Heat Pumps, Infrared Radiant Heat & Hybrid Systems

Heating Our Spaces and Not the Planet

When looking to increase the efficiency and sustainability of heating your home or business while reducing your carbon footprint and other pollutants, the best answers can be somewhat complex and vary depending on a number of factors. Clearly, the more tightly your space is insulated while, simultaneously, more efficiently ventilated (ie. higher performance), the better. This is why we wear warmer clothes in the winter, with, perhaps underclothing that ‘breathes’ and wicks away moisture, for maximum comfort using only our body’s own system of regulating its heat.

But the energy we put into heating our interior spaces, and how it is generated is still a big factor in the efficiency, cleanliness, effectiveness, and sustainability of our heating system. And each of these methods has its pros and cons. So, lets rule out a few approaches that just won’t fly going forward, if we wish to save energy, live in a cleaner world, and help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Burning Fuels for Heat is No Longer the Answer

Regardless of the technical efficiency of any fossil fuel solution such as natural gas, using it is not at all sustainable. Oil and natural gas furnaces use resources that are tremendously harmful to extract, aren’t renewable and will, eventually, become scarce, and, of course, continue to add to the carbon in the air. Even wood pellet stoves are a solution that would, eventually, deplete our resources faster than they could be renewed and, at best, can only get close to net zero, since we would burn the wood faster than we can grow it back.

Electricity is the Way Forward

So, basically, only an all electric approach qualifies as a viable solution to achieve all our goals in this regard. Please, keep in mind that, while we certainly still generate a great deal of our electricity with fossil fuels, the all-electric home instantly becomes cleaner as cleaner electricity comes on line. So this issue is really about how we make electricity and not at all about how we use it.

Ducted and Hydronic Centralized System Have Built-in Inefficiencies

At this point, it is important to mention that, no matter how the heat is generated or moved into the home or business, centralized, ducted systems and hydronic boilers suffer from a number of inefficiencies such as heat loss in the ducts or piping especially in unconditioned spaces (such as crawlspaces) as well as wasting heat in unoccupied spaces. Imagine if your home’s lighting system operated where, regardless of the room you were using, all the light switches turned all of the lights on or off in the entire home or, perhaps, floor by floor zone. When put that way, centralized systems can easily been seen to be flawed in this respect. Additionally, ducting and plumbing are expensive to install throughout the building, and can suffer from leakage – which, in the case of hydronic systems, can be disastrous.

Forced air systems also suffer from the inefficiency of needing to power a fan motor to blow air into the space and, in the case of hot air, the fact that hot air rises into the unused empty space above the occupants’ heads. Even mini-split ductless heat pumps suffer from this fact, even more so when the heat needs to move to rooms too far away from the internal cassettes or heads, making them cold spots. The solution using only this system would be to install more heads or involve ducting.

 Ductless Heat Pumps are the Most Efficient but not the (Whole) Answer

Geothermal heat pumps are the most efficient way to both heat and cool interior spaces by making use of the constant temperature found underground year round that can be routed in or out of our interior spaces to keep them in a constant, comfortable range using very little electricity in almost any climate. However, the refrigerants used to capture and release the heat energy can be pollute the air and or ground in the case of leakage – which, at some point, is effectively inevitable if not caught and replaced in time. And, because pumps have moving parts, while they can be made durable, will eventually suffer from breakdowns, require maintenance in this regard, and at some point will wear out. Additionally, the well for the underground portion can be prohibitively expensive and, overall, mean these systems are not as sustainable, affordable, or clean as other systems I will mention going forward.

Air source heat pumps are next in efficiency and are much more affordable than geothermal systems. However, they also use refrigerants, have moving parts, and, when its below freezing outside, the condensation of water in the unit out in the frigid exterior air tends to freeze and must be defrosted (using additional power in the process while pausing interior heating), and even begin to fail to do the job if the temperature drops too low. When it is very hot and humid, they must work harder to evacuate the heat into the outside air. In both cases, the durability and efficiency of the system drops.

So, both types of heat pumps are, technically and in general, the most efficient methods of both heating and cooling. However, they are not maintenance free and eventually wear out. They currently house toxic refrigerants prone to leakage into the environment. And, since they have a somewhat complex structure of parts, they are not the easiest systems to repair, re-use or recycle (at end of usable life. Finally, because they must interact with the exterior of the space, penetrations in the building envelope are required which can compromise the performance of the insulating features that are so important to overall efficiency.

