Certainly the most prevalent heating systems in the Flathead Valley. A little history in that they were developed to compete with boiler systems that were popular but expensive. They are still less expensive than their hydronic brothers and come in multiple sizes and efficiencies. When replacing an older unit be aware that most were considerably oversized. Doing a heat loss calculation is critical to proper sizing to maximize efficiency. An oversized unit sucks fuel with short cycling and is generally more expensive to install. As of late, 95% efficient units are just about all that is installed, with the exception of 98% efficient units. Big utility savings can be utilized by proper sizing one of these models. I can’t even remember the last time we installed an 80% model. My how things have changed.
We still see quite a few electric furnaces in use. Many are in manufactured homes but they were popular in the 80’s with stick built homes as well. The primary focus when offering these models was low initial cost. Fortunately our electric rate is exceptionally low, but if we were like the rest of the country, the utility bills would make you shutter. They are simple and generally reliable but better suited as part of an air-to-air heat pump. Electric baseboard or cadet heaters actually consume less energy because they are “zonal”. When an electric furnace is on its heating the entire home, baseboards have multiple thermostats so less energy is consumed. Again proper sizing is critical.
Heat pumps are absolutely the most efficient way of heating a structure that is affordable to most folks. Moving energy from outside to inside is a fairly easy task with the help of refrigeration. No magic is involved, just basic thermodynamics.
The king of heat pumps comes in a number of different designs that have proven to provide the lowest operating costs. Inside the home, a geo-thermal is like other systems in that it needs a distribution system; ducting or piping. Outside the home is where many factors need consideration. Obviously we are absorbing heat from the ground and transferring that energy into the home. The most common way if getting the heat out of the ground is to use a “closed loop” underground piping system. This consists of ¾’’ plastic piping buried in horizontal trenches. It has water and 20% methanol flowing around that is quite cold and absorbs the heat from the 45 degree ground temperature. The piping can be also be installed in vertical bores, horizontal drilling, and pond loops. Another popular design is “open systems” This uses well water to flow through the heat exchanger, remove heat, and put that water back into the ground. Proper design is critical. A system that is too large costs a fortune to install and does not operate efficiently. A system that is too small runs too often and removes too much heat from ground loop. This exhausts the energy and destroys the efficiency of the system. Lots of rebates and incentives knock thousands off the cost. Couple that with low interest loans from the state and amazingly low operating costs and you have a real winner.
Similar to a geo-thermal unit in that we are absorbing energy from outside but this time is from the air, not the ground. A distribution system inside is needed and typically it is forced air. The outdoor unit looks much like a standard A/C but typically larger and up on small legs. Matter of fact, many outdoor units you see outside are heat pumps, not just an A/C. The refrigeration principle is reversed to allow heat to be absorbed from outside and pumped inside (heat cycle). When the direction of the refrigerant is switched, heat is absorbed from inside and dumped outside (cool cycle). This method of moving heat is 2-3 times more efficient than straight electric heat. A popular combination these days is using gas furnace with a heat pump to allow the heat pump to operate in its optimum range (20-50 degrees) and the gas furnace to run in the colder temps. The amount of time our winter temperatures are at twenty degrees and above are considerable. This is called a “dual-fuel” system and is a proven method of lowering utility costs. Many rebates and incentives are available for duel fuel or standard heat pumps.
uctless systems are a “game changer” for both our company and the customers we serve. These split systems (an indoor unit and a separate outdoor unit) have revolutionized indoor comfort around the world. We have been installing them for 6-7 years now but they have been the solution in Asia and many European nations for 10-12. Because no ducting is involved, the labor saving is incredible. Putting these systems in a home is basically one 2’’ hole. That somewhat limits the mess and these units really heat and cool. Multiple indoor units can be installed with single outdoor units and efficient and comfortable zoning can be accomplished. The seemingly limitless applications and the steady increase in efficiency mean more opportunity for our customers to enhance their comfort while saving money. Just like the units above, lots of rebates and tax incentives help make them affordable.
Boiler systems are another very wide array of products that span way over a hundred years. We work on them all and many of them are so old they should have been removed generations ago. Because of their design, a longer lifespan is expected over their forced air counterparts. Boilers as of the last 5-6 years hardly resemble most older models. In the old days it was thought better to heat a large amount of water slowly. Now we heat a very small amount of water very fast and maintain nearly perfect combustion. The Lochinvar Knight boilers we install regularly have efficiencies in excess of 95%. That is not leaving much money on the table when it comes to wasting energy. Added to the incredible efficiency is the “outdoor reset” that is an integral part of any high efficiency boiler. It adjusts how much heat is produced by the boiler as referenced by an outdoor sensor. The colder it is the higher the boiler temperature. Why run a heater with the “petal to the metal” when just a minimal amount of heat is needed. Boilers have certainly improved and so has hydronic distribution. The variable speed pumps that are available significantly reduce energy use and tell you how much water is flowing (cool!). There are endless products for applying radiant heat to just about any application. We installed a radiant wall at our home and that’s a cozy feeling. Staple-up, staple-down, heat transfer plates, and even entire sub floor systems with built in radiant. Hydronic systems cannot cool, but their ability to warm you to the core is unmatched.
Package units are designed to be the most heating and cooling for the money. They are on rooftops all over the world and have been keeping you comfortable during most of your shopping adventures. Being one single piece of equipment, they are assembled at the factory and ready to run shortly after being set on the pad. Since most commercial applications require fresh air to be introduced, outside air dampers are a standard feature. Unfortunitly they are not particularly efficient. The combustion efficiency is limited to 80% which is the minimum that the DOE allows. The cooling efficiency of these units is getting better but the desire to make the units physically smaller limits the coil surface area and thus the efficiency. They are very versatile in that they are produced from a tiny 24,000 BTUH unit up to 100’s of thousands of BTUH’s. Package units are available in gas or heat pump versions depending on your application.