Below is a list of ways to potentially heat your home more sustainably.
We include information across various aspects of heating a house (or, preventing it from getting cold), such as sustainable features that can be useful in the home, energy sources used for heaters, individual heating systems and methods, and more.
1. Consider Wearing Warm Clothing, & Use Blankets & Rugs As A First Priority
Before warming the house up with a heater, and having to use electricity or an energy source, you may want to consider if you:
– Have warm clothes and footwear (like socks and shoes) to wear
– Have warm throw blankets and rugs to use on the sofa/lounger
– Have warm blankets and warm pajamas for the bed
Any of these things may eliminate the need to turn the heating on in some instances, or, they may reduce the amount of time you need to run the heater (as you’ll already have some level of warmth).
2. Consider More Sustainable Home Construction Features
Some sustainable building/construction solutions might help keep a home warm compared to if a house doesn’t have them.
This might especially be true in colder climates.
Some of these solutions might only applicable if building a new home, or, if you’re able to get renovations or modifications done to an existing house.
A few examples of that might include:
This involves proper insulation in the walls, and the roof or the loft, or even in the underfloor
Insulation can help keep the warm in, and the cold out.
Insulation with a higher R value may also have better thermal efficiency and may be better at keeping a house warm.
Some reports indicate that insulation can save up to 40-50% in heating costs.
The payback on insulation can be a number of years – so, be aware of this.
– Orientating the house properly
Orientating a house so that sunlight is able to come through glass windows and doors
– Using better insulating construction materials
Using better insulating construction materials for walls for example
– New modifications for an existing house
Some features or additions that might be made to existing houses might be thermal shades, treating external walls with a paint that can reduce heat loss, replacing old doors and windows that are losing heat, and more.
3. Check The House For Spots Where The Cold Is Getting In, & Heat Is Getting Out
There’s several ways that cold can enter the house, and heat can escape.
Doing the following things may help keep the warmth in and the cold out:
– During the day, or when the sun is up, raise or draw open curtains, blinds and window coverings to allow any warmth from the natural sunlight in
– Close the windows and doors when it’s cold – particularly at night when the sun goes down
– Look for gaps and openings around the house where cold air and cold draughts are getting through the house exterior, and consider taping them, plugging them, or closing them up
These areas can occur for example at the joints spaces between the floor and the walls on older houses where the exterior of the house has degraded slightly
Some call this ‘draught proofing’ a house
Tape, caulking or other materials can help with ‘draught proofing’
Be careful not to plug up or tape up ventilation openings that are intentionally supposed to be there and stay open
4. Consider The Type Of Energy Or Fuel Your Heater Uses
Different types of heating devices use different types of energy or fuel to run.
A traditional fireplace for example might use firewood as an energy source.
Some modern heating devices might use natural gas as an energy source.
Other types of heating devices that rely on electricity to run, and that electricity may come from a range of different energy sources.
If the heater is getting electricity from the grid, it could be mostly fossil fuel energy, but some grids might be cleaner and rely less on fossil fuels energy sources.
A few things that might be done to change the type of energy a heater uses might be:
– Consider changing the heating device you’re using to a heater that uses a cleaner energy source
If you have the choice between an oil powered heater or a gas powered heater for example, buschsystems.com mentions that oil as an energy source has a higher carbon footprint compared to natural gas
– Consider changing energy suppliers to a cleaner energy supplier (where practical, and where one is available)
– Consider whether getting a home solar setup is practical and feasible
This may provide renewable energy for heating (separate to the grid supplied energy)
Be aware of the costs and any potential payback periods though
– Consider whether geothermal heating is practical and suitable for your needs and your home
This is it’s own individual type of heating that uses a ground source heat pump/geothermal heat pump, and the Earth’s heat to heat the house
Geothermal energy is considered renewable
Be aware of the costs and any potential payback periods though
5. Consider How Much Energy Or Fuel Your Heater Uses
This point relates to, and is impacted several other points on this list.
But, the amount of total energy or fuel a heater uses over a specific period of time can be impacted by:
– The type of heater or heating method used
– The brand and model of heater (can impact how efficiently the heater uses energy or fuel for example)
– The settings the heater is set to
– How long each day or night the heater is ran for
– How insulated the space being heated is
– The size of the space being heated (larger spaces might require more energy)
6. Consider The Heating Method/Type Of Heater Being Used
Heaters may generally run on electricity, natural gas, sometimes oil, or, an organic material like wood.
But, beyond that, there’s other ways to categorise heaters.
For example, they can be categorised by the heating method they use, and also by the specific type of heater they are.
