Heating the house accounts for about 29 percent of energy use in the average U.S. home (see References 1). Green heating alternatives reduce reliance on nonrenewable resources like oil and natural gas by relying on energy from renewable sources like biomass, geothermal heat and the sun. Choose an appropriate green heating system based on the size, construction and location of your home. (See References 2)
The sun provides free heat for your home. Passive solar systems integrate a variety of non-intensive measures, such as large, south-facing windows shaded by deciduous trees or an overhang that keeps the sun out in summer, but allows it into the house in winter. Using thermal mass materials such as stone or concrete in the construction of your home can also serve to absorb heat during peak sun hours and release the stored heat into the home at night. (See References 2)
Active solar heating uses collectors, usually mounted on a roof and facing southward, to concentrate sunlight so that it heats air or liquid that is then pumped around the house. (See References 2) Though more complex than passive solar designs, heat from active solar systems can be used to warm not just living spaces but your home's water supply. Some states offer tax credits and deductions to those incorporating such solar systems, which means that using active solar heat can be both eco-friendly and fiscally beneficial.
Wood stoves produce heat by burning seasoned hardwood. Older or improperly-used stoves produce smoke and pollution, and can reduce indoor air quality. New stoves are designed to provide more complete combustion, reducing both smoke and ash production. In areas with access to free wood, such stoves offer a low-cost heating alternative using renewable resources, but they are more labor-intensive than other common household heating systems. Some stoves can also burn wood pellets, which are made from discarded wood scraps and sawdust; therefore, you can embrace the principles of reuse and recycling while you heat your home. (See References 2)
In winter, anything that's a few feet underground will stay considerably warmer than something exposed to the cold air. A ground-source or geothermal heat pump uses the heat stored underground to increase the efficiency of a heating system. While a furnace or boiler uses energy to create and distribute heat, heat pumps use energy to move heat from underground into your house, a much less energy intensive process. Ground-source heat pumps are more expensive to install than many other systems, but can last more than 25 years. (See References 3)
Based in central Missouri, Rachel Steffan has been writing since 2005. She has contributed to several online publications, specializing in sustainable agriculture, food, health and nutrition. Steffan holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Truman State University.
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