Electric Infrared Radiant Heat Solves Many Challenges Heat Pumps Do Not

Electric resistance heat turns electrical input into usable heat. The efficiency for a system that brings generated power into the home rather than moving heat energy in or out, as heat pumps do, can, at best, attain an efficiency approaching but not quite achieving 100%. Usually, the efficiency of any machine is based on how much energy is lost in the form of heat. For example, an LED light is so much more efficient (and durable) than an incandescent light because it converts most of the power into light and very little into heat. Those of us old enough to have changed an incandescent light too soon after it was turned off know just how hot a 100 watt lightbulb can get. However, when heat is what you are trying to produce, light not only may become undesirable (staying warm in a dark bedroom, for example), but can also be considered wasted energy. So, it you can see the glow of a heater, you are looking at wasted energy.

For many reasons previously stated, central, forced air, electric furnaces and hydronic boilers are probably the least desirable heating approach after burning fuel in terms of our desired goals. In-wall cadet heaters do have the advantage of room by room heating which, if used properly, can at least be controlled to put more or less heat into a space depending on where it is wanted or needed. But they are noisy, and waste energy with motors that blow rising air into a space. Baseboard heaters can be a bit more efficient, do not blow air, can be controlled room by room, and have no moving parts, but suffer from misdirecting the radiant h

 

Light and Heat

What if every light switch in your home controlled every lightbulb in every room? You’d basically have two choices at night – light up the whole house or sit in the dark. 

Sounds crazy, right? Who would want that? Not many, I’d guess. It also would not be very energy efficient. Yet this is how central heating works (in essence). If you want more heat in the living room in the evening, you have to turn up the heat in every room. Unoccupied rooms during the day get more heat just because you’re cold in your office, ad nauseam. Arbitrarily changing the heat for the occupants of other rooms not only can affect their comfort levels but also start a thermostat battle.

Forced air systems, even energy efficient mini-split systems, are also limited in effectiveness because of a fact about ambient air temperature. Cool air readily travels from the source throughout a home since it flows down where everyone is. But warm air begins to rise as soon as it enters a space. And, with central air systems, heat is lost as it travels through ducts. Closing the register in an unused room just means the heat will move through the ducting to that room, cooling down the whole way, only to have no access and, therefore, to wasted effect.

In contrast to hot air, far infrared light is the invisible part of sunlight that heats the land, water, etc. directly. Then, the heat is shed into the air. So, just as we simulate the visible light of the sun with electric lighting, we can do the same with the heat of the sun using technology that shines far infrared light into our spaces.

Infrared radiant heat allows for room-by-room control. A warm bathroom doesn’t affect a cooler, unoccupied bedroom. A boost of cozy warmth in the family room on movie night doesn’t affect the temperature of the laundry room. Since one of the most significant factors in both comfortable and energy efficient heat comes down to control, infrared radiant heat can maximize efficiency without sacrificing comfort.

Think about what happens when you need to change a lightbulb. You take the old one out and put in a new one. And, just like changing a lightbulb, only the room it is in is significantly affected. Whereas, if your furnace, heat pump, or mini-split system fails, your home will be left in the cold until a repair or replacement can be made.

As such, when you think about infrared radiant heat, approach it like you might approach lighting — room by room control. Infrared radiant heat will help you achieve maximum comfort while using as little energy as possible to get the job done.

For more information, contact us at info@mightyenergy.net or 206.880.1558

 

The Human Touch

Mighty Energy Solutions has always been about providing direct, person-to-person customer service, and affordable, effective, and durable products that help reduce carbon emissions and save energy. And, with more and more of us working from home, we are  looking to improve our spaces. However, with the safety concerns and precautions needed to shop face-to-face in a showroom, online shopping for durable goods and large appliances has increased significantly. And, even as we come out of this unprecedented global crisis, the new level of online shopping is unlikely to revert to pre-pandemic levels.

The good news is that shopping online is better for the environment and our schedules. Online purchases are delivered directly to customers by well-established shipping companies specializing in efficient logistics. The number of cars, borrowed pick-up trucks, etc. driving from showroom to showroom, and carting items home has decreased substantially. This saves people a great deal of time. And has reduced the amount of fuel burned and carbon emissions associated with going out shopping and getting our purchases to our homes.

However, between huge, impersonal platforms such as Amazon, and so many products coming from overseas, working directly with human beings – let alone the same person from inquiry about the products to final delivery – is becoming the exception rather than the rule. And, we have all been made aware of the supply chain issues, increased likelihood of shipping delays, higher rates of damage in transit, and all the rigmarole involved in returning or exchanging products that are either not working properly or not the right fit for the job.

So, when you can call and/or email an actual human being who offers you professional guidance and solid customer service, and who will stick with you throughout the process, it can be a big relief. Mighty Energy Solutions is proud to be among the companies – often small businesses – who have always offered this level of quality service and support.

If you need a new heating system for your remodel, renovation, new build, or just an upgrade of your old system, call us at 206.880.1558 or email us at info@mightyenergy.net to find more about what we can do for you. We will always work to find you the best solution for your project. And we are always happy to assist you every step of the way.

