What’s The Best Type of Heating System For My New Custom Home?
The leaves are falling from the trees, the days are growing shorter, and the first of our seasonal West Coast storms has already moved across the South Island. There’s no question that Autumn has arrived in Victoria, which means the colder temperatures of winter won’t be far behind.
Building a custom home in our wet coastal climate requires smart decision-making when it comes to choosing your in-home heating source. With so many heating options available, LIDA Construction would like to take you through the pros and cons of some of the more common types of heating systems to help you make the best decision for your home. Choosing the most suitable heating system for your new home will not only create excellent energy efficiency but save you money on your heating bills for many years to come.
Wood Burning Fireplace
When homeowners dream about their ideal custom home and visualize family and friends gathered for holidays, wood-burning fireplaces with big, beautiful mantles – perfect for hanging stockings – are often at the top of the wish list.
While it’s hard to imagine anything that beats the smells and sounds of a crackling fire on a cold winter’s night, wood-burning fireplaces are a lot of work and maintenance. If the manual labour of collecting, splitting, and stacking firewood doesn’t deter you, then the time and cost involved in purchasing the wood and maintaining the chimney might.
Many modern-day homeowners are opting for the next best thing, gas fireplaces. Gas fireplace inserts come in an array of styles to match any aesthetic and still provide the look of a flame, without all the work and upkeep of its wood-burning counterparts. For smaller homes, gas fireplaces can provide adequate whole-home heating, but in most cases fireplaces are used as supplemental heating or purely for decoration.
Wood Stove or Pellet Stove
Wood stoves are still a popular type of heating because our climate is so moist in the winter and wood stoves offer a very dry heat. Similar to wood-burning fireplaces, however, the manual labour and ongoing material cost that comes along with burning wood is something that bears consideration.
It is also worth noting that many municipalities are discouraging – and some even banning – wood-burning heating options in an effort to mitigate the impact on air quality.
Pellet stoves are a little less labour intensive and do provide “cleaner burning” materials, but still require purchasing and storing pellets and fueling the stove regularly to maintain heat.
Originating in the late 1920s, baseboard heating was invented by a Mr. William Wesley Hicks from San Francisco. Hicks successfully patented his design of a hard-wired heater that replaced or hid behind wood baseboards – hence the name “baseboard heater”. You can think of a baseboard heater a bit like a space heater, but the only difference is that it’s hardwired.
Pros of Baseboard Heaters
Baseboard heaters are relatively inexpensive to install and can be reasonably well hidden or incorporated into a room’s design so there is minimal impact on the aesthetic. They also allow the user to easily adjust the temperature room by room.
Cons of Baseboard Heaters
On the flip side, baseboard heaters are powered by electricity and can be expensive to operate, particularly if your home does not have exceptional insulation. Also, baseboard heaters are safest and most efficient when left unobstructed. However, this can limit the ability to rearrange furniture in rooms where baseboard heaters are mounted.
Fueled by oil, natural gas or electricity, a furnace requires ducting to distribute heat throughout the house and a thermostat controls the temperature of the entire home.
Pros of Central Furnaces
Similar to baseboard heaters, electric furnaces are relatively inexpensive to install and have a considerably long lifespan lasting anywhere from 20-30 years. Likewise, electric furnaces are also expensive to operate, perhaps even more so as they heat the whole home versus individual rooms as needed.
Cons of Central Furnaces
Central furnaces that are operated by oil or gas, by comparison, have a lower operating cost. However, they are often more expensive to install, particularly if you do not already have a gas line connected to your home. Also, oil or gas-powered units don’t have as lengthy of a lifespan as electric options, which means the cost of repairs or replacement may outweigh operational savings.
While modern day oil and gas furnaces are built to the strictest of specifications with added safety features, for some homeowners, the potential risks (however unlikely) of carbon monoxide poisoning, gas leaks, fire or even explosion, may be a deal-breaker.
Generally speaking, central furnace systems can provide one of the most reliable sources of heating in some of the coldest climates, unlike heat pumps (for example) which rely, in part, on the presence of warmth in the air to produce heat rendering them less effective during extended or extreme cold snaps. And speaking of heat pumps….
