With oil wars and immanent energy crises foremost on many people’s minds these days, it is becoming increasingly popular to look into alternative forms of energy that can be harnessed for use not only in large industry, but also right at home. While it is not feasible to harness nuclear power in our homes, there are some natural, renewable resources at our fingertips that can be used to cut our energy costs and our dependence on non-renewable fuel resources.
While pressure on our governments to research and implement larger-scale energy reform in the form of investment in renewable resources such as hydro-electric, wind energy, solar power and natural gas is one major way that we can take care of our world, implementing some alternative forms of energy at home will help us do our part for the environment and also for our bank accounts.
When we hear discussions about reducing our dependence on foreign-owned non-renewable resources like oil, there are several alternative options that are bandied about. Many of these have been adapted for use in our individual homes. The most common forms of alternative energy in the home include geothermal heating and cooling, solar power, and good old fire.
Where To Start
The first thing you need to do, before investing in any new alternative energy sources for your home, is make your home as efficient as possible. This includes finding and stopping any drafts where heat or cooling will escape (especially around windows and doors and in your basement), using energy-efficient appliances, changing traditional lightbulbs to compact fluorescent, and installing an automatic thermostat to improve heat efficiency.
Second, you need to take a look at what is feasible based on your home’s current status and your financial means. Installing an alternative energy source will require an initial investment, a substantial one in some cases. Your investment will pay for itself in the following years through energy savings and, if your government is savvy, tax incentives, but you will have to make the initial investment.
Also, find out as much as your can about your options. If possible, talk to people who have installed the systems you are looking at (in person, or even in an online forum), and find out the pros and cons of your preferred system before going ahead. You don’t want to find out halfway through your solar panel installation that the surrounding trees are going to block any viable rays, rendering your system all but useless.
Among alternative energies, geothermal pumps in the home are one of the latest (and increasingly popular) innovations to help radically cut the cost of heating your home. Instead of the less efficient system of converting fuel into heat or cool in the traditional home heating/cooling system, geothermal pumps use the temperature of the ground to transfer heat in the winter and cool in the summer from one place to another (i.e. from the ground to your home).
There are two major types of geothermal systems: open loop and closed loop. The open loop system uses ground water, from a well or nearby lake. The water is pumped form the water source to the heat exchanger and transferred to a refrigerant system that runs through your home. Heat in the pipes warms the air in your home. The water used is returned to the ground from whence it came. This system depends on access to a water source.
A closed loop system is not as dependent on water source, as it involves the transfer of a water/antifreeze solution through a closed system of pipes that are buried from 6-8 feet (in the case of horizontally laid systems) or as deep as 200 feet straight down into the ground for vertical loop systems. Again, the solution is pumped through a heat exchanger and refrigerant circulates through the home to heat (or cool , as the case may be). If the space available for piping is limited, a Direct Exchange closed loop system can be installed, wherein the refrigerant itself circulates through the piping system.
The basic theory behind this system is this: ground temperature, at depths below 10 feet, maintains a constant temperature of 12.8°C (55°F). When the refrigerant passes through the heat pump, it either vaporizes (to absorb heat) or condenses (to release heat). In the winter, the pump absorbs heat from the fluid and releases it into your home, and in the summer, the cycle is reversed, absorbing heat form your home and transferring it to the fluid to be released in the ground.
On the downside, the initial cost of the geothermal system is significant, especially if you have limited space and find you need to drill fairly deeply into the ground. If you can get other homeowners in the neighborhood in on the investment, however, you can install the geothermal system to service several homes off of one system of pipes.
On the upside, this is an extremely efficient system that can reduce your furnace heating costs by 50% and your air conditioning costs by 30%, so you can recuperate your money in as little as 6-8 years. If you are building a new home, it is worth checking into the geothermal system, which will make your home immediately energy efficient, as well as increase your resale value.
Solar energy is one the very first forms of energy that human beings harnessed. It subsequently fell to the wayside for several centuries when fuels such as oil and coal become more common. It has been enjoying somewhat of a comeback in the past few decades, powering everything from calculators to laptops, motor homes to homes. The drawback to solar energy is that you can only collect it during the daytime when you have direct access to the sun. It is rare that you can use solar energy for all of your energy needs, but solar collectors, which collect the sun’s rays then transfer the heat to heat transfer fluid that runs through tubes behind the collectors, can be used to supplement your current source. One popular use for these systems is to run the tubes around a water tank and heat the water; another is running water directly through these tubes and into pools to eliminate the expense of heating your pool.
The power collected by solar panels can be converted into energy to run appliances in the home as well. Energy accumulated can be stored in the cells of solar batteries to run appliances at night. While the home run completely on solar power is rare (but certainly increasingly common, given the right conditions), solar energy is a great way to cut your reliance on traditional forms of energy in your home, and can cut the cost of your energy bills significantly. A solar power system can pay for itself in as little as 2-6 years.
A great traditional way of cutting the cost of your heating bill in the winter is installing a wood burning stove. If you have a smaller home, this can whittle the cost of heating your home down to almost nothing. The initial installation of a wood burning stove is between $500 and $3000. The stoves use wood, a renewable resource that is readily available in almost every region, and with their advanced catalytic converters, add no pollution to the environment. Plus, they are really cozy on a cold winter’s night.
Using an alternative form of energy in your home to cut costs and dependence on non-renewable forms of energy is an investment in your home, as well as in the well-being of the earth. The savings your will see will not just be on the monthly bills, but also in the form of tax breaks and in increased resale value. It is only a matter of time before converting to alternative forms of energy is not a choice, but a necessity. Why not get a jump start?
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