What Are the Different Types of Alternate Heating Systems?

J. Landers
J. Landers
A propane tank.
A propane tank.

It can be expensive to heat a home or building, so many homeowners and owners of other buildings make efforts to cut their heating expenses. One way that this can be done is by installing an alternate heating system. Some of the common alternate heating systems include hydronic floor heating, geothermal heat pumps and passive solar heating systems. In addition to saving money, alternate heating systems often use cleaner fuel and are more efficient.

Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.

Hydronic floor heat has become a popular choice for alternate heating systems in residential and commercial buildings. Also referred to as radiant heating, this system consists of a pipes or tubing installed on a wooden subfloor and covered by a thin layer of concrete. Other installation methods require the encasement of pipes in a concrete floor or between floor joists underneath the subfloor.

Concrete is poured over pipes in hydronic floor installations.
Concrete is poured over pipes in hydronic floor installations.

The piping connects to a boiler, which circulates water or a special heat-producing fluid through the supply end of the pipes. Cooled fluid returns to the boiler, through the other end pipe, for recirculation when the thermostat calls for heat. This system can operate on a variety of fuel sources, including electricity, oil, propane and natural gas. Hydronic floor heating offers efficiency and distributes heat more evenly than the more common forced-air heating system.

Geothermal alternate heating systems rely on the natural ground temperature of the Earth. The temperature not far below the surface typically stays at a consistent 55° to 60° Fahrenheit (12.8° to 15.6° Celsius). A heat pump installed in the building has the capacity to both heat and cool the structure. The unit circulates warm water through pipes installed underground.

The heat pump moves the warm water to the building. A blower distributes the warm air to room through a ductwork system. This alternative heating system returns cooled water back into the Earth. The system’s upfront costs are expensive, but the savings on electricity and operating costs provides a return over the long run. Geothermal heating systems work best in regions that have moderate temperatures.

Some property owners take advantage of the most abundant source of heat source on Earth by designing and installing a system of windows, walls and floors that can store energy from the sun. This is often referred to as thermal storage. Passive solar heating systems do not require the use of electricity or power-driven devices, such as pumps, fans, or electrical control equipment.

The energy of the sun comes through large windows installed on the side of the structure that is nearest to the Earth's equator. The structure also makes use of walls, floors and partitions that have dark surfaces to absorb heat. These components also serve as thermal mass. In addition, building structures such as roof overhangs can help prevent under-heating or over-heating of the building. Using the concepts of convection, conduction and radiation, passive solar alternate heating systems distribute heat to different sections of the home.

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    • A propane tank.
      A propane tank.
    • Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
      Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
    • Concrete is poured over pipes in hydronic floor installations.
      Concrete is poured over pipes in hydronic floor installations.