A heat pump is commonly thought of as a two-way air conditioner. In the summer, the pump moves hot air outside and, in the winter, it reverses and uses an electrical system to bring in warm air.
Heat Pumps are Extremely Energy Efficient
There are a few different types of heat pumps, ranging from very small to very large, commercial-sized units. While heat pumps do operate on electricity, they are considerably more efficient than electric furnaces or baseboard systems. The mechanism of pumping heat – which is done using a compressor that circulates liquid or gas refrigerant extracting the heat from external sources – draws less electricity than the mechanism of converting heat.
Another advantage is that air-source heat pumps can also be used to cool your home during hotter summer months. Some units even have options to control ambient moisture levels in your home with a “dry air” setting, which can be particularly useful in our damp climate.
Heat Pumps are An Excellent Choice for Milder Climates
As previously mentioned, heat pumps can be a less reliable heating option if temperatures frequently drop and/or remain below -10 degrees Celsius. Generally speaking, this does not present a challenge in our comparably temperate winters on Southern Vancouver Island.
Radiant Floor Heat
Next to wood-burning heat, radiant floor heating is among one of the oldest heating forms, dating back to the Roman Empire! Modern day radiant floor heating uses either tubes filled with water or electric resistance cables under the floor. Radiant heating, as the name implies, warms via heat radiation, allowing homeowners to feel warm even when the ambient (air) temperature in the room may be cooler.
Pros of Radiant Floor Heating
There are many pros with radiant floor heating. It is easy to install and typically comes with a no-maintenance, 25-year lifespan guarantee. It is noise-free, non-allergenic, energy-efficient and provides uniform heating. As it is installed underneath your flooring, it doesn’t impact your interior design in the same way wall-mounted units might.
Cons of Radiant Floor Heating
On the flip side, radiant floor heating is one of the more expensive heating systems to install. There are also limitations to flooring choices as many floor coverings insulate against the heat instead of acting as a conductor, letting heat radiate into the room.
Geothermal Heat Pump
While geothermal heating systems are among the most expensive and involved to install, the long-term savings and benefits greatly outweigh the initial spend.
Geothermal Heat Pumps are a Renewable Energy Source
Contemporary geothermal heating systems harness the naturally occurring heat found in the ground, several meters from the surface. This infinitely renewable energy source draws heat from the earth through a series of looped horizontal or vertical pipe systems. The heat is transported through a ground source heat pump and then distributed throughout your home. In the summer months, this same technology can pull cool air into your home, replacing conventional air conditioning units.
Geothermal Heat Pumps are Long Lasting and Easy to Maintain
Properly installed geothermal systems have the longest life span of all heating options, lasting over 50 years. The in-ground technology requires very little (if any) maintenance. The only maintenance that is typically required relates to the heat pump, which still only requires replacement after an average of 20-25 years.
While geothermal heating systems still depend, in part, on an electric heat pump component, the main source of the energy is infinitely renewable and environmentally friendly. Research has shown that shifting to geothermal heating and cooling reduces your home’s emissions by as much as 75%. If you want to go a step further, you can look at pairing your geothermal system to solar power to bring your home to net zero status.
Cons of Geothermal Heat Pumps
The installation of a Geothermal heat pump can be quite an investment and requires easily accessible yard space or a water source (such as a pond or underground water source) for the coils to be installed underground. This can require an engineer, geologist and other professionals to ensure that your land is suitable for the installation. Other than that, geothermal heat pumps are a positive investment.
Pros of Geothermal Heat Pumps
You could receive money back for having a geothermal heat pump installed! An offset to the cost of installation is the potential to access government-funded geothermal (renewable) energy incentives such as the Greener Homes Grant. Many provincial and municipal bodies are beginning to offer partial reimbursement grants for homeowners who choose to upgrade to more energy-efficient systems.
Geothermal heating is the most reliable and is effective in most climates and regions around the world. Unlike other renewable energy sources such as solar or wind, which are somewhat dependent on cooperating weather systems, geothermal heat pumps function rain or shine, whether it’s 40 degrees Celsius or -15.
Geothermal heat pumps are one of the most significant ways you can add to the value of your home and keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.
Whichever heating option you choose for your custom home, LIDA Construction can help you navigate through the decision-making process so that you’re left feeling warm and cozy. Contact our custom home builders to learn more!