A New Reality Requires a New Approach

This unprecedented pandemic has lasted over two years so far. It has changed the way we live. Even as certain precautions are being eased in the coming weeks, that could change with little notice. Certainly, we all hope the worst is over. However, now that we have learned to make so many adjustments in our lives, we can better prepare for similar events that may come going forward.

We’ve gotten used to wearing masks, social distancing, etc. And we have also seen shifts in how the economy works. Many of us are now working from home instead of going into the office. We are ordering more online and shopping less in stores. There have been seemingly random shortages of various items – even staples such as toilet paper. Most of us have had to endure longer turn-around times on orders, especially of durable goods. Building materials for home improvement projects have been hit hard. Almost everything has gone up in price. And, by now, everyone seems to have heard and used the term ‘supply chain issues’  – some for the first time in their lives.

Mighty Energy has always followed the policy of selling products (and all their components) that are made in the America. Initially, we saw this as a way to reduce the carbon emissions associated with all the shipping involved in gathering and turning raw materials into finished products. It turns out that this policy has also minimized our supply chain issues when compared to many other durable goods. However, our business has not been entirely immune.

Even with products fully made in America, these issues have cropped up. COVID has found its way into factories in the chain. A big uptick in demand for shipping services has strained that system. And manufacturers everywhere are scrambling to find new suppliers, creating greater competition for in-country sources. All of this has resulted in delays and price increases.

No one wants this outcome, and we’re all hoping for a return to a more ‘reasonable’ status quo. It’s hard to know when this will happen. And it’s just as hard to say and what ‘reasonable’ will mean. So, part of the adjustment is going to require planning ahead a little further out. Budgets are going to be trickier to work-out. The work itself has become more difficult to schedule. It would be good, in this respect, to consider what efficiency and durability mean to this process.

For example, Ducoterra heating panels have a lifetime warranty, will last decades, and electric infrared heating systems in general have the lowest cost of ownership over time. They are among the easiest heating systems to fix. And, if something does go wrong, it won’t leave your whole house without heat if you need to send a heater to the factory for repair or replacement.

Also, as our factories have faced all the various curve balls thrown at them, they have made adjustments that render the all-American supply chain far more stable than could be accomplished using overseas components, let alone supplying imported products.

One final thing to consider is that, more and more, we are finding it safest to gather outdoors whenever possible. This can be a pleasant adjustment in any case. However, the weather does not always allow it. So, many people are working on projects to cover patios and decks. And, to get as much as a hundred extra days a year of use out of these spaces, people are installing INFRATECH infrared patio heaters. INFRATECH has been around for fifty years and are the standard in quality, outdoor heating solutions. So, if you are going to spend the money to make your outdoor spaces more friendly, and your gatherings more pandemic resistant, you may want to invest in making those spaces comfortably usable much more of the time. And infrared radiant heat is the only way to effectively ‘heat the great outdoors.’

We have all received hard lessons in not knowing what to expect in this tumultuous time. But, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that with the proper steps and preparation, we can stay ahead of the curve and weather these kinds of global storms in greater comfort and safety for the long haul.

For more information and answers to any questions you may have about infrared radiant heating solutions, please call 206.880.1558 or email info@migthyenergy.net.

A Flexible Approach to Heating Challenges

Architects, contractors, and specialty trades all know that having many approaches to solve the challenges of their client’s projects gives them a great advantage. One area where this can be particularly true is in how a building is heated.

No Ducts – Only Architecture

Mini-split ductless heat pump systems are an extremely efficient heating solution for projects with large, open-concept spaces. There are no ducts and vents to install.  The conditioned air moves directly from the cassette through the rooms and hallways. And it provides both warm and cool air for all-season comfort. Also, the only connection between inside and out are a couple of pipes for the refrigerant. So no outdoor air pollutants are pumped into your house.

Cool air moves downward. So, mini-splits do a great job of cooling your space. However, in colder months, since warm air rises, the further a room is from the cassette, the less heat reaches it. This can cause ineffective heating and create cool spots/rooms. One solution, of course, is to install multiple cassettes in various rooms throughout the home. However, this quickly gets costly, and requires multiple  holes in the exterior walls for the refrigerant plumbing to reach the multiple cassettes. And every penetration of the building envelope increases the risk of temperature exchange with the outside. Sure, a ducted heat pump could be installed instead, but those are also costly and have limits to their effectiveness. Additionally, it means more moving parts that can fail, and increases the chance that refrigerants will leak.

This is where electric, infrared radiant heat comes in as a great supplement to cover insufficiently heated spaces. This solution also requires no ducting and, in fact, no further penetrations in the building envelope. As easy to install as can lighting, it rounds out the system at a lower cost, allows for room by room control. And, with no moving parts, it will likely last as much as twice as long as the mini-split itself.

