Green / Eco-Friendly

Best long-term heating solution?

  • Last Updated:
  • Sep 11th, 2018 10:46 am
[OP]
Newbie
Sep 1, 2007
38 posts
2 upvotes
Whitby

Best long-term heating solution?

We are in our early 50s and we have just started looking for a land in a suburb of GTA to build our little bungalow to live through the rest of our lives. Since this will most likely be 1.5-2 hours away from Toronto, I don't expect any natural gas infrastructure there.

Given this, what would be the most sensible build especially knowing that we will likely to live there for 30+ years? We are not looking for anything larger than 1400-1500 sqft with a completely finished basement.

I've looked at:
- Propane based
- Solar heating
- Geothermal
- Passive solar (using sun to heat the thermal mass through southern windows)
- etc
- Any combination of the above

Basically, I'm open to anything since the house isn't even built yet. :)
13 replies
Sr. Member
Jul 7, 2017
854 posts
291 upvotes
SW corner of the cou…
One thing to consider is lay out the land. You want a long part of the house to face south to catch the sun if it wont look odd. Old farm houses in France among other places were placed like that. I've seen a few old villages in Quebec where houses weren't aligned with the street and this is odd in N. America. If you want to all out, even add external shutters to keep the sun or wind out during winter evenings for that extra thermal boundary layer insulation.

If facing south, then rooftop solar would be good to have. Though it would seem a tracker (perhaps not aesthetically pleasing) is more effective (more than twice according to someone out here that I spoke with who has a huge fixed array and a tracker.)

Geothermal doesn't seem to work too good in your climes from everything I've read.
Almost too cheap to shop through RFD
Deal Fanatic
Jan 27, 2006
8848 posts
3064 upvotes
Vancouver, BC
thriftshopper wrote:
May 14th, 2018 6:35 pm
Geothermal doesn't seem to work too good in your climes from everything I've read.
Air based geothermal doesn't work too well in colder climates - they get to about 1:1 (one Watt of energy consumed per one Watt of energy produced if it's too cold) where the efficiencies are better as you get closer to 0C and above. Most small foot print heat pumps (ones that look and work like A/C units) work this way.

However, if you do buried (or Ground Sourced) geothermal where you actually place pipes into the ground and use the Earth as an energy bank rather than the atmosphere, those work very well when it gets cold. A properly sized geothermal system should be able to supply any and all heating/cooling requirements.

Note - Ground Sourced Geothermal isn't your best option for existing buildings as burying the pipes takes a bit of space to do and it's hard to do that between houses. However, if it's a vacant lot, then it's like drilling a well.

I would put in solar with a battery back-up while it's connected to the grid as well. The battery back-up is really to keep the heat on in the middle of Winter in case the power goes out.
Deal Fanatic
Jan 27, 2006
8848 posts
3064 upvotes
Vancouver, BC
The first story while scary seems basically a poor HVAC contractor - didn't know what they were doing - that took advantage of the home owner. Notice that the contractor is no longer in business, quickly voided the warranty due to dust (when they should have known going in as they installed it), and didn't have it working from the get-go.

The second story is more reasonable but we don't know how much insulation he has in his home to require additional heat boost or if he went with a ground source or air sourced geothermal unit.

These two stories do prove one very important thing - do your homework when it comes to contractors.
[OP]
Newbie
Sep 1, 2007
38 posts
2 upvotes
Whitby
We would build a house facing south for sure with lots of windows and overhanging roof to cut off some sun during the summer. I think with some extra insulation, this setup will help warm up the house during the winter.

Since we are looking at 1-2 acres of land, it would be more than likely that we would bury the pipes if we go geothermal. We will be able to do horizontal easily, so no deep digging. If this works well in cold climates, sounds like a combination of horizontal geothermal + solar panels + some batteries is the best option. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Thrift - I did read that article before and it is scary but I have a feeling that it is a bad contractor. If this happens often, surely we would hear more problems of this nature...
Deal Fanatic
Jan 27, 2006
8848 posts
3064 upvotes
Vancouver, BC
Tiny wrote:
May 15th, 2018 2:26 pm
We would build a house facing south for sure with lots of windows and overhanging roof to cut off some sun during the summer. I think with some extra insulation, this setup will help warm up the house during the winter.

Since we are looking at 1-2 acres of land, it would be more than likely that we would bury the pipes if we go geothermal. We will be able to do horizontal easily, so no deep digging. If this works well in cold climates, sounds like a combination of horizontal geothermal + solar panels + some batteries is the best option. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Thrift - I did read that article before and it is scary but I have a feeling that it is a bad contractor. If this happens often, surely we would hear more problems of this nature...
Have a look at those new net-zero houses for ideas about design and features. While many of the features are a bit over the top with high cost and questionable gains, many of the others are really the low-hanging fruit where most of the gains are had with only a reasonable increase in cost - ie. instead of 2x6 construction, you have 2x8 construction or the use of foam based insulation rather than fiberglass. With enough insulation and better construction techniques, you'll should have fairly low power requirements so the overall TCO over time will be low.

