Heating and Cooling in WNC

Half of energy costs + environmental footprint is heating and cooling

Heating and cooling is the biggest source of energy use in our homes and buildings and reducing energy use is green building's most important priority. It is responsible for the vast majority of our energy costs and environmental footprints. The main strategy for smarter energy use is an airtight building envelope.

 What is a Building Envelope?           The Blower Door Test.           Outdoor-Air Ventilation

Building envelopes are the most cost-effective way to save energy and reduce environmental damage. It's also a first-step to basic indoor-air quality.

The simplist needs and budget means not using air conditioning and heating with a woodstove. They make great back-ups for outages or even main heating sources, but burning wood indoors is an alarming form of indoor combustion that should be avoided by those concerned with indoor air quality. 

Heating and Cooling Options for WNC. Heating and Cooling in WNC choices table

For existing homes it’s usually most cost effective to stick with existing infrastructure and upgrade in appliance efficiency when it’s due for replacement. Solar PV + heat pumps are changing this conventional thinking, especially when indoor combustion appliances are involved. If the home has distribution ductwork, sealing what’s easily accessible will have quick comfort and financial paybacks. Weatherization should be a priority.

New homes are more flexible, just be careful what infrastructure you are locking into. Note that all cooling systems use heat pumps. While there are many ways of keeping homes cool without AC, heat pumps are required for comfort in our climate. Materials and furnishings also appreciate the less humid conditions.

This means heat pumps are often the most cost-effective systems to heat with too. People uncomfortable with heat pumps or raised on older notions of gas superiority, should refamiliarize themselves with the changing energy landscape. Heat pumps use the same technology as refrigerators and are becoming more efficient than combustion appliances that use natural gas or propane.

Passive solar design illustration thumbnailPassive Solar Design is the most efficient way to heat a building or home but they generally still need another heat source.

Heat pumps offer heating, cooling, dehumidification and are well suited for renewables

Illustration of Grid-tied PV home

Heat pumps can be run on renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Battery technology will further push solar PV + heat pump systems into mainstream building practices, even in the frigid north. The combination is already cost-effective for heating and cooling in our climate. Many zero-net-energy projects skip gas in favor of PV + heat pumps.

Tax incentives, long term fuel costs, maintenance needs and evolving utility rate structures all play a part. Here is a good calculator for comparing fuel costs of different systems. Dont forget to include the upfront costs of other fuel's infrastructure and service fees included by additional utility providers. More good reasons for sticking with electricity.

Heat Pumps are a versatile, efficient and affordable option for our climate. Being the most common way to heat and cool in our region, there are plenty of available service providers. Repair and maintenance can be less of an issue compared to more exotic systems. They have less risk of fire and are one of the safest choices available for better indoor-air. 

Solar energy has three distinct ways it can help us heat or cool. Radiant floor heating gets a lot of attention, but we question it's role.

 Heat Pump cycle thumbnailChoosing Heat Pumps Sunrise image3 Forms of Solar Energy For Homes and Buildings    Radiant floor heating thumbnailRadiant Floor Heating

Springtime Homes is a custom home builder in Asheville NC, dedicated to building science craftsmanship and better indoor-air quality.


Posted in Heating and Cooling

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