This morning I walked into a cool Yoga room (we usually have in our house one room which is dedicated to Yoga, Meditation, etc.). It’s the coolest of the rooms in the apartment because it’s a corner room and extremely exposed to the elements (and probably not well insulated). This launched us into a conversation about options to optimize the heat in the apartment and that conversation led us into a wider exploration of heating solutions.
Local vs. Network
One quality of a heating solution is whether it is local to the space in which it is installed and operating or whether it effects other spaces in the house. For example:
- A local system would be an electric heater that effects primarily the space in which it is activated.
- A network system is the central gas heater installed in our rented apartment – it heats up water to a set temperature and that water flows through a network of pipes that lead into radiators ain all the rooms of the apartment. A single mobile wireless thermostat can be placed in any room and it trigger the central heater into operation. If it is placed in a cold room it activates the central heater until the designated temperature is reached – but it’s effect is felt everywhere as other rooms heat up as well (potentially beyond the designated temperature – as is the case with the poorly insulated Yoga room).
Any heating system requires an energy source. These can be gas,electric, fire wood, solar, infrared, geothermal … and there may be others.
The preferred source can be a function of:
- Availability – gas pipelines are an established infrastructure in Romanian cities, less so in villages where you have to rely on refillable pressured-gas containers. There are relatively new technologies that make it possible to manufacture gas from animal feces (we hope to find more information on this).
- Ecological effects (we don’t know enough about this yet)
To the best of our current knowledge there are three application for heat in a home:
- Environmental heat.
- Hot water.
We are not experts on heat and efficiency but common-sense indicates that efficiency is worth noting and can potentially be optimized. Some examples:
- When the water heating source is far from the hot water faucet – there is some waster of flowing water until water is heated and reaches the faucet.
- When the faucet is opened briefly (for example – rinsing the hands while cooking) and the faucet demands hot water – water doesn’t arrive in time but the heater is activated pointlessly – a pure waste of energy.
- Pipes that connect radiators to a central heating system also radiate heat – probably not as effectively as the radiator.
Requirements of an Ideal Heating System
An ideal heating system for us would be a system that:
- Can effectively heat any single space in the house (local)
- Can effectively heat other spaces in the house (network).
- Relies on an available and affordable (ideally – self generated) energy source.
- Is multi-functional so that a single heat source can be utilized for other needs. For example, if cooking in the kitchen, that same energy can used to heat the kitchen and optionally other rooms in the house.
- Can be targeted effectively depending on the need. For example, if cooking and there is no need to heat other rooms, do not let hot water escape unnecessaritly to other radiators in the house.
An Imaginary(?) Integrated Heating System
- This potential system (imaginary is there because we have not yet encountered such a system) is designed for a village house in Romania. So if you live in a different climate with different needs it may not be ideal for you.
- It is based on our common-sense understanding of how heating system work and our needs.
- It is based on an aspiration to live in a self-sustaining how – which means as independent as possible in everything including its energy sources.
- The primary heat source is fire wood. Fire-places are installed in every room which we want to be able to heat individually. Ideally this is an every room – though there can be joint-fire-places that are installed on shared walls.
- A small gas-based central heater is used for hot water when only hot water is needed or during summer months when there is no need for environmental heating.
- Solar panels are used for an alternative hot water source during sunny days.
- All of the rooms (except maybe the living-room?) are equipped with water-based radiators that are hooked into a central house-wide network.
- All of the hot-water faucets are connected to a separate (from the central network) one-way (no returning water) hot-water channel.
- Each of the fire-places is:
- Connected to (installed with?) an adjacent boiler which is connected to the central heating pipe-network.
- Connected to the central house network with an open-close control mechanism.
- Connected to the hot-water channgel with an open-close control mechanism.
- A gas-based central heater is connected to the hot-water channel.
- A solar panel water heating system is connected with open-close controls to both the hot-water and central house network.
What this creates is an effective heating system in which:
- Any of the fire-places can optionally take the role of a central heating system.
- The fire-places can work together for greater power and efficiency when they are used for heating.
- Alternative heating sources can be hooked up to complement and support the system.
Such an ideal system is probably prohibitive to install (lots of piping, numerous boilers, etc.). A specific house-design can probably help to whittle the size of the system down by reducing the number of elements. But more importantly – with a good and accessible infrastructure in place it may be possible to gradually expand the system as needed or as if financially possible. It feels like one of those cases where a bit more thinking and design can lead to a better system with very little overhead expenses.
Are we crazy or does this sound feasible to you?