Less Can be More Appropriate

In the case of small, tightly built ADU/DADUs, and additions, mini-splits are generally overkill both for what the space needs in terms of heating power and often even cooling power, as well as for the client’s bank account. Once again, infrared radiant heat fits the bill perfectly: no mechanical room to add, no ducts, no holes in the exterior walls. Just wire and mount them, and you’ve provided your client with efficient, cozy heat that can readily be controlled with the simplest thermostat or the most sophisticated home management system. Ducoterra ultra-slim, infrared radiant ceiling panels are especially favored by designers as they are completely silent, paintable, nearly invisible, and carry a lifetime warranty. 

Retrofitting an Upgrade

If your client needs to replace an hydronic system with a broken boiler or leaky plumbing, or a faulty electric furnace, you will keep their costs down with a brand-new infrared radiant system. And you can get them back the space used up by the boiler and registers, or furnace and ducts. Or, you can get rid of noisy, inefficient cadet heaters and obtrusive baseboards with clean, silent, far more efficient heaters that are up and out of the way.

Cost Effectiveness and Custom Comfort at Scale

Maybe you have a big job like a high-rise condo or office building, and the bathrooms or individuated office spaces need primary or supplemental heat. Wires are much easier and less expensive to install into each of these spaces than hydronic plumbing or forced air ducting. Even multiple head mini-split ductless systems quickly become cumbersome solutions for these rooms. And, at these scales, the costs, especially for installation,  rapidly add up. Infrared radiant heat can be the perfect solution to keep costs down, customize, and manage heat distribution to occupied spaces.

Concerns about the new energy code? We’ve got you covered. 

Are you a homeowner working with a contractor uneasy about using something they haven’t used before? Let’s all jump on a phone or video meetup.

Call 206.880.1558 or email sales@mightyenergy.net

Cooking with Gas?

Cooking with Gas?

By now, anyone paying serious attention to what is happening to our climate and ecosystem (global life-support,) as well as to the economic nature of finite extraction resource supplies being played out, knows that we must move away from burning things for energy. Poor air quality, catastrophic climate change, and peak resource availability are all major downsides to our reliance on fossil fuels. This includes burning natural gas.

In January of 2019, the city of Berkeley California became the first American city to ban gas lines going into new construction. The City of Seattle followed suit, in a more limited way, banning gas lines going into commercial buildings and apartment buildings taller than three stories. These regulations are a response to the obvious truth that we must stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.

So why are we still cooking with gas? This is, in part, because we don’t yet have the clean energy capacity to simply stop. The renewable energy infrastructure required needs to be built out, even in the Northwest which has had clean hydropower for around 130 years. Also, since so much of our built environment is hooked up to sources of natural gas for heating, hot water, and cooking, the transition will be daunting. However, at least we can begin to stop adding to this latter issue even as we move to solve the clean energy supply challenge.

Natural gas is mostly extracted now – largely because it is becoming scarcer and scarcer – using the technique of fracking. This process is well-known to contaminate water supplies with undisclosed chemicals, produce earthquakes in areas with little natural seismic activity, and release massive plumes of leaking gas that are barely even monitored, let alone mitigated. It is delivered through pipelines that can leak (or even explode) or transported in vehicles that can crash and, at best, are burning even more fossil fuel in the process – including driving back empty to get more. And methane is notoriously a more powerful (though shorter-lived) greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide by an order of magnitude.

Natural gas emits carbon dioxide when used as intended. This is the best-case scenario. And in buildings, except largely for the use of outdoor grills and patio heaters, this is happening inside. It’s clear that burning natural gas not only adds to our carbon emissions, but also to the degradation of our indoor air quality.

With the efficiency and affordability of mini-split ductless heat pumps, infrared radiant heat, and heat pump water heaters and dryers, putting a central gas furnace, boiler, water heater, or dryer into a new building seems an obvious mistake. This is especially true as they are rapidly becoming obsolete. But because of a popular perception (not sufficiently substantiated by fact,) that cooking with gas is best, people still want gas ovens and ranges.

It’s true that gas ranges supply precisely controllable heat. So, people continue to want the gas line coming into their homes. And, if you have a gas line coming into your home, the options of using gas water heaters, heating systems, and dryers remain on the table.

However, new electric induction cooking technologies provide more precise control of heat than gas. They heat food up faster. They heat more evenly. They heat more efficiently. And they are a natural fit for the all-electric home. And the all-electric home becomes cleaner and more efficient automatically as the energy infrastructure becomes cleaner and more efficient.

We need to take natural gas off the table and out of the kitchen entirely.