One subject that keep cropping up in most conversations these days is the price of oil and how this will affect both transportation and heating homes. Because of the volatility of oil prices during the past few years homeowners are anxiously watch the prices of home heating oil, propane and electricity. In addition, those homeowners whose systems are coming to the end of their usefulness are beginning to look elsewhere for HVAC solutions.
In the past oil, coal and wood heated homes. All three were dirty and each one had their good and bad points. Pound for pound coal was the king as it provided a lot of heat from such a small piece. But it was very dirty and expensive compared to wood. On the other hand, firewood, although cheap and available, took a lot of work to get it from a standing tree to the firebox. Oil was the next best fuel to come along as it was conveniently delivered and went into the furnace automatically. And until natural gas came along oil was the cheapest and easiest fuel to use.
Natural gas is a wonderful fuel, and not only can you heat with it you can use it for cooking and heating your water too. In addition it provides a beautiful flame for a fireplace without the mess. In fact, to most people, it is the only fuel they would ever want to use. However, that was until oil went to $150+ a barrel and the prices shot up respectively. And even when prices dropped homeowners began to see how vulnerable they were to a product that could almost double at a moment's notice. And being a non-renewable resource like gasoline, natural gas might not be around for home heating in 30 years.
The good news is HVAC contractors, as well as the whole heating and air conditioning industry, have not been idle. Companies that once mocked solar power and heat pump systems are now becoming leaders in the industry. You could say that the oil crisis was the best thing that has ever happened to these companies.
Scientists tells us that every object contains some heat until 0 degrees Kelvin, or -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature when subatomic particles stop moving. This is too extreme for us to comprehend but it does show that there still is heat in a cup of cold water.
Heat pumps work on a similar concept to refrigerators. A liquid is evaporated and condensed which creates cold or, in reverse, heat. A heat pump moves thermal energy from a cold source to a warm one, or from outside to inside. The pump from a compressor forces liquid between two heat exchanging coils. In the first coil, the liquid, or refrigerant, is evaporated at a low pressure and it will bring in heat from around it. Then the refrigerant compresses as it passes to the second coil. As a result it condenses under the high pressure where it gives off heat. The main thing to remember is that the ground and the air always contain some heat so even at 32 Fahrenheit they both have about 85 percent of the heat it contained at 70 .
In cold areas of the country, especially Alaska, heat pumps will lose their efficiency and so a secondary source will be needed such as an electric backup. However, if the heat generator is placed in a well or underground the system can operate efficiently all year-round. In addition, this type of heat pump - called geothermal - operates as a powerful air conditioning in the summer. The process is just reversed.
Solar Hot Water
Even in the winter the sun still shines. And although it is usually lower in the sky it still puts out enough energy to heat up a living room. By capturing this heat the cost of keeping a home warm can be significantly lowered and even brought to zero. How solar hot water heating works is that a panel of tubes is installed on the roof and a liquid coolant brings heat from the roof to a heat exchanger next to the hot water tank. The liquid, or glycol, is piped through a series of copper coils inside this exchanger and the heat through theses coils heats water. Next this water is pumped into the water tank where it sits until used. What this system achieves is to heat up cold water from the ground- either city service or well up to a point where the regular electric or gas-heated tank needs to use very little power or none at all - to get it up to shower level.
This type of system can also be used to supplement in-floor radiant systems. In this case the glycol can run through the floor tubing or you can use hot water from the heat-exchanging tank. Either way you are getting a warm floor at the cost of running a tiny pump.
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