Ways To Distribute Heat In Your Home

Heat distribution is critical to your comfort level. If you’re uncomfortable in your home, pay attention to how the heat is being distributed. You may need to repair or upgrade.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are four ways to distribute heat from your furnace, boiler, heat pump, etc.

1. Forced-air systems — The duct work that carries cool conditioned air in the summer usually also carries warm conditioned air in the winter. Make sure furniture and other objects don’t block the air flow through your registers. Also vacuum the registers to remove any dust buildup. Existing duct systems often suffer from design deficiencies in the return air system, and modifications by the homeowner (or just a tendency to keep doors closed) may contribute to these problems. Any rooms with a lack of sufficient return air flow may benefit from relatively simple upgrades, such as the installation of new return-air grilles, undercutting doors for return air or installing a jumper duct.

Some rooms also may be hard to heat and cool because of inadequate supply ducts or grilles.  If this is the case, decide if the problem is the room itself — insufficient insulation, air leakage or inefficient windows — then fix them. If the problem persists, you may be able to increase the size of the supply duct or add an additional duct to provide the needed airflow to the room.

To install an entirely new duct system, go to http://s.coop/1wy1i for advice from DOE.

2. Radiant heating — These systems depend on heat transfer directly from a hot surface to people and objects via infrared radiation. Radiant heating is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually is more efficient than forced-air because it eliminates duct losses. Radiant floor heat can be heated by air, electricity or water. Go to www.energy.gov/energysaver/radiant heating for all the details. Note that installing a radiant floor in an existing home will be expensive and difficult. You also can use radiant space heaters to heat a room. Here are three possibilities from Michael Bluejay, online energy consultant:

  • An electric-element space heater plugged into the wall. These usually have a round face and oscillate. Most electric space heaters are around 1,500 watts on the highest setting. Note that all electric space heaters are equally efficient so just make sure you get one rated at enough wattage to heat the space you are trying to warm.
  • An oil-filled space heater plugged into the wall. These use electricity to heat the oil inside, so there’s no actual combustion. They use about the same amount of electricity as electric-element units.
  • Gas space heater. These are more powerful than their electric counterparts and often cheaper to operate, but they’re usually more dangerous, and you’ll have to breathe the byproducts of combustion, which isn’t healthy.

3. Steam radiators — Steam heat is typically found in older homes. It is less efficient than more modern systems, and there’s some lag time between firing up the boiler and the heat arriving. It’s difficult to set back steam heat for night hours.  New fiberglass pipe insulation is effective in reducing delivery of unwanted heat to unfinished areas. Regular maintenance of a steam system can prevent clogged or stuck air vents. Radiators also can warp the floor they are sitting on, and their thermal expansion and contraction over time can dig ruts into the floor and cause the radiator to tilt.Older steam traps may need to be replaced if there are big differences in the amount of heat being delivered by different radiators. Steam radiators on exterior walls can cause heat loss by radiating heat through the wall to the outdoors. To prevent such heat loss, install heat reflectors behind these radiators.

4. Hot-water radiators — Hot-water radiators are typically a baseboard-type radiator or an upright design that resembles steam radiators. The most common problem in hot-water systems is unwanted air in the system. At the start of each heating season, while the system is running, go from radiator to radiator and open each bleed valve slightly, then close it when water starts to escape through the valve. For multi-level homes, start at the top floor and work your way down. One way to save energy in hot-water systems is to retrofit them to provide separate zone control for different areas of large homes. Zone control is most effective when large areas of the home are not used often or are used on a different schedule than other parts of the home. A heating professional can install automatic valves on the hot-water radiators, controlled by thermostats in each zone of the house.