Heating Your House - Methods You Can Try

There are several ways that you can heat your house. If we consider the specifics for a single day in the dead of winter for a medium-sized house near Chicago, we know that around 1,000,000 Btus of conventional fuel will be needed for that 24-hour period, to supply the 700,000 Btus that the house will actually lose during that time.:

  • You can use a $2,000 central oil furnace to burn around 7 gallons of heating oil, for which you will pay some giant corporation around $15 for that day. The heating oil is around 84% carbon and each gallon weighs around 6 pounds. That means that we have around 355 pounds of actual carbon in that amount of heating oil burned that day. We know that the molal proportion of carbon to oxygen is one to two, and therefore the weight of carbon to the weight of carbon dioxide must be in the proportion of their atomic weights (simple chemistry) or 12 to (12 + 16 + 16 or 44). This tells us that there is 3.67 pounds of carbon dioxide created for each pound of carbon which is oxidized. This then tells us that roughly 35 * 3.67 or 129 pounds of new carbon dioxide will get released into the atmosphere from that petroleum fossil fuel that was burned that day. There was also more carbon dioxide released earlier as the crude petroleum was refined to produce the heating oil.

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  • You can use a different $2,000 natural gas furnace to burn around 1000 cubic feet or ten Therms of natural gas, for which you will pay some giant corporation around $15 for that day. This is roughly 52 pounds of natural gas, which is around 92% carbon, so we have around 48 pounds of carbon. Using the same molal proportions above, we can see that roughly 176 pounds of new carbon dioxide will get released into the atmosphere from that natural gas fossil fuel that was burned that day. We use natural gas nearly in the form it comes out of the ground, so little refining or processing is necessary.

  • You could use electric heating, either a central furnace or individual heating elements, to consume around 200 kWh of electricity, for which you will pay some giant corporation around $20 for that day. It might first seem that you would be causing no carbon dioxide to go into the atmosphere, but that is not true. At some distant electric powerplant, it is sad that around 420 pounds of coal has to get burned in order to produce that 700 KBtu of electric-heat that you received at your house. Since it is a long way away, you are not normally aware of this, but considering that coal is around 85% carbon, we have around 360 pounds of carbon, and again using the molal analysis, we see that an amazing 1310 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere to create that electric heat you use that day. Notice that this is around 8 times as much Global Warming gases (carbon dioxide) that gets released when people use electric heating rather than the more obvious fossil fuels oil or natural gas!

    Virtually no one seems to realize how terrible electric heating is in this regard. Many electric heat homeowners actually think they are being GREEN in not using heating oil or natural gas to heat their houses, while the reality is exactly the opposite! They just complain that it costs more in dollars! It also ACTUALLY costs FAR more in consequences to the environment!

  • How about, instead of paying giant corporations $15 or $20 to heat your house on that cold day, if you could get that heat for free? And better yet, that you would contribute ZERO new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? On top of that, you will have a level of energy independence that everyone has always wished for!

    All you would need to do would be to collect some leaves and grass cuttings and similar things, around 100 pounds of it, equal to standard good-sized pile of leaves! As that organic material naturally decays and decomposes, it gives off heat. That heat has virtually never even been noticed before. But that moderate amount of leaves or grass clippings that you collected, that 100 pounds, will produce around 900,000 Btus of heat as it decomposes! In other words, enough to entirely heat your house, with NO expense at all for fossil fuels!

    You would not actually even be changing anything natural. You would still be letting those leaves and grass decompose as they always do. Only, you would have this done inside a well insulated chamber, where you will be able to capture nearly all of that generated heat.

    In other words, this process does NOT create any NEW carbon dioxide to add to the atmosphere, as heating oil, natural gas or electric heating does, but instead uses a process that was going to occur anyway, NATURALLY, laying on your yard! Absolutely GREEN!

    There is even another possible bonus. In addition to no longer having to pay for your bags of grass clippings and bags of leaves to be hauled away, once this process is done, it leaves a material called humus, which is considered the best possible fertilizer for gardens! You may be able to SELL the resulting humus, and therefore even wind up making money for heating your house!

    Can it get any better than that?

  • There are also ways to heat your house by burning wood, although most woodburning products can only decently heat one or two rooms. But they also do NOT add to new carbon dioxide in the environment.

  • Finally, there are still a few people who have coal-fired furnaces in their houses. Coal generally costs about the same as the heating oil or natural gas discussed above, IF you can find it locally. But coal, being a fossil fuel, also contributes around 180 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during that day from the coal that was burned that day.


    This presentation was first placed on the Internet in March 2007.



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    C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago