Top 10 Home Heating Myths

Top 10 Home Heating Myths

When the leaves begin to fall, so do the temperatures as we finally get a break from the intense summer heat. But is it really the relief we are hoping for? This is a question that may be up for debate when anticipating the upcoming heating bills. At Kenneth McDonald Plumbing & HVAC, we specialize in the installation, repair, and service your furnace, heat pump, boiler or ductless heater. Join us as we tackle the top 10 heating myths and what you can do to save money on those heating bills throughout the colder months!

1. I’ll just set my thermostat higher to warm up the house much quicker.

When the temperature inside is too cold for comfort, most people feel there is an imperative to warm things up as quickly as possible. The first inclination is to head for the thermostat and crank it up. Unfortunately, this is both counterintuitive and counterproductive.

Your HVAC system cannot heat the dwelling any faster than it does at any other temperature setting. More heat does not equate to more speed. When setting the thermostat unusually high, you are just boiling the frog. Without recognizing it, you will soon find the indoor temperature intolerably hot, and you will have committed your expenses to wasting this energy as you crank things in the other direction in the attempt to achieve a comfortable setting.

Think of it like this: The heater only has two settings, either “ON” or “OFF.” Your HVAC system both heats and cools uniformly, no matter what it is set to. Your best energy-efficient methods of mitigating the time it takes to come up to the desired temperature are either to increase the amount of energy your unit uses, which is measured in BTUs, or pre-adjust the settings, such as with a programmable thermostat. You also can avoid the shivers while waiting for the heat to rise by wearing warmer clothing suitable for the season.

2. It won’t cost me any more to leave the heater running whether I am home or not.

If you are thinking it will not cost you any more than paying for energy use when there is no one home, then you are correct, but why throw that money away? You can adjust the thermostat for non-occupied hours, which means the unit will not be cycling as frequently, and, therefore, using less energy.

Try using 68 degrees as a benchmark when you are home, and you can set it lower for both non-occupied hours and for sleeping. Further, programmable settings allow your heater to start warming the home in enough time before your arrival to have the home comfort level acceptable when you walk in the door. If you have a programmable WiFi thermostat, you can adjust the timing and settings remotely should your schedule change.

Similarly, you can adjust the thermostat lower when you go to sleep since studies show that a lower temperature setting while sleeping is more comfortable. Our body temperature naturally rises as we sleep so a lower setting is more comfortable. Using electric blankets in the winter uses little energy by comparison and makes it possible to comfortably lower the thermostat even further at night.

3. Having a programmable thermostat means I am always saving more money.

This is an idea that certainly may be true if the user actually programs the thermostat. If you use your programmable thermostat as though it is not programmable, you have not gained any ground. They can range from a simple programmable that merely operates as a clock adjusting the temperature at scheduled times to an intuitive or smart thermostat that learns to adjust itself in accordance with how the house functions. Used wisely, programmable thermostats will result in using less energy.

4. Closing off the vents to rooms I am not using will save money on heating the rooms I am using.

It might seem to make sense that restricting the forced air from reaching rooms not in use will be redirected into rooms you are using for less energy. When it comes to the HVAC system, this is a false premise. Closing off the heating registers in unoccupied rooms just causes the system to become unbalanced. HVAC units are balanced for the local climate, size of the home and the occupancy.

A system that must work harder is rendered inefficient and more susceptible to malfunctioning. By creating colder zones by closing them off, the warm air is naturally drawn into those spaces anyway, which draws heat from the occupied spaces. In turn, this could encourage you to adjust the thermostat to compensate for the heat loss, and there go any savings you might have achieved.

5. I can use the fireplace to help keep my home feeling toasty warm.

There is no denying the sound, the smell and watching the glow from a wood fire in the fireplace delivers an ambience unattainable any other way. You certainly can feel the warmth when you are positioned in front of the fire. Just don’t think that you are doing the rest of your house or your wallet any favors.

