Wouldn’t life be simpler if we all had fewer options? We’d spend considerably less time staring at the menu at a restaurant or deciding between outfits when shopping at the mall. But while having many options can at times be stressful, the luxury of choice allows us to personalize our lives in any way which we see fit. You can find the outfit that’s perfect for you or the meal that will hit the spot. It’s also easy to take away the stress of so many options when you have detailed knowledge of what you’re getting yourself into, which is why we’re here.
Through the years, the HVAC industry has developed hosts of options for homeowners across the world. Now homeowners in Columbia, Maryland, can have the heating or cooling system that best suits their preferences for indoor air quality, installation cost, efficiency, and more. Maybe the costs of your upcoming utility bills this winter are making you consider looking into a new system, or maybe your old system looks like it doesn’t have much time left before it will need replacing. Before committing to one of your many heating options, consider these important factors so that you can have the efficient and comfortable home you deserve.
Here are five things Mid-Atlantic homeowners should know about their heating options.
Gas Furnace vs. Oil Furnace
To start us off, let’s consider two of the most common heating options: gas and oil furnaces. Both work in a similar way, but it’s the differences that you’ll want to pay attention to.
Gas furnaces burn either propane or natural gas, and they’re generally designed to burn only that specific gas, so once you decide which fuel source to use, you’re committed. Gas is delivered to the system through pipe networks running through your neighborhood. The system ignites that gas, which in turn heats the heat exchanger. Once heated up, the blower pumps air over the exchanger and through the home’s duct network.
Oil furnaces function similarly to a gas furnace, but the heating process is slightly different. Instead of running through city pipes, oil is generally stored in a storage tank at the home. When the heater kicks on, oil is pumped from the tank and into the furnace where pressure turns it into a fine mist. That mist then enters a combustion chamber where it mixes with air and is ignited by a spark. That combustion heats up the chamber and the heat exchanger absorbs the energy. Air is then blown across the exchanger and into the home.
Before you look into any kind of heating option, you should establish exactly what you want, then look for the option that best meets your needs. One factor you’ll want to consider is the option’s efficiency rating. All heating options are rated according to the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency standard, often abbreviated as AFUE. AFUE ratings illustrate the percentage of fuel that is delivered in the form of usable heat. It measures the efficiency of your furnace.
Thanks to a better rate of energy transfer in the heat exchanger, gas furnaces generally have a higher AFUE rating than oil furnaces, which means that gas tends to be more efficient. However, at times oil is cheaper to buy.
You’ll also need to consider the maintenance demand of your system. All heating options require maintenance, but especially oil furnaces. Oil residue can build up over time, which clogs atomizer jets and cuts efficiency. Some components on oil furnaces are also more expensive to replace.
Gas Boilers vs. Oil Boilers
Rather than forcing hot air throughout a home or office, boilers offer radiant heating from hot water pumped through piping. Many feel that this radiant heating more evenly heats the living space. The oil heating process of a boiler is similar to that of a furnace. Oil is converted into a mist, heated, then heat is transferred to the water. When the building needs heat, the boiler pumps water through the pipes in the walls, ceilings, and floors of the home.
Gas boilers are also similar to their furnace counterparts. Gas is heated in the combustion chamber and the heat exchanger transfers energy to the water. Condensing boilers are a subset of gas boilers that tend to maintain greater efficiency than their conventional cousins. They do so by recovering waste water vapor that is normally exhausted out of the flue pipe and converting it back into liquid, and this process releases latent heat.
No matter which fuel type you are using, you’ll need to consider your existing heating infrastructure when looking into installing a boiler. You can’t simply plug a boiler into an existing duct network, as you could with a new furnace. You’ll have to consider if you want to run pipes through your home.
Gas boilers tend to have a higher AFUE rating than oil boilers, which means gas is generally more efficient. Before buying any boiler, however, you’ll want to look into fuel costs for natural gas and oil in your local area. Natural gas usually runs cheaper, but in areas where oil is in high demand, oil will be the cheaper option. Energy costs change often, so what’s cheaper one month may fluctuate over time. You may have to decide whether increased efficiency is worth a higher purchase cost.
Like oil furnaces, oil boilers require more maintenance, since oil residue clogs the system.
Furnace vs. Boiler
How do you choose between a furnace and boiler? Again, it comes down to what you’re searching for. Boilers are usually much more expensive than furnaces, but many homeowners like how boilers naturally maintain a healthy humidity level and how they run more quietly than furnaces. And since boilers don’t have duct systems, they also tend to maintain higher levels of indoor air quality.
Geothermal Heat Pump
Out of these heating options, the geothermal heat pump is arguably the most efficient. Heat pumps are unique in that they don’t require a fuel like gas or oil to generate heat. Instead, heat pumps transfer heat with a source, as a geothermal heat pump transfers heat with the ground. It does this by pumping refrigerant through a closed-loop pipe system buried in the ground. In the same way as air-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps can either cool or heat your home, switching roles with the flick of a switch.
Since the ground has such a stable temperature for transferring heat, geothermal heat pumps tend to be exceptionally efficient. Once they’ve been installed, they are also relatively cheap to maintain. But on the other hand, geothermal heat pumps are unfortunately expensive to install, since you’ll have to dig up your yard to place the rods. Many homeowners are comfortable with these installation costs because that money returns to them in the form of vastly reduced utility bills.
Propane vs. Natural Gas
If you opt in to installing a gas furnace or boiler, you’ll need to decide which type of gas you want fueling your system, either propane or natural gas. What’s the difference? Natural gas is actually a combination of multiple gases, including propane, butane, ethane, and methane. Propane stands on its own after being separated from other gases.
Propane contains twice the energy of natural gas, which makes it far more efficient. Double the energy means that propane burns nearly half as much in an hour as natural gas will, to achieve the same amount of heat. However, natural gas is cheaper than propane, so you may have to make another choice between cost and efficiency.
Both gases are environmentally friendly, but propane tends to burn cleaner. Some call it a “green fuel,” while natural gas is technically a greenhouse gas. Propane also takes longer to dissipate when released into the atmosphere, so it’s considered less safe than natural gas.
Now is the hard part: sifting through the options and making the choice. You have the tools and the knowledge, so choose the heating option that best fits your home, your budget, and your lifestyle. Once you’ve made your decision and chosen your heating option, call Griffith Energy Services at 888-721-5707.
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