Beat the price of heat

Recent rain and gray skies are reminders to Whidbey Island residents that winter is on its way. Unfortunately, experts are predicting that the cost of electricity, propane and other sources of energy may skyrocket during the dark, wet season to come, making life more expensive for just about everyone.

But how much money residents will have to shell out to energy companies this winter depends on the type of systems they have for heating their homes and water.

A couple of the most efficient and cost-effective systems have been gaining popularity on the island. In fact, radiant heating and geothermal heat pumps work well together, creating inexpensive warmth that is exceptionally comfortable and environmentally friendly.

Fortunately for islanders, there are experienced and knowledgeable installers on the island. Larson Heating in Oak Harbor and Classic Heating in Coupeville are busy helping people stay warm.

Doug Nixon, owner of Larson Heating, started installing radiant heating eight years ago, after three decades of experience with boilers. He became fascinated with the systems and immersed himself in learning about how they work. He will became a certified instructor for radiant heating next month.

“Radiant heating is what I prefer to do,” he said. “It’s the best there is, the most comfortable.”

Radiant panels

go anywhere

Radiant floors are the most common type of radiant heating, though radiant panels can be placed just about anywhere. With radiant floors, rooms are heated by tubes of hot water that run beneath or within the floor boards. Or as Nixon explained, “electromagnetic waves that travel at the speed of light from a warm object to a cooler object, but does not become heat until it is absorbed by some material.”

There are many benefits to radiant floors. The heating is very even and eliminates icy floors, cold rooms and over-heated areas. Nixon explained that the heat pattern is the most comfortable for the human body and concentrates the heat near the floor.

With forced air systems, the hot air rises to the ceiling, where much of the warmth escapes or is wasted on heating the rafters. Radiant heating, on the other hand, warms rooms near the floor and cools off at about seven feet.

The result is an energy savings of about 30 percent.

Nixon uses a computer program to calculate exactly how many feet of radiant tubing should go in a room — based on the amount of heat loss from windows or other sources — which prevents such problems as cold bathrooms or overheated livingrooms.

Although a radiant floor may not seem warm to the touch, Nixon said homeowners who have the system never have to worry about getting up in the middle of the night and walking on cold bathroom floors.

Nixon said the water that runs in the tubes can be heated by just about any kind of fuel — wood, oil, electricity — though propane is the most common. One of the most inexpensive and environmentally friendly ways to heat water, air or run an air conditioner is a unique system called a geothermal heat pump.


earth energy

Scott Losey of Classic Heating is one of the rare installers in the area who has experience with geothermal heating, as well as radiant. Geothermal systems harness the earth’s energy by taking advantage of the relatively constant temperature of the ground. Losey explained that the temperature is nearly a constant 50 degree at about five feet underground.

To install a geothermal heat pump system, Losey buries hundreds of feet of 3/4-inch tubing five feet in the ground. A solution of water and an environmentally inert anti-freeze solutions circulates in the tubes, absorbing the heat. The water returns to a heat exchanger and a compressor that raises the temperature to more than 100 degrees.

In most of his projects, Losey said the hot water is then used to heat the homes through radiant floor heating, plus the hot water can be used domestically.

Geothermal systems can also be reversed and used to cool homes during the summer. Water is cooled in the earth and is used to cool the air in an air conditioning system.

Losey said people can save 40 to 60 percent of their monthly energy costs by installing geothermal heat pumps. The EPA reported that

geothermal systems are the most energy efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective was to heat buildings. Combining geothermal and radiant heating can mean even more of a savings.

Although both radiant and geothermal heating have been around for a long time — and used successfully throughout cold areas of the world — the systems have really starting catching on only in the last few years. Both Losey and Nixon said their business has increased significantly just in the last year.

Both men also agree that the greatest hurdle facing the proliferation of the systems is the initial “sticker shock.” The cost of installing either geothermal and radiant heating are definitely more than traditional setups, but homeowners will make up the initial investment over time.

After that, it’s all savings.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstens or call 675-6611.

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