You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

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Hristo Botev
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You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Hristo Botev »

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/arc ... ket-newtab

I'm not up to date on what are and are not currently considered top-tier, reputable magazines, but this article struck me as a weird fit for The Atlantic, which I'd kind of thought was one of those top-tier, reputable publications. This onejust struck me, ignorant as I admittedly am on the topic of climate change and home heating, as both click-baity and a weird sort of electricity puff piece or product/industry promotional piece. Am I wrong? Is switching to electric home heating really a "green" solution? It just seems to me that the article almost totally glossed over the fact that the electricity that would feed the heat pump (as a replacement to heating directly with natural gas) is still most likely generated by natural gas or some other fossil fuel, with perhaps some percentage hydro or nuclear, and some much smaller percentage from various "renewables" (or rather, "replaceable" https://www.theatlantic.com/science/arc ... ket-newtab) energy sources. Are we actually getting to a point (or are we already there) where we're going to have a sufficiently significant percentage of the grid sourced from non-fossil fuels that it really does make sense, from a climate change mitigation standpoint, to all heat our homes with heat pumps?

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by jacob »

I think the point of the article was to trend the housing stock in that direction. Heat pumps are getting more efficient and so are now worthwhile in newer houses that are well-insulated and in older houses in benign climates. They're getting quite common in Denmark (a country powered ~40% by wind at this point).

In short, if you're building a new house, consider skipping gas line installation entirely. If you're upgrading an old 50% furnace, consider a heat pump instead.

A heat pump is not the same as a baseboard electric heater. It's a small machine, like the inverse of an A/C unit. Even if it driven by natgas, the amount of heat moved into the home from outside might quite efficient.

As far as renewables are concerned, they have grid parity with fossil sources which makes them competitive. A gas turbine can do CCS whereas your home furnace can not.

From a climate mitigation perspective, your money is better spent this way than a new EV. Just something to keep in mind when replacing the mechanics in your house. Likely the money is even better spent on new windows and insulation.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Hristo Botev »

Thanks @Jacob, as my post was basically intended to be a direct question to you! That all makes sense; except, can you explain this in a way an ignoramus like me might understand:
jacob wrote:
Fri Mar 05, 2021 8:56 am
As far as renewables are concerned, they have grid parity with fossil sources which makes them competitive. A gas turbine can do CCS whereas your home furnace can not.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Alphaville »


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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

When heat pumps come up among people who were in the building industry in the 1970s and 1980s there is often a very negative reaction. I think they were one of those technologies that was tried after the energy crunch that didn't really pan out at the time.

I didn't read the whole article but it caused me to search for info on heat pumps. Some info from https://www.trane.com/residential/en/re ... t-for-you/ that I found interesting. Some highlights that helped me to understand the situation:
- Heat pumps are appropriate for a mild climate, furnaces for a cold climate
- There are "dual fuel" units that combine a furnace and heat pump. They run whichever makes sense given conditions.
- "In general, the air from a heat pump isn’t as hot as what you get from a gas furnace. It’s still warming your home, but it “blows cooler.” Some people don’t like that. In contrast to the hot and dry air of a furnace, heat pumps circulate air that’s naturally humid – so they won’t dry out your skin as much as the heat of a furnace."
- Heat pump construction is like an air conditioner so it doesn't last as long as a furnace.

Geothermal is also interesting technology.

At least one city is limiting installation of natural gas in new construction: https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... nvironment

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Hristo Botev »

Alphaville wrote:
Fri Mar 05, 2021 9:15 am
Thanks.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by AxelHeyst »

Oh fun. The company I work for was involved in a professional advisory role in the berkeley electrification initiative (also in several other cities'). Yeah, the big idea is going all-electric gives buildings the *ability* to be either carbon neutral or much more renewables based. If your equipment is gas, it's gas, that's it.

(Also, this is a compelling reason in the minds of many bay area residents for going all-electric. )

But! The plot thickens!
To answer your question (is switching to heat pumps really green?), well, it's not that simple. Heat pumps are like reverse refrigerators as Jacob said. As in, they're full of refrigerant. Common refrigerants have thousands of times the atmospheric warming potential of CO2 (the way we notate that is 1000-9000x CO2e, the e stands for "equivalent") per unit mass. Refrigerants leaking or just being vented to atmo at equipment end of life is a *huge* problem from climate change perspective. In theory, we'll just have a great program for safely getting all that end of life refrigerant dealt with somehow. In practice....

