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How To Stay Warm This Winter: Eco-Friendly Heating 101

These eco-friendly heating tips and recommendations will help you survive the winter season—and stay cozy!

Written by
Giulia Lallas

Winter is officially coming on December 21, but in many cities around the world, the cold is already here. With that said, below we have created a list of some eco-friendly heating options to keep you warm and mindful of sustainability this winter. 

Mini-Splits: What They Are

Mini-splits, also known as ductless HVAC systems, are heating and cooling systems that focus on warming up or cooling down small areas or zones in a living space rather than the whole space. They are similar to the Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners (PTACs) often found in hotels. Although these two function in similar ways, PTACs are much less energy-efficient

Mini-splits have no ducts, and each zone has its own thermostat. Another common name for these devices is a ductless split system heat pump. This is different from a regular heating pump because it does not have a central heating duct powered by electricity that is comparable to a central furnace. Central furnaces are commonly powered by natural gas but sometimes use electricity or propane.

Although the word ductless may seem new to you, many of the heating products you are familiar with use ductless heating, such as “hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane).” Mini-splits are a little different. They work by using duct-free outdoor and indoor units. In essence, they throw the cold air out and let the warm air in. 

The Pros Of Mini-Splits

Ductless HVACs are nice when you don’t need to heat up the whole house or are spending lots of time in one or two rooms. Utilizing these devices results in a 30% energy decrease in energy usage since the air does not need to pass through a central duct. Additionally, the device only requires roughly three-inch holes to be drilled for installment, making ductless devices safer and less prone to air leakage issues. Mini-splits can be mounted in a variety of different places, including the ceiling and wall.

The Cons Of Mini Splits

One downside to ductless heating systems is their relatively large upfront and maintenance costs. Even though the energy bills are much smaller than they would be under a traditional heating system in the long run, the upfront cost for a mini-split can be pretty pricy at times.

Ductless devices are also not the prettiest of appliances; with any mini-split, whether it corresponds to cooling or heating, you also have to make sure that the outdoor unit is being set up near a place to drain condensate water. Condensate refers to water vapor in the air that has transformed into the liquid state. It is worth noting, however, that one outdoor unit can often support up to four indoor units, which is pretty impressive. The quantity of indoor devices that one outdoor unit can support differs based on the amount of heat needed to warm up a single room. Many mini-splits also come with a remote as an added perk.

Renewable Energy Heating Systems

Renewable energy heating systems essentially perform the same job as conventional heating systems but draw upon renewable resources instead. There are various different types as we will explore below, starting off with heating options tied to geothermal technology.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Speaking of heat pumps, another eco-friendly heating option we have for you is called geothermal heat pumps (GHPs). GHPs, although expensive to install, can reduce the cost of energy bills by 65% when compared to traditional heating systems. They can last for up to 50 years and work in either closed or open-loop systems to grab heat under the ground and convert it using ground heat exchangers. As a general rule, when it is cold outside, the deeper you dig, the warmer the ground is, so capturing that heat is an effective way to take advantage of Earth’s natural heating system.

Closed And Open-Looped Systems

Closed-loop systems can be horizontal or vertical, or even in a pond/lake structure. In short, a closed-looped system uses water or an anti-freeze liquid pumped through a plastic tube. It then gathers heat or cold from underground and circulates it through the GHP after going through a heat exchanger. 

On the other hand, an open-looped system requires a large supply of clean water. In an open-looped system, the pumps take water from surface-level sources like wells. This water then circulates through the GHP system and is then discharged back into nature. 

Pros And Cons Of GHPs

One downfall to GHPs is that their efficiency level varies greatly depending on where you are situated. Weather, soil conditions, and water accessibility all play a role in how well the system works. The 2009 map below does a good job of bringing this to life by showing the number of GHP shipments in each state along with their climate as outlined by the white line.

Solar-Powered Heating Systems

There are also solar-assisted heat pumps in development; however, these devices have received much less attention than the other heat pumps discussed above. Solar power itself should not be dismissed, though, for there are solar water heaters that have proved to be quite effective in maintaining hot water throughout the winter. 

Active Solar Water Heating Systems

There are two types of solar water heaters: active and passive. Active systems have “circulating pumps and controls” and there are two subtypes of active systems. 

The first type is called the direct circulation system. This refers to how water from the living space rotates through various collectors, which is better for warmer climates. Indirect circulation systems are better for cooler climates.

Passive Solar Water Heating Systems

The second overarching type of solar water heater is passive. Passive systems are cheaper than active systems but are often less effective. Like active systems, passive systems are broken down into two smaller systems: integral collector-storage passive systems and thermosyphon systems. 

The former works well in warm climates where the sun is out all day, whereas the latter works well in colder environments, although it is a bit more expensive and requires a heavy storage tank that could pose some risks to a home's roof.  It’s also important to note that solar heating systems do not function as well on very cloudy days and may require annual maintenance.

All in all, there are a lot more technicalities tied to the different parts of solar water heaters. The key takeaway, however, is that they’ll decrease your energy bills and carbon footprint.

In Conclusion...

It’s up to you to decide what the best heating option is for you and your particular living space. And of course, other types of renewable energy heating systems like wind-powered, biomass, and water-powered heaters are also available. If none of the ones mentioned above interest you, we encourage you to check out these awesome alternatives as well!

The last tip we have for staying warm this winter is to layer up in your warmest clothes and blankets! If you’re in need of a warm winter coat or soft blankets to keep you cozy and burrito-ed up, feel free to check out some of our beloved sustainable recommendations