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What is the most cost efficient way to heat a home?

There are many factors when deciding how to heat a home efficiently. What systems to choose, which fuel type is best, how much will it cost? These are only a few commonly asked questions when you embark on your journey to a new heating system. 

Believe it or not, before deciding your heating system you should actually look at your home! Or as we call it your building envelope. The definition of building envelope is the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer. If your building envelope is compromised then it won’t matter what heating system you have as you will just be heating a leaky house. The sign(s) of a compromised building envelope are drafts, little to no insulation & air sealing, and of course high utility bills. 

Now to the actual heating. You have to identify what your current heating systems fuel source is. It could be natural gas, oil, propane, or electric. As of today, heating a home with natural gas is technically the most inexpensive fuel. While oil, propane, and certain electric products are the most expensive. However this is only the case because most homes in New England are not air sealed or insulated properly. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you stop the air leaks you will save more money no matter the fuel source. 
Next we have to identify what kind of heating system you have. You could have forced hot air, forced hot water, steam, electric baseboards, or ductless mini-splits.

Forced hot air:
This heating system is delivered by using ductwork.
As its name implies, this type of heat blows hot air through the metal ductwork. The portion you would see living/conditioned areas are the registers. There are two types, one is a supply (which delivers the air), and one is a return (which sucks air in in order to go through the filter to then going to the supply it again). If you have duct work you need to make sure that it is sealed and insulated properly. If not it can pull an air from unwanted places as in musty basement and extremely cold attics. This can negatively affect your Indoor air quality as well as drive up the cost to heat your home due to the ductwork being in an unconditioned space. One advantage that forced air has as you can also use the same ductwork for central air.

Forced hot water:
This heating system is delivered by using baseboards.
Or sometimes radiators. This system uses a boiler to heat hot water that loops in the radiators/baseboards which then radiates heat. Forced hot water piping is not as big and honky as ductwork and is usually considered a more comfortable/pleasant type of heat (of course everyone has their preference). The downside is that you can not use it for central air, meaning you need a whole separate system just for AC. 

Ductless Mini-Splits:
Are highly efficient heat pumps. These units are generally wall mounted or ceiling recessed. They provide both heating and cooling. Mini Splits have variable speed technology.

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