Home heating likely to see big changes

Posted May 09, 2009, at 1 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

This week, let’s look ahead to the future of home heating. If one is to believe the research that indicates that climate change is evident and inevitable without some true changes in lifestyle, I suspect we are going to be dealing with significant changes in the way we build and heat houses.

I predict that by the year 2030 we will not be using any fuel that is burned.

This means no oil heating, no gas heating and not even wood heat as primary home heating.

This might be considered austere, but I think the reality is simpler than you might think.

Some important things are already happening to make this a reality.

First, heat pump technology is becoming more prevalent. Ground-coupled systems and air source systems probably will become more common. If global warming is real, our summers will become warmer and air conditioning will be more necessary.

The electric powering of heat pumps will be tempered by the use of photovoltaics, which will be more affordable and might cover an entire roof. I suspect these will be tied to an electric utility, but an on-site storage system might be part of the deal.

Second, all new homes will be superinsulated. The building shell will likely be R-40 to R-60. Windows will be built with several layers of barriers to increase the insulation value. Windows might be integrated with thermal shades that are operated automatically. These could be programmed, much like thermostats, to open or close at different times or light situations, as well as seasons.

Better thermal envelopes will negate the issue of freeze-proofing homes for snowbirds. Houses would never freeze. They might get cool, but would be inhabitable without any additional heating systems.

Third, a more practical solar heating approach will become mainstream. Solar space heating will be possible given the low heat load that superinsulation will afford us.

We might have to integrate a lot of thermal mass into the buildings to help hold the solar heat, be it active from collectors or passive from gain through windows or sunspaces.

Fourth, we will come to our senses regarding the size of our homes. What will help drive these concepts will be building codes and the political climate. It might be taxes that move us in this direction. This is happening in Europe, where taxes on fossil fuels help motivate people to implement these changes.

Such changes could be foisted upon us by government mandates. They could happen because of major climate change. We might decide that the personal and societal costs are too much and do it ourselves. The use of our fleets in the Persian Gulf to enable oil exports to get to us while also enabling terrorists might be considered too high a cost, given other options.

I doubt that societal change is imperative from government, but we already have seen the genesis of major change last year with the oil price peaks. We saw them in 1973 and 1976 and 1979. We all got excited and did some things and then stood down and changed little.

I am amazed as people start to superinsulate homes, whether they are new or old. But it is aggravating to see that we still have such a long way to go.

Everything we mentioned here is already on the shelf. Some of the technology is still expensive, but the simple concepts of energy conservation are already affordable and the marketplace will bring us to the tipping point, with or without government intervention. I guess it is a matter of how we want to get there.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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