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In addition to changing behavior, Everett suggests letting technology help by use of a timer on the thermostat. “Timers are great for anyone who is tech savvy enough to use the darn thing,” she says. “If you go out to work at the same time every day, you can set it up to turn down at 9 in the morning and turn back up at 4:45.”
DON'T BREAK THE SEAL
New Paltz-based architect Rick Alfandre is a big supporter of air-sealing as a means to keep warmed air inside the home where it belongs. A member of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association and the American Solar Energy Society, Alfandre takes the idea of green energy seriously, and that often begins with sealing any air leaks.
Whole-house fans and attic steps are often sources of heat loss, and both can be sealed airtight for winter through the use of insulated covers. Another potential culprit is a bathroom vent fan, which can easily be remedied with an insulated duct installed beneath attic insulation. If the home has an attached garage, the door that goes to it from inside the house should be airtight and insulated.
And while it represents a larger project for homeowners, Alfandre recommends looking at the boiler or furnace in the home, especially those that may have been around for a while. “It’s not uncommon to see old and antiquated boilers and furnaces, and there may be a reason to consider upgrading to a new piece of equipment. We’re tending to push people to sealed combustion, either propane or natural gas.”
An effective system, Alfandre contends, will work with outside air rather than drawing it from within the house. “We really want to take the combustion air from the outside and feed it directly to the boiler or burner without taking it from the conditioned space,” he says.
Alyce Wittus is the vice president of Wittus Fire By Design in Pound Ridge, a company dedicated to utilizing classic European stove technology in a modern way. For some homeowners, Wittus recommends a wood or gas insert that fits into an existing fireplace and has a glass door on the front. This can be more effective, she says, than a standard fireplace. “That’s always a good way to stay warm. The newer products are a lot more energy efficient and most of them are CPA certified. They’re clean burning.”
Freestanding woodburning stoves are also an option. They are more green than gas stoves, Wittus says, and if you are building an addition, they are often less expensive and more eco-friendly than electrical baseboard heating.
For homeowners using woodburning stoves, Wittus says sometimes being patient and understanding firewood is the best way of ensuring maximum efficiency. “You should only use hard wood, and it should be dry. We recommend two years of drying. You can tell by picking it up. If it’s still heavy, it’s still damp.”
Also recommended are pellet stoves, which use ground-up wood that Wittus says “looks like rabbit turd. It’s a newer kind of concept that’s very good for people who don’t have access to wood very easily. The stoves are efficient, but they usually require some kind of electricity, so if you have a power failure, it’s not so good.”
Wittus says now is a good time to consider installing a heating system that uses biomass products like wood, pellet, and ethanol products, because a federal tax credit of 30 percent and up to $1,500 is available through 2010. “You can spend up to $5,000 and you’re really only spending $3,500,” she says.
THE RETROFIT OPTION
Another option for homeowners is radiant floor heating. John Abularrage, president of Advanced Radiant Design in Stone Ridge, says the concept works because it’s so different from forced air options. With forced air, he explains, “the method of delivering the heat creates a cooling effect,” just as one of the best ways to cool yourself on a hot summer day is with moving air. “Radiant heating works the opposite. It primarily heats the objects in the room, and the air secondarily.”
One of the appeals of radiant heating, which circulates heated water through a network of tubes in the floor, is that it can be utilized with very little energy, keeping water temperatures at 100 degrees or less. “It works synergistically very well,” Abularrage says.
While radiant flooring systems are most commonly associated with new construction, they can be installed in existing homes. For example, a raised ranch with an unfinished basement can have radiant tubing installed directly beneath the main floor. And in rooms without permanent fixed flooring, carpeting can be rolled up and half-inch radiant tubing installed below.