General Heating Methods
Two of the main heating methods might be:
– Central heating
– Space, or room heating
Space heating may sometimes be more sustainable in instances where it’s only heating one room, as opposed to a central heating system heating multiple rooms or an entire house at once
Specific Types Of Heaters
Below are some of the different specific types of heaters.
Note that the explanations given are generalisations – you’d need to confirm the potential performance or sustainability of a heater before you buy or use it:
– A furnace or boiler
May run on liquefied gas, oil, or electricity
The furnace burner heats the air, which may get blown through ducts, and delivered to different parts of the house
– Split system heating
A wall mounted unit that is capable of blowing either hot or cold air into one part of your house
– Space heater
There’s different types of space heaters, with a few of the common ones potentially being ceramic space heaters, oil filled space heaters, infrared space heaters, and also propane space heaters
They are usually portable and heat the part of the house they are operating in
– Panel heaters, and convection heaters
These heaters work by allowing air to pass over a warm surface, which in turn heats the air
– Pellet stove heater
A modernised version of wood-fired heaters
Pellet heaters use small pieces (called pellets) of renewable or recycled biomass (like tree barks, sawdust, wood chips, by-products, and other organic materials) to generate heat.
Some pellet stoves use electricity, and some don’t.
Might result in less air pollution and CO2 emissions compared to a wood heater
– Wood stove heater
Uses wood instead of pellets
These heaters can be more sustainable than oil heating for example, because they may reduce smoke and be more efficient
– Rocket mass heater
Also uses wood, but may offer greater efficiency compared to a wood stove heater because they may use less wood, but may not waste heat that escapes in the chimney of a traditional wood stove heater
– Traditional fireplace
Can use firewood, but modern gas or electric fireplaces also exist
– Masonry heater
Similar to a traditional fireplace, but might burn slower (and therefore need to burn through supplies at a slower rate), and release less pollution
They may retain heat for longer (up to 24 hours for example) than a standard/traditional wood fireplace
– Biomass boiler
An alternative to a gas or oil fired boiler. It uses biomass in the form of wood, logs, and sometimes pellets
– High heat retention storage heaters
May be better insulated than older style storage heaters
One report indicates they may result in reduced carbon emissions compared to a gas boiler
Other Heating Systems
– Dedicated solar space heating (and cooling) systems
Solar can be used in multiple ways for a house, and may be more sustainable than some fossil fuel energy sources
The first is that solar panels can gather energy off-grid, and use that energy to power heating systems and devices that use it.
This may help homeowners save on their energy bills depending on the payback period of the solar setup
The second is a dedicated solar heating system.
The first dedicated solar heating system is an air system that works in a similar way to a traditional HVAC system.
The second dedicated solar heating system is a ‘solar liquid heating system’ or ‘hydronic collector’ where the sun’s heat is used to heat a liquid that circulates through pipes inside the house, and this heat is radiated into the room/s where the pipes containing the liquid are.
– Geothermal heating (and cooling) systems
A geothermal heating (and cooling system) uses a ‘geothermal heat pump’, the Earth’s heat, and a circulation and recirculation system to both heat and cool a house
It’s reliable, and can be more sustainable and renewable that fossil fuel energy powered systems in various ways
May help homeowners save on their energy bills (although, the initial purchase price can be high for some systems – so take this into consideration beforehand)
The ‘heat exchanger’ on a geothermal heating system might use some electricity though
– Heat pumps
Aside from geothermal heat pumps, air to air and also water source heat pumps also exist.
Rather than generate heat themselves, heat pumps might transfer heat.
They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside the home and concentrate it for use inside
Some reports indicate that heat pumps are capable of reducing electricity needs compared electric furnaces by up to 50%, and other reports indicate that they can reduce a carbon footprint by up to two thirds
Some locales offer grants on heat pumps, and some manufacturers offer warranties up to a decade on their heat pumps.
– New or recently developed heating systems
These include but aren’t limited to combined heat and power heating systems, heat batteries, and others
7. Consider The Individual Brand & Model Of Heater
The individual brand and model of the heating system or device can impact sustainability in various ways.
The individual design and features of the different brands and models obviously matters.
But, one of the key features that may play a role might be it’s energy efficiency.
Heaters that have better energy efficiency might be the ones that have a higher energy efficiency star rating (e.g. it might rate 4 or 5 stars, out of a total 5).
The heater may also come with information about how much electricity they use per minute or hour they are in operation.
Apart from looking for the energy efficiency rating of a heater, a consumer may look for other energy saving or energy efficient features.
For example, some heaters might work with smart technology, which automates the heater and can help save energy.
8. Consider The Sustainability Of Your Heating Practices
Some heating practices that might help save energy might be:
– Considering the number of heaters you’re using in the house at any one time
Are you using one, or multiple heaters?
