Sunday, February 24, 2013

Heating your custom home in the country

Series: Tips on designing a country home.

In this multi-part series I will help give you tips on how to go about having a custom home built in the country, where it should sit, what it should look like, how it should function and what type of home performs the best and fits in with the surrounding country side.

Heating your country home

When building a custom home in the country you will be limited in what type of heating system that you will be able to install. The most economical heating for new homes (when balancing price and cost of use) is a high efficiency natural gas furnace; unfortunately in a rural setting you usually do not have access to a natural gas line. This makes the choices for your country home limited. It doesn’t mean that you cannot have efficient heat it just means that you have to be smart on what you install for a heating system.

Here are the typical options for rural country custom homes these days

Geothermal heating. The most popular option in heating today for custom homes in a rural setting is Geothermal heating. Geothermal heating in basic terms is piping filled with an ethanol based mixture that is placed under the ground; the ethanol mixture is then circulated through the pipes allowing the liquid mixture to absorb the heat from the ground in the winter and the cold from the ground in the summer. The pipes feed the mixture into a furnace which blows air over the lines turning the air either warmer or colder depending on your needs. The ductwork to move the air around is the same as any other furnace system. The result; an extremely efficient heating and cooling system, it is actually more efficient then a high efficiency natural gas furnace. It runs on electricity so there is no need to have storage tanks or gas lines running under the ground. When you use your air conditioning in the summer it generates extra heat that is fed into a hot water tank which supplies you with FREE HOTWATER all summer. There are several different ways to have a geothermal system, there is the most popular way of ground loops, this is the most cost effective way but requires you to have some acreage to install the system.
If you are on a small rural lot then you can install drilled well geothermal, this process consists of drilling small wells straight into the earth and then pumping the ethanol solution down into the wells to absorb the heat or the cold of the ground. The down side to this is that it is the most expensive option of geothermal heating.
The third way you can do it is installing the pipes at the bottom of a pond or into a larger body of water. This is fairly inexpensive compared to drilling wells but can be problematic if the pond has a lot of organic material that will settle itself on top of the lines blocking the absorption of heat. The downside to geothermal is the installation cost; it is by far the most expensive of all the home heating options to install. You can also have in-floor hot water radiant heat from a geothermal system.

Propane furnace. Propane furnaces consist of a furnace that burns propane in the same way that a natural gas furnace does and is transported around the home in a typical ductwork. The propane gas is kept in a large storage tank that it outside next to your home and deliveries the propane through a gas line that is buried under the ground until it enters your home. A propane company is needed to come and re-fill the large tank every time it runs low. Propane is not as efficient as natural gas or geothermal. Natural gas is 4 times as efficient then propane, propane can add up to a lot when needed to heat a whole house through the winter. The upside of a propane furnace is that it is fairly cheap to have installed compared to geothermal. You can also have a propane flash boiler installed that can supply your home with in-floor radiant heating.

Oil furnace. Oil furnace work a lot the same as a propane furnace and they us a typical duct system to distribute the heat around the home. The oil tanks are not allowed to be installed outside of your home anymore; they must be installed inside the home so that they are less likely to be damaged. Oil furnaces are about the same efficiency as propane furnaces, the problem that you can get into is if you ever have a leak (you basically have an oil spill in your home). Insurance companies these days are less and less likely to give you a good rate on your home insurance if you have an oil furnace and some insurance companies will refuse to give home insurance altogether as long as there is a working oil furnace in the home. Oil furnaces are not that expensive to install when building your home.

Combination air source heat pump and propane furnace. This is a great option for people who are budget conscious but still want to save on energy bills into the future. An air source heat pump is a device that takes the heat from the air outside and passes it into the furnace; it does this using the same basic principles as geo-thermal ethanol filled lines. This is highly efficient because it doesn’t require propane to make heat. One of the downsides to an air source heat pump is that when the air outside becomes too cold then the heat pump has no heat to remove from the air. This is when the propane furnace kicks in to add heat to the furnace. For the cost of an air source heat pump you get an almost immediate return with the savings of not burning propane. One of the other things that air source heat pumps do is make cold air in the summer months. So when you buy a heat pump to reduce your energy consumption you also get an air conditioner for the summer months for the same price.

These are the most common heating for the country custom homes.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I just switched from propane to heating oil in Marblehead and can already tell the difference. My home is warmer at a fraction of the cost I was paying before.

    1. If I could make one recommendation, add an air to air heat pump in the future and you will find that you will spend even less on heating and cooling your home.

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