To safely enjoy a fire, you must open the flue to vent the exhaust gases. Unfortunately, your paid-for heated air is also getting sucked up into and right out of the chimney by the fire’s powerful appetite for oxygen. The best way to enjoy a fire in conjunction with your home’s heating system is to use a sealed wood stove, but then, you lose all that ambience that makes the fire cozy. Using the fireplace is a sure way to make your energy use more expensive.

6. I can save more money on heating the house if I use space heaters.

Weighing this option has to do with making the comparison between the economic cost of gas versus electric power. A gas-powered heater is by far the most efficient method of heating the home. While it may seem to make sense that restricting the use of the HVAC system and using space heaters instead to warm a few high-use rooms, it all comes down to the price of energy.

Electricity can cost from three to five times more what it costs to heat the same square footage with a natural gas furnace or a boiler. Does it seem cost-effective to pay the same amount that it takes to heat the entire house just to heat a few rooms?

7. I can replace all my windows with new energy-efficient windows and save 40 percent on my heating and cooling expenses.

If you still have single-pane windows, you may see a percentage of savings on your utility bill that could climb as high as 40 percent, but this is an estimate that comes from assuming the worst-case scenario. Even in certain extreme cases, homeowners only see about a 20 percent savings at best.

There are ways to help reduce heat loss in winter or heat gain in the summer including the use of storm windows, shades, drapes and plastic sheeting that cuts down on solar radiation when applied directly to the window panes. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, curtains on your windows can reduce the heat lost in a room by as much as 10 percent.

You can get into a routine of closing your curtains every night to save energy. Closing curtains within rooms that are not exposed to direct sunlight in winter will help preserve the heat in the same way that rooms receiving direct sunlight can be kept cooler in the summer.

It is wise to consider the cost of window replacement, the comparable performance of new, double- or triple-pane windows and the number of years it may take to see a return on your investment. It may be worth it if you are planning to remain in your home. Otherwise, consider it an improvement that will increase the property value when it comes to listing your house for sale.

8. I can keep my first floor warmer by heating my basement.

If you are thinking that warm air rises when you heat your basement, only a small amount will transfer upstairs. However, without good-quality insulation between the first floor and the basement, you are looking at a sure way to waste energy. You should only heat your basement if you are planning to occupy that space. Insulating the water heater and water pipes are other ways to prevent excess heat loss.

9. I have to heat the entire house just to keep my water pipes from freezing.

In especially cold zones, it is necessary to take steps to prevent water pipes from freezing up, however, heating the whole house is a very inefficient way to achieve this. Installing heat tape that only uses 3-watts per linear foot is a better, more cost-effective measure you can take. Where freezing is an infrequent risk, it is better to turn the water off at the meter and leave all your faucets open throughout the night.

10. I can’t use my air source heat pump in this cold climate.

It is true that an air source heat pump (ASHP) relies on the air outdoors to generate heat indoors. As the weather gets colder, so will the ASHP’s supply air. In areas where the temperature falls below 40 degrees during winter, installation of an ASHP is paired with a high-efficiency propane furnace, thus creating a dual-fuel system. The end result is an energy-efficient system that delivers home comfort throughout the year at reduced cost with a small footprint.

Ductless heating is another way to achieve a small footprint as it does not use a network of ducts to transfer air. Instead, individual units function as miniature air handlers delivering hot or cold air to each zone as needed. A ductless heater eliminates the inefficiencies of air leaks, pressure imbalances and heat gains typically associated with central air systems.

Whether it is ductless heating or any of the situations previously described here, you can learn a lot more about your specific issues and how to efficiently heat your home as the cooler seasons approach by consulting with a professional plumber. Kenneth McDonald Plumbing & HVAC is a premier plumber in the greater Pittsburgh area with over 60 years experience. Our team of licensed, professional technicians are prepared to respond to any of your plumbing, heating or air conditioning needs throughout Western Pennsylvania. Call us today for a free and comprehensive estimate!

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