Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you have no control over how much it costs to heat your home. A homeowner and his/her family can take a number of effective steps to reduce the heating load in the home and consequently, the cost of heating. And importantly, reducing that heating load – essentially how much heat is required to make our home comfortable – will allow you to shop for a lower-capacity (and cheaper) furnace the next time you need to upgrade.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s more specifically define what “home heating load” means. It’s a mathematical calculation of the precise amount of heat energy that’s needed to render a specific home comfortable to its occupants. Reputable HVAC contractors calculate the heating load of a home before recommending the correct size/capacity of central heating system. Factors they consider are foremost the size and layout of the home. However, other key factors include the amount, type and location of insulation, how airtight the home is, the amount of window coverage, the home’s orientation on the lot, and the condition and design of the air duct system, among other things.
(Many of the factors that go into calculating the heating load of a home also will be used in figuring out its cooling load, which is used to recommend the correct capacity of cooling system.)
Making a mistake in figuring out the heating load (or just not doing a calculation at all) will result in a number of problems, and this is the case whether the heating system you end up buying is over-sized or under-sized. Either way you’ve got problems, among them energy waste, stress on equipment and uneven heating. In the case of an under-sized system, of course, the main problem will be not enough capacity to comfortably heat the home.
What You Can Do to Reduce Heating Load
Take one or more of these steps to decrease the heating load in your home:
• Increase insulation, especially in key areas such as the attic and exterior walls. A trained insulation expect with your trusted HVAC contractor will recommend where your home could use more insulation, as well as what type and how much is right for the Southwest Ohio climate. The better your home is insulated, the less heat energy will escape in the winter or enter in the summer.
• Make your home as airtight as possible. Determine where air is leaking from (or into) your home, and seal those leaks with weatherstripping, caulk or spray foam. Pick the sealing media to fit the type, size and location of the gap, crack or hole. One way to find air leaks in the house’s exterior is to move along the inside walls with a lighted candle or smoke pencil. Hold it up against likely spots for air leaks and watch for the flame or smoke to flicker or waver. Those spots are windows and doors, places where utility wiring or pipes penetrate the walls, and locations where the foundation meets the walls.
• Install a programmable thermostat. This won’t necessarily reduce the heating load, but it will allow you to heat and cool your home more consistently and wisely, and avoid situations where you’re fully heating or cooling an empty house.
• Install ceiling fans. Most people are aware that ceiling fans create a cooling effect in the summer. However, if the blade rotation is switched from counter-clockwise to clockwise during the heating season, the fan will blow upwards, displacing and relocating warm air that collects at the top of rooms. That warmer air, once it’s forced down into the room, will delay the point at which the thermostat signals the furnace or heat pump to kick on.
• Make sure the air filter in your forced-air heating system is changed regularly. A clean air filter allows for more efficient heating (and cooling).
• Consider upgrading windows to high-efficiency models that do a better job of slowing the transfer of heat energy between inside and outside.
• Consider commissioning an energy audit to more precisely determine what particular steps are needed to maximize the reduction in your home’s heating load. Experienced professionals, using specialized diagnostic equipment, will determine where air is leaking from your home, where insulation is absent or insufficient, whether ductwork is working as intended, among other pieces of crucial information about how your home is heated.
These are just some of the steps that will help you reduce your home’s heating load, thereby creating more efficient and effective heating.