In common with other utilities, home heating costs are rising year on year, so much so that many consumers are regularly reviewing their household heating bills and deciding to take action. In addition to the expense of a particular system, there are now grounds for giving consideration to environmental issues and choosing heating solutions that are least damaging to the planet. In addition, lifestyle plays an important role in which type of heating fuel is most efficient and suits best. Here are a few choices to consider, based on affordability and environmental considerations.
Traditionally, wood, coal and oil have been the most popular fuels used to heat homes and sometimes the obvious choice is the one that is in plentiful supply locally, such as choosing wood due to proximity to a woodlot. Timber can be cheap, depending on location, but is something of a messy fuel to handle, often trailing in unwanted bugs; it also requires sufficient under cover storage. Contemporary stoves are more efficient than older models, but they don’t come cheap.
Coal is less frequently burned for heating and most often used to generate electricity; some 40 percent of the world’s electricity is derived from coal, although in the US its use as a means of generating electricity has been declining since 2008. Anthracite coal is the highest grade and remains popular for heating homes in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern regions and is still transported west as far as Minnesota. This is a much more efficient type and does not cause any air pollution, although there is usually a little coal dust when a stoker stove is being loaded. Most people consider burning anthracite coal to be considerably less messy than burning wood.
Heating oil has enjoyed something of a revolution in terms of its preparation and use and the Energy Communications Council says oil today burns almost 95 percent cleaner than was the case in 1970. There is an industry target to achieve zero emissions and oil is a dependable and convenient source of heat. Although prices can fluctuate due to many external factors, almost 10 percent of homes in the United States use oil fired heating systems. As with wood, oil requires storage; however it does not have to be picked up and conveyed to a stove manually by the householder. Oil storage tanks are often located below ground, for example in tanks or in basements or above ground in garages or outbuildings, so they are rarely obtrusive.
Oil furnaces are most popular in the Northeast, but increasingly oil heating systems are found in most US regions. It is possible to mix the standard Number Two grade heating oil with a higher grade more expensive oil and this method is favored particularly in very cold parts of the country, where it is found to be efficient, cost-effective and very clean.
Contemporary heating fuels
Pellet stoves burn a relatively small amount of fuel and do not require a chimney as they can be vented via a wall. They look like an oversized version of rabbit feed and are made from recycled sawdust. Some stoves can also burn unprocessed cherry pits and corn. A very clean heat source, one disadvantage is that pellets have to be bought in home improvement stores or from pellet stove dealers and transported in 40 pound bags by the customer, making them relatively inconvenient for those living some distance from a reliable source. Purchase costs vary considerably, depending on location.
Natural gas and propane gas work on similar principles; they both require furnaces and in both cases the gas can be detected easily due to the addition of an identifying odor. Neither produces any smoke nor do they cause any mess, although both must be vented to the outside of the home. The local infrastructure and operations of utility companies determines the availability of natural gas, which can be a problem when it comes to supply, whereas propane is readily available in most parts of the country. This is a particularly viable fuel source for people who do not have ready access to natural gas. Householders have the option of installing a tank to be filled as needed, either above or below ground.
Reliability and cleanliness are important features of propane gas, which is colorless, nontoxic and chosen by more than 12.6 million Americans for a wide range of uses, including as a standby generator when the electric power goes out.