Houses without heating systems?
by: Paul Kando
There are over 26,000 homes and other buildings in Europe, new and old, that do not need a conventional heating system, even though some of them are located further north than the 60th parallel. This is good news, there is hope: If they can, we can also escape from rising heating costs. But could the owners of an existing Maine home who, like me, have no money to spend on a major home improvement job, finance gradual improvements to their houses, using funds they would otherwise have to spend on fuel oil anyway? How soon before they could enjoy significant savings from such a stepwise effort?
In quest of answers, our Midcoast Green Collaborative (MCG) Energy Audits team chose an existing house from among the two hundred we have audited here in the midcoast. We used the energy audit data (slightly simplified) as a baseline, then looked to the European standard as a goal. Using both our energy audit software, and the German software we looked for fixes to the house that would be steps towards achieving that goal. We analyzed a number of possibilities and came up with a series of measures the owners of this house can implement with a minimum of initial cash outlay, contributing their own labor. The results are encouraging:
- In four years, the heat losses of this house are reduced from 34,811 kWh of energy (equivalent to the home's present consumption of 854 gallons of oil) to 11,168 kWh (274 gallons of oil) per year. This is a reduction of over 79%.
- In seven years, expenditures for fuel oil are reduced from the present $2,818 (at $3.30 a gallon) to $1,392 (at $5.49 a gallon) per year. Contrast this with $4,689 per year for oil (at $5.49 a gallon for 854 gallons), if none of the improvements are implemented.
- While during the first three years (with initial expenses exceeding relatively modest energy savings) remediation costs (for insulation, sealants, equipment, etc.) exceeded savings, from the fourth year on savings from fuel bill reductions exceeded expenses.
- Beginning Year Five annual savings (compared to present oil consumption) exceed $2,500 and keep rising as fuel costs rise, e.g., Year Seven savings are $2,946, greater than the annual oil bill for the house today.
- No radical remodeling of this 1880's house (requiring major construction or disruption to the household's daily routine) is involved and all improvements are completed within four years with do-it-yourself labor.
The specific tasks that make these energy savings possible in this house are typical of what many older Maine houses will require, although in details every house is different. Keep in mind that in the beginning the homeowner must keep up with paying for heating the house as it is, in addition to financing improvements that will pay for themselves only after some time. Given all this, the above results bode well for most of us.
Our numbers also indicate that with some more major improvements (after the first four years' tasks have been completed) this house could be further upgraded to the point when it will achieve energy savings (compared to the present) of close to 90 percent. At that point the remaining heat load can be cost-effectively taken care of in any number of ways, including small renewable energy alternatives or small auxiliary devices relying on electricity. But a conventional heating system will no longer be needed. FMI: Midcoast Green Collaborative