For the ground sourced geothermal, you need to check how deep you need to put the pipes so that you can account for those of those 1 in a hundred year Winters or if it will make sense to dig a few 'shallow wells' in additional to the horizontal in order to hedge your bets. After all, it won't cost too much more to go a little deeper now when there is nothing on the land than having to worry about later once everything is in place.
Sr. Member
Dec 15, 2009
929 posts
159 upvotes
Ontario
We are doing propane, passive solar and wood stove heat on our build
Jr. Member
Jun 24, 2013
103 posts
135 upvotes
craftsman wrote:
May 14th, 2018 7:00 pm
Air based geothermal doesn't work too well in colder climates - they get to about 1:1 (one Watt of energy consumed per one Watt of energy produced if it's too cold) where the efficiencies are better as you get closer to 0C and above. Most small foot print heat pumps (ones that look and work like A/C units) work this way.

However, if you do buried (or Ground Sourced) geothermal where you actually place pipes into the ground and use the Earth as an energy bank rather than the atmosphere, those work very well when it gets cold. A properly sized geothermal system should be able to supply any and all heating/cooling requirements.

Note - Ground Sourced Geothermal isn't your best option for existing buildings as burying the pipes takes a bit of space to do and it's hard to do that between houses. However, if it's a vacant lot, then it's like drilling a well.

I would put in solar with a battery back-up while it's connected to the grid as well. The battery back-up is really to keep the heat on in the middle of Winter in case the power goes out.
I just had geothermal installed, on an urban lot (110' x 52') as a retrofit.

They just needed a 10 foot wide space to get the truck in the back (which they were able to), then drilled 4 holes about 10 feet apart and 60 m deep for a 4 ton system. The mess is contained to a 50' x 10' area that I will have to level out, put some top soil over and re-sod. It wasn't as awful as I thought.

The GreenON rebates will help with the cost of the whole system to make it closer in cost to a traditional system.

For a new build, since the lot will also be a mess, if you have it planned out prior to starting a build, they can actually run the pipes down below the house and have them come out right where the heat pump inside will go.

My system has been operational for a month in cooling mode and the house gets cold quick. I've put it at 25 - 26C just to keep the house comfortable. Any cooler than that I find cold.

In the winter it should be able to handle most of the heating load. There is a 10 kW heater in the unit, on a separate breaker that I plan to leave off unless absolutely necessary, that supplements the heat if it goes much below -20. We could have added an extra ton of heating in the ground, but decided based on the costs, the backup heater is better than oversizing the system.

A new build would be much better insulated than my 60's house, so they'll probably be able to design a system that can handle 100% of your heat with just the ground.

I put in a cold climate air source heat pump in a rental of mine and have saved about $200 in overall energy costs year one. Technically it would be a little more expensive, but I'm saving the $22/month or so fixed gas fee (gas is shut off, I have air source heat pump water heating there too) and this past year has seen record cold and a lot of heat vs the year before, so a cold climate air source heat pump can be cost competitive with a traditional system on an energy usage basis (but not when you include capital costs, the payback will probably be longer than the equipment life at $200 per year.
Deal Guru
User avatar
Nov 18, 2005
10653 posts
2037 upvotes
Kingston
I did EXTENSIVE analysis of non-propane heating systems before we built our house where propane wasn't available (resistance electric, oil, air source heat pump, propane, geothermal). For geothermal vs propane it comes down to forecasting future electricity vs propane prices. If you haven't lived in a "rural" area be aware that rural electricity prices are higher than urban.

Regarding solar, assuming you are grid-tied, it doesn't make sense to get batteries. The grid is your unlimited battery: feed it with all your excess, unlimited draw when your solar is insufficient.
Deal Addict
User avatar
Dec 10, 2008
3887 posts
460 upvotes
Toronto
My gut feeling is that with a new build, you're better off focusing on factors you can control; mainly framing thickness and insulation.

If you have exterior XPS w/ 2x8 framing and a flash-and-bat, does it really matter what heating system you're using?
Sr. Member
Nov 17, 2014
544 posts
213 upvotes
Ontario
Do you actually know that there won't be natural gas? If you're building in a town or something there will most definitely be natural gas. If it is on the outskirts perhaps not. Natural gas isn't a GTA thing.
Deal Guru
User avatar
Nov 18, 2005
10653 posts
2037 upvotes
Kingston
Regarding solar.....
Solar of course generates electricity not heat/cooling.
It doesn't currently make economic sense to do solar to generate electricity for your home. See this thread: http://forums.redflagdeals.com/solar-en ... #p29235424
So you can't use solar to generate cheap electricity in order to make an electricity based heating system more viable than it would be if you were just getting electricity from the grid.

Full disclosure: I have a solar system that is part of the now-closed microFIT program. It was a great investment in 2013 but isn't available anymore.

If you are interested in the spreadsheet I created to calculate the long term costs of the various heating systems (PV of upfront + ongoing) shoot me a message with your email address. All the cost data will have to be updated but the calculations will be the same.

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