More heaters in operation means more energy being used.
– Only heating the room you’re using
This is instead of heating multiple rooms or the whole house that aren’t being occupied or used
– Only using the heater whilst you’re at home
i.e. make sure to turn the heater off when you leave home – especially when leaving for work
– Getting your heating systems serviced as required
9. Consider Sustainable Heating Settings & Features
Some settings that might help save energy might be:
– Using a timer or auto shut-off feature
This is so the heater shuts off when you’re not there to turn it off manually
– Considering how the temperature the heater is set to impacts sustainability
If you can use the heater on a lower temperature setting and still meet your heating needs, you might be able to save energy
Each additional degree of temperature might be more energy the heater uses to maintain that temperature
– Consider how other house devices can impact heating
Such as the home thermostat. Smart thermostats may help reduce energy use, or use it more efficiently
Setting the thermostat to the right settings can also help use energy in a more effective way
The Potential Impact Of Heating On Sustainability Around The House
Space heating can be one of the main activities that uses the most electricity/energy around the house
There may be a carbon footprint and other environmental impacts that stem from this
Some of the general sustainability factors to consider with different heating methods might be:
Whether a heater uses energy excessively or inefficiently
Whether a heater uses energy sources or fuel sources that aren’t renewable – coal, oil, natural gas (all fossil fuels), compared to using more renewable energy sources
What the carbon footprint of a heater is – the energy source can play a role here too
Whether the heater contributes to air pollution (through air pollutants, or smoke)
What’s The Most Sustainable Way To Heat A House?
Some reports (such as one by ‘Energy Star’, and another by the EPA) indicate that (paraphrased) geothermal heating systems can be one of the most sustainable or eco friendly ways to heat a home because of how energy efficient and effective they might be at heating
But, these systems may be expensive to install – so, you have to look at how they compare in price to other heating systems, and compare the expected ongoing heating bills to other methods of heating.
They may pay for themselves, but it may not be until years down the track.
Also, see if your local government or utility providers have any incentive programs to help offset the purchase price of these systems.
friendsoftheearth.uk indicates that (paraphrased) heat pumps, a heat battery or high-heat retention storage heaters might be some of the heating systems that lead to the biggest carbon emission reductions, especially if they source their energy from renewables or clean energy sources
What Type Of Heating Is Most Eco Friendly Or Sustainable?
Using methods that use no energy, or less energy, fuel and power/electricity might be the most eco friendly or sustainable.
But, they may not always be practical.
In terms of powered options …
choice.com.au mentions that the 4 most sustainable heaters are reverse cycle air conditioners, electric heaters, wood fires and gas heaters
But, the individual heater brand and model also matter – the total energy use and energy efficiency of the heater matters i.e. how efficiently it converts energy to heat, and how much energy it uses per unit of heat it delivers
How the user uses the heater also matters.
Also, some wood and pellet heaters may be sustainable in some ways, but there may be a tradeoff with either chopping down trees, or even smoke whilst the heater is in use (compared to electric heaters which don’t directly produce smoke)
List Of Factors That Can Impact The Sustainability Of Heating A House
Ultimately, there may be no one ‘most sustainable way to heat a house’, or ‘most sustainable heater’.
There may instead be multiple things that can make heating ‘more sustainable’ when used in combination with each other, such as:
– Wearing warm clothes
– Having a house that is reasonably well insulated or kept passively warm (cold kept out, warm kept in)
– Using less energy, fuel and electricity where possible is generally more sustainable (i.e. using less power, but also using passive heating methods where possible, and preventing the need to use active heating and powered heating as often)
– Using a reasonably energy efficient heater
– Using a cleaner or more renewable heating energy or fuel source for the heater
– Using the heater in a responsible way (and not wasting energy heating excessively or unnecessarily)
– Making use of sustainable settings
– And so on
Potential Tradeoffs To Different Heating Methods & Systems
It’s worth mentioning that sustainability doesn’t guarantee affordability, and not all types of heating suit all geographic locations and houses.
Homeowners should consider things like:
– The initial purchase cost of the heater, and how long until a setup pays itself off
Looking for grants, credits and concessions may sometimes help
– Operating cost
The costs can be different to run electric heaters vs mains gas heaters vs oil fired boilers for example
– The space a heater needs
Some solar or geothermal systems need room to run liquid pipes for example
– The climate conditions required
Some solar setups need certain climates or conditions with enough sunlight for example
– Plus other factors
Sustainable Ways To Cool A House
The guide above is complementary to a separate guide we put together on potential ways to sustainably cool a house.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides