Alternative Heating Sources
Whether you’re going green or just saving money, alternative heating options make sense. As prices for fossil fuels like heating oil, propane, and natural gas continue to rise, and with electric heat still considered one of the most expensive means of heating your house, investments in alternative heating sources look better and better.
While Grandma’s old Joker stove would scarcely be recognized today, advancements in technology have made heating with alternative fuels a safer, cleaner, and easier proposition than ever before.
Alternative fuel sources now extend beyond chop-and-split firewood: commercially-produced pellets and corn are proven alternatives as are fuels made from castoffs like wood pallets and cherry pits.
The best fuel choice
Use the fuel that’s most plentiful in your area, advises Marilyn Brandt. She owns Rural Energy Products, a Van Wert, Ohio dealer of alternative fuel appliances. “You need a stove that will burn the type of fuel you want to use,” Brandt says. She often recommends multi-fuel stoves that consume coal, corn, wood pellets, and other pelletized material. “It’s all BTUs,” she says.
Locally-sourced fuels may include wood from forests or timberland; wood by-products from manufacturing; grains like corn, wheat, and rye; biomass like corn stover and switchgrass; and coal—it pays to look around at what is available at a reasonable cost.
The right location
Keep your house in mind and how you live. “Is your house chopped up into lots of little rooms? That’s a different problem than moving air around in a great room with ceiling fans,” Brandt says. Newer houses are airtight and may require a separate intake vent so the stove or furnace doesn’t consume all the oxygen inside.
An entire industry has emerged to let you choose from fireplace inserts, freestanding stoves, whole-house furnaces, and even boilers that utilize alternative fuels.
Burning alternative fuels requires more work than just turning up the living room thermostat. “The disadvantage is that you have to feed it,” Brandt says. Alternative fuels need to be stored until you use them. And even auger-fed devices require you to load the fuel into the stove or furnace by hand.
Another downside is that burned material produces ash that needs to be disposed of by hand daily during the heating season.
Since everyone typically congregates in one room, portable space heaters can also provide a viable option. Here are a few solutions:d
Kerosene heaters are cleaner than ever—leaving almost no residue—but they do require refilling and have an open flame that consumes oxygen.
radiator heatersare safe, but they have two drawbacks: it takes a while for the heat to radiate outward into the room, and virtually all the heat rises due to natural convection.
Portable electric heatersuse quartz bulbs as the heat source, so they are safer than open-flame models. Some even include air filtration and humidifiers for a more comfortable house. Portable zone heaters are widely available from hardware stores or direct from the manufacturer.
Consult a reputable local dealer when choosing an alternative fuel heat source to help explore options available to you.
Alternative Fuel Heating Sources
Wood – Plentiful in many regions, but labor intensive. Still, wood remains popular. Modern high-temperature refractory technology means it burns cleaner, but may still emit pollutants.
Pellets – According to the EPA, pellet stoves are cleaner and more efficient than wood stove appliances.
Coal – Plentiful in the northeast, anthracite coal is a clean source of energy while bituminous coal remains a challenge to burn cleanly.
Grain– Corn, wheat, rye are plentiful in the Midwest and Great Plains, but high commodity costs limit its popularity.
Geothermal– Utilizing the heat stored underground is clean and free, but you need enough land to run pipes to collect heat. High installation costs of $5000 to $10,000 per installation can be a barrier, too.
Solar– Passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic all work well, provided you have steady sunshine.