the infiltration of cold outdoor air. A tightly sealed home will be more energy efficient than one that has many air leaks or areas where conditioned air can escape. Improve your home’s seal by finding and sealing gaps, holes, cracks, and other openings where warm air can leak out and cold air can get in.
- Energy-efficiency projects: Any steps you have taken to improve the overall energy efficiency of your home will improve the performance of your heating system. This can include sealing air leaks, as mentioned above, or other projects such as installing new windows with low-E glass, applying window treatments to help insulate the interior of your home, and actively practicing energy conservation and savings techniques. You can have an energy audit performed to help you determine where your greatest areas of energy use and loss are, which will direct your attention to where energy efficiency improvements are needed most.
Finding the Most Efficient Heating System: Equipment Types
There are several different heating system options for homeowners, but when you’re looking for the most efficient heating system for the northern Illinois climate, there are generally two choices: natural gas furnaces or geothermal heat pumps.
- Natural gas furnaces are probably the most common type of heating system installed in American households. These types of heating systems burn natural gas to produce heat for your home. Gas is provided by a local utility company that runs a supply pipeline to your home and ensures all hookups are made correctly. Natural gas is a plentiful natural resource and costs are relatively low. High-efficiency gas furnaces can be easily found and are plentiful on the market. Look for a unit with an AFUE of 90 or higher to get the most efficient model.
- Geothermal heat pumps work on the same principle as air-source heat pumps: they capture heat and move it from place to place. This means that they do not burn any fossil fuels, but instead rely on electricity to power the heat transfer process. A geothermal system uses a standard heat pump inside your home. Heat is moved via an antifreeze solution, or sometimes plain water, circulating from the indoor heat pump into a series of pipes, called the loop. The loop pipes are either buried in the ground, or submerged in a body of water, at a depth where temperatures stay around 50 to 60 degrees all year long. The solution in the pipes absorbs from the surrounding ground or water. The hot liquid circulates into your home, where a heat exchanger transfers the heat to the air that is used to warm your home. Geothermal heat pumps are extremely efficient, often producing three or four units of heat for each unit of electricity used to acquire it. They can be used in almost any climate, and are certainly are appropriate for northern Illinois homes.
There are also other types of heating systems that can be used if gas furnaces or geothermal heat pumps are not feasible for your home. This type of equipment is also available in high-efficiency models that can reduce your energy use and expenses.
- Oil furnaces: Oil furnaces burn fuel oil to create heat. Fuel oil is a dark, viscous fluid that must be heated and atomized before it can be burned inside your furnace. The system sprays a fine mist of oil into the combustion chamber. The oil burns when it combines with oxygen. Oil furnaces are typically considered among the lowest-efficiency heating systems. They require the storage of a large amount of oil in a tank installed inside or near your home. They also have the disadvantage of requiring advanced planning to ensure the tank is filled regularly to prevent running out of fuel.
- Air-source heat pumps: Air-source heat pumps also work on the concept of capturing heat and moving it from place to place. These types of heat pumps use the air around the unit as the source for heat transfer. In moderate climates, air-source heat pumps can be highly efficient sources of indoor heating and cooling. However, they lose efficiency when outdoor temperatures drop to freezing level or below. This occurs because it is difficult for the system to extract heat from cold air. Usually, a series of internal heating elements switch on and provide heating for those times when the outdoor air is too cold. Using this alternate heat source consumes more energy and dramatically diminishes the unit’s energy efficiency.
- Electric furnaces: Electric furnaces do not burn fossil fuels at all, but instead use electricity to power internal heating elements that generate heat for your home. They are considered high-efficiency heating sources, with AFUE ratings commonly at 95 or above. Depending on the cost of electricity in your area, they may be considered an efficient choice for heating. If electricity costs are high, however, the increased costs can offset any gains in heating efficiency.
- Boilers: Boilers are sometimes used in residential heating applications, but they are more common in commercial and industrial applications and places such as schools and factories. They consume fossil fuels to heat water, which is then circulated through pipes and radiators inside the building. The heat from the hot water radiates outward, providing indoor heating. Boilers are available in high-efficiency models with AFUE ratings of 90 or higher. If using a boiler for residential heating, remember that these systems can be volatile, with the potential for damaging or injury-causing explosions. They should be regularly maintained by professionals with specialized knowledge of boiler systems.
Roberts Heating & Air Conditioning has served residential HVAC customers in Northbrook, Glenview, Evanston, and neighboring northern Illinois communities for more than 35 years. Contact us today for more information on the most efficient heating system for your home and for the expert installation, maintenance, and repair to keep it running right.
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