by Kate Wilson, a green living writer at This Wild Lifestyle

Though your heating system might not be something you think about unless your utility bills are high or your abode isn’t cozy enough, there are several home heating options that both provide adequate heat and are more resource efficient. Keep reading to get general tips about making smart heating decisions, and learn about possibilities you can pursue whether you’re improving your existing system or installing a heating source into a new home that’s under construction.

Make small improvements first

If you know your home’s current heating system is lacking but aren’t sure where the problems lie, consider hiring a professional energy auditor to do a complete evaluation. He or she will have special tools that can uncover things like poorly insulated areas and other issues that may make it harder for your home to retain heat.

Also, things like weatherstripping material and caulk can be helpful for sealing drafty areas you already know exist. When used diligently, insulated window shades can work well for holding heat in, too, especially if it seems like the rooms with the most windows are always the coldest.

Realize you’re making an investment

Initially, some of the price tags on today’s modern and environmentally friendly heating options may cause concern. That’s why it’s so important to do research before purchasing a new heating system, and finding out when those hefty price tags are most likely to translate into a worthwhile purchase by saving money over time. You may also be eligible for tax incentive programs that make the cost of energy-efficient home improvements easier to bear.

Some heating options to consider

Wood stove – Most often made from welded steel or cast iron, a wood stove may be a good choice for a household with easy access to wood fuel. Some stoves have double-walled interiors to improve energy efficiency. Though wood stoves can be heavy polluters when compared to other heating solutions, today’s models feature several improvements over past models. Some also have internal fans to help circulate the heat around a home.

One downside is that a wood stove tends to only heat its surrounding environment, so installing one downstairs may mean heat doesn’t reach the upstairs rooms.

Natural gas – Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, and some environmentalists say increased reliance on it could help people give up other fossil fuels that are more harmful to the environment. Natural gas is already used widely for cooking because it’s easy to control and provides instant heat. It also works well for general home heating, too, because it can be sent through a home’s pipes or contained in a tank inside the residence.

One of the downsides of natural gas is that it’s odorless, making it very dangerous if leaks occur. Because of that, many companies add a substance to the natural gas to make it detectable with a person’s sense of smell. If you decide to go with this home heating possibility, get informed about safety tips and spread the word to other members of the household.

Heat pumps – Heat pumps take heat from the atmosphere or deep in the ground and transfer it with the cool air in a building. Heat pumps run on electricity, but are very energy efficient because they do not burn fuel to make heat. Aside from being energy-efficient, heat pumps can also be run in reverse to keep a home cool in the summer.

Solar hot air collector – Meant to be used as a supplemental source of heat, a solar hot air collector is usually placed on the south-facing wall of a home in places characterized by abundant sunlight. Once the temperature inside the unit reaches a certain point due to heat from the sun, a fan turns on and draws cool air inside the unit, heats it and pushes it back inside the home. One collector can heat about 500 square feet of space, and will generally last a long time. A solar hot air collector is also very economical compared to some other heating methods.

Solar thermal system – This solution uses both a solar collector mounted on a home’s roof, plus a storage tank that’s usually in the bottom level of a house. Pipes connect the two and send a substance— often nontoxic antifreeze or water—to be heated by the solar collector, then send it back to the storage tank. Later, a heat exchanger helps create hot water from the process by transferring the solar-generated heat to another tank where it’s used by a home’s residents. A solar thermal system can be a cost-effective way to heat a whole home, especially when used with radiant floor heating or a forced air system.

Energy-efficient furnace – Heating technology has come a long way from what it once was, and it’s now possible to get models that boast 90 to 94 percent energy efficiency. If your current heater is more than a decade old, you’re especially likely to save a significant amount of money by installing something newer. Opt for one that ignites electronically rather than with a pilot light for maximum energy efficiency.

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