So now that heat pumps are the New Green Thing, we're producing and using massive amounts of them. In 10, 20 years as all these units start breaking and just being dumped or whatever, all that x000x CO2e gas is going to atmo. Oops.

"They" are working on using alternative refrigerants with much lower C02e, like ammonia and propane. There's a reason people haven't been using those compounds, though...

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Toska2 »

I would like to note Jacob said "benign", gilbert said "mild" and the author confused "below zero" & "freezing".

Coastal areas are the main demographic, the Atlantic newspaper is liberal. Its only natural that the Atlantic put out this article.

Will it work? Yes, until the power goes out. Which, imo, will be a lot more often. The Fifth Discipline (book) implies our actions are not done in a vacuum. What happens when we switch our heating, cooking, and transportation to electric? Why set ourselves to have every outage to be catastrophic? If we are being honest, is shipping woodchips to other countries to burn for electricity being green?

Its easy to be cynical because I live off other peoples' waste. When its scaled to the thousands of tons I am at a loss, which is business size let alone state size.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by DutchGirl »

I made the argument with my boyfriend for electric cars, but the same goes for electric heating, I guess:

If you run a car on gas or diesel, you *are* contributing to pollution and depleting the world's resources. If you run a car on electricity, you can try to find a way to produce that electricity that is less polluting and damaging.

The same arguments holds for heating a house, I guess.

So electric cars and electric heating can be as damaging or more damaging than oil/gas/diesel, but they also give you the freedom to look for a less damaging way to harvest the energy you need to run your car or warm your house.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by chenda »

I found this article (via mmm I think) interesting

https://shift.newco.co/2017/05/25/this- ... -will-die/
Cars are complicated.

Behind the hum of a running engine lies a carefully balanced dance between sheathed steel pistons, intermeshed gears, and spinning rods — a choreography that lasts for millions of revolutions. But millions is not enough, and as we all have experienced, these parts eventually wear, and fail. Oil caps leak. Belts fray. Transmissions seize...And this list raises an interesting observation: None of these failures exist in an electric vehicle.. ..All other things being equal, a system with fewer moving parts will be more reliable than a system with more moving parts

And this is what will kill oil: It will cost less to hail an autonomous electric vehicle than to drive the car that you already own.
For some reason I am skeptical that self driving vehicles will be a thing..but I hope his analysis is correct and that we will see mass car use decline very soon. Covid pretty much eradicated congestion literally overnight.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by MegaRigger »

We've got geothermal in our new home and it's ace. It only works efficiently in combination with low heat heating systems like floorheating or extra large radiators though. We've got floor heating which I find very pleasant. Ours also has an integrated boiler, the temperature is quite low but it's set this way that regularly it heats up to 65°C to avoid legionella.

A nice advantage is that it offers "passive cooling", in summertime it just pumps up cold water which cools down the floor "heating". It doesn't use the compressor but only the pump, so almost no power required. It's not as effective as airco but completely silent and no cold breeze.

The combination with solar panels is also quite nice, although unfortunately net metering is not allowed anymore here in Belgium. The biggest disadvantage at the moment is that electricity is quite expensive in belgium compared to gas.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

My HVAC guy thinks that most modern mini-split will work well for my little old house renovation in cold climate and the building inspector didn't say "No" to the plan. Also, it will only be about $800 plus whatever I pay him for favor-on-the-side installation. From what I have read in old house journals, they also work well in combination with wood/pellet stoves, so I might also add that option at some point. Rack up some solar panels on the old sloped barn/garage roof, cover up some r-board to make shutters/inserts, buy a big dog, 3 down comforters, and a hot water bottle, and I will be good to go.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Alphaville »

big dog is too expensive. eats meat (lots), poops big, needs vet, and it can bleed you with the prescriptions/surgeries/etc as it gets old (too soon).

a little recreational stove can be a nice backup, but pellet requires electricity to function which is same as heat pump during outage.

so, since you're building... could you build rocket mass heater? or is it not approved by code? what about kachelofen?

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Alphaville wrote:big dog is too expensive
Well, I either need to "pay" for a dog, a gun, a man, or safe suburban property tax bill. So, a dog seems like the best deal. Unfortunately, frugal women need to budget more for personal security, but frugal men need to budget more for sex, so it works out about even.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Alphaville »

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Tue Mar 09, 2021 7:14 am
Well, I either need to "pay" for a dog, a gun, a man, or safe suburban property tax bill. So, a dog seems like the best deal. Unfortunately, frugal women need to budget more for personal security, but frugal men need to budget more for sex, so it works out about even.
frugal men "pay" for sex with great foreplay :lol:

anyway, back to serious matters: is the crime really bad? what kind are we talking?

i grew up with guard dogs and never got robbed while we had one, but it's not just a size thing, and it has its own risks and requirements. e.g. you planning to fence the property?

