Heating Systems 101 – Learning the Lingo

She Blinded Me With Science!

One of the toughest things about researching a new heating system is learning the tech talk. Your HVAC company will throw out all sorts of terminology assuming that you understand what they’re talking about. Some might even be happy that you *don’t* understand so they can confuse you and sound like experts. Well, no more!

This post covers the most common terms that you’re likely to run across. I’m sure I’ll miss some or confuse you, so please post questions if there’s anything you’d like clarified.

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What to look for in a new hot water based (boiler) heating system

I got a great question from a reader asking about replacing a boiler and water heater system. After writing a reply, I realized the information might be useful to others, so here goes!

If you’ve got an old boiler that you’re thinking about replacing, you might find all the terminology and technology a bit intimidating. Fortunately, these days, there are a quite a few safe, high efficiency, hot-water generating systems that can provide plenty of hot water for baths and showers as well as heating your home.

I’ve been using this type of system in my home for years, both oil and gas (actually propane, but for this discussion, they’re the same). They can be excellent and cost effective IF configured and controlled correctly.

Let me get something out of the way right away – I would *not* recommend an oil burning system. Even though oil has come way down in price, it’s simply not a great fuel for home heating systems for a number of reasons

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5 Things to consider when replacing your heating system

A big old boiler

#1: Research replacement systems before your current system dies

Hopefully, you’re reading this before you need to replace your heating system. Other than buying a car, a new heating system is likely to be the biggest single item you’ll purchase for your home. And just like a car, you want to do your research before plunking down the the ten grand on something you’ll be living with for years.

Unfortunately, most people wait until their heating system dies – usually in the dead of winter. What ensues is an emergency phone-call to your “heating guy” who will either replace your system with exactly the same, inefficient, old unit you already have or whatever he’s got on the truck, most likely the latter.

You wouldn’t buy a car this way, would you? You wouldn’t call your car dealership and say “my car broke down, sell me what you’ve got. Maybe give me a few options for different cars.”

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Are you unintentionally poisoning your family?

A missing barometric damper

A family friend recently told me of “issues” with their home heating system – “when it runs, the lights get halos around them from all the soot in the air.”

I couldn’t believe it when I heard this, and immediately warned him that the condition likely is making his family sick and could easily kill them. No joke.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the “leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America” – it’s colorless, odorless and quickly affects your brain, knocking you out then killing you. In lower amounts, it can lead to chronic headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea and a host of other problems.

As we tighten up our homes to make them more energy efficient, we have to be particularly vigilant about keeping any combustion devices in the home tuned up and properly vented.

Let’s look at this in more detail….

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How to prevent your boiler from stealing your money

Energy Kinetics System 2000

Energy Kinetics System 2000

In the last article, “Is your boiler stealing your money?“, I discussed why most boilers are ripping you off. Contrary to what almost every HVAC saleperson or tech will tell you, your boiler does not operate at 84% efficiency. It doesn’t operate at 80%! Heck, much of the year, it doesn’t operate at 50% efficiency!

To review, the reasons for this include:

  • High operating temperature
  • Minimal insulation
  • Infrequent use
  • → Outrageously high standby losses

In this article, I’m going to discuss how to do it right. But if you’re too lazy to read the entire article, stop right here and go to the Energy Kinetics website.

But first, I’m going to save you $10,000….

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Is your boiler stealing your money?

Boilers - notorious energy hogs

If you have a boiler, chances are, it’s wasting a lot of energy!

At today’s fuel oil costs, (~$3.50/gallon in March 2011), it’s more important than ever to conserve. This is definitely one of those cases where it pays to do your homework.

What if I told you there’s a good chance that your boiler is half as efficient as they told you? You wouldn’t be happy, would you?

Let me tell you a personal story. When I moved in my house, it had a relatively modern boiler, rated at 82% efficiency. It heated the houe and the water. I figured that was pretty good – no need to upgrade, right?

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