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

@Alphaville:

As with all things, skill and innate resources may sub out for $$$. A barking dog is good for deterrence, even without a fenced yard. Size doesn’t matter as much as other factors for security concerns, but it will contribute more body heat. Of course, dog food is more expensive than reduction to utilities cost, but I could run a meat rabbit tractor over my lawn and install a dog poop composting toilet in the shed. I think a dog would strive to protect an old lady who provided meat rabbits. Also owning a dog would encourage me to take long walks around the city, thereby increasing the muscular heat production of my own body.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Alphaville »

right, but a sentry dog is not the same as a guard... for alarm, hard to beat chihuhua. rotties otoh are quieter, but will have serious stopping power against an intruder.

i don't know what are the risks on your property but i'd look at electromechanical solutions before biological ones... security lights, locks, alarms, barriers... are easier to control and maintain once set up.

a dog can help of course , and provide company, but it's not a security plan in itself. e.g. junkyard dogs in bad neighborhoods don't get "walked."

if crime is an issue you'll need a systematic approach. i'd consult with someone who works in the field.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Okay, I will build a robot dog. Or maybe robot flying monkey drones? Solar powered, of course. They could roost up on top of the garage/barn with my solar panels.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Alphaville »

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Wed Mar 10, 2021 8:31 am
Okay, I will build a robot dog.
Image
or
Image
?

eta: this might be a simpler path: https://simplisafe.com/
ofc that makes you reliant on emergency services. and in certain neighborhoods, as public enemy put so well long ago, 911 is a joke
but with alarms and lights to alert then neighbors, it helps deter.

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Re: You're Thinking About Home Heating Wrong, Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

Post by Lucky C »

You might be thinking about home heating wrong in a bunch of different ways, depending on your home's particular quirks. In my case, I have forced hot air with an oil burner and didn't have a lot of insulation, but the biggest jump in our efficiency was changing part of our ductwork.

A couple years after moving in, I had already more than doubled the insulation in the attic and was wondering where all the heat was going / why there wasn't much improvement, when I saw there was a piece of ductwork in the basement missing! It was wide open where it made a 90 degree bend in such a way that you wouldn't notice it (home inspector didn't catch it) unless you were standing on a step stool and looking in that direction. Our furnace was sucking in cold basement air to mix with the warm return air from the house and then trying to suck warm house air back down to the basement to balance the pressure. I probably could have improved efficiency 20%+ with a $10 part but I completely redid the return air ducts for even more improvement because they were too small anyway. Besides that there was another duct on the supply side that was loose and dumping hot air into unconditioned space.

With duct changes and insulation & air leak improvements we are now using less than half the amount of fuel while still keeping it as oil for now. If someone else bought this house it's unlikely they would have found the duct issues unless they really took a critical look at everything or had a contractor redo their whole heating system, so I'm happy I was able to reduce fuel use by hundreds of gallons of oil per year despite still using hundreds of gallons per year.

The moral of the story is that you should thoroughly check a homes heating system / thermal envelope / air leakage for any issues first, which will get you your best carbon footprint reduction per resources used, and may result in a smaller heating requirement which will change what size or type of heating system you can go with. For example geothermal (ground sourced heat pump) is more efficient than an (air sourced) heat pump, but the big setup and sophisticated hardware required results in high cost with long payback periods unless you are doing it for a McMansion or a complex or a single geothermal loop to serve multiple homes (but groups are working on lowering cost/resources for regular homeowners). Similarly for a regular heat pump, if you make improvements to your home's efficiency you may reduce the size of the system by a ton or two, reducing costs, perhaps saving you from having to upgrade your electrical panel, etc.

For our home, I did the rough math for adding a heat pump system and the cost of oil would have to increase much higher than previous all time highs or it would have to be heavily subsidized, in order to have a decent payback period. Part of that is because we already have an efficient enough house now with a furnace in place already, and part of it is because electricity prices are very high in New England compared to current oil prices (even considering high efficiency models). A heat pump would also be nice to have compared to noisy window mounted AC units in the summer, but the noise reduction and slightly higher efficiency of a heat pump AC is not worth the high cost vs. our $150 "window rattler."

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