Warming Up To Winter

Local Energy Purveyors Offer Alternative Home Heating Options

Written by Jim Cavan

Warming Up To Winter Winter is almost here. Rest assured that your furnace will soon be running full tilt, and a refill probably isn’t much farther down the snowy road.

Given the dread that many people on the Seacoast feel with the arrival of Old Man Winter, one cannot help but wonder if there is a better way to fill the tank—one that is efficient, clean and doesn’t require cutting big checks with every visit of the oil truck.

Not only is there a better way, there are plenty of them. In the last few years, the Seacoast has asserted itself as a hotbed of home heating options that are cheaper, cleaner and as reliable as oil. Whether we choose biofuel harvested from America’s heartland, wood pellets from logs felled in New England forests or innovative insulation techniques, this is an opportune time for Seacoast residents to look at heating alternatives.

Oil Alternatives
Biofuel—typically made from corn or soy tallow—derives from the heartland of the Midwest. For those who cannot completely abandon their existing tanks, biofuel offers a clean, green alternative to standard home heating oil and doesn’t require modifications to standard tank systems.

Simply Green, a Portsmouth-based purveyor of biofuels and one of the first businesses to join the Green Alliance, a Seacoast-based green business union and discount co-op, has contracted with thousands of people on the Seacoast who want to improve the way they heat their homes. Though his company is barely four years old, owner Andrew Kellar sees its growth as an indication of how consumers are increasingly choosing a green way forward.

“We want everyone on the Seacoast to know how easy it is to switch to BioHeat™,” said Kellar. “Not only that, but we want people to realize that in switching to BioHeat™ every customer would be planting the equivalent of 52 trees over the course of one year. It’s easy, affordable and the right thing to do.”

Simply Green not only offers home heating oil delivery, it also boasts a filling station and “congreenience store” in downtown Dover, New Hampshire. The company offers two varieties of biodiesel at the filling station—B5, which is five percent biodiesel combined with regular diesel, and B20, which is twenty percent biodiesel combined with regular diesel—and seventy-five percent of the products on the store’s shelves were shipped from within a hundred miles of the front door. Depending on the season, the store also sells recycled wood pellet logs for wood stoves.

Not Your Dad’s Campfire Logs

Just a shot up I–95 in Portland, Maine, ReVision Energy is taking another approach to the biofuel concept. In addition to providing one of the Seacoast’s broadest arrays of solar photovoltaic (PV) and hot-water systems, ReVision also offers “biomass” home heating alternatives through their sister company, ReVision Heat. These systems include gasifying wood boilers that burn fuel at eighty to eighty-five percent efficiency and emit no visible smoke (typical older-model wood stoves burn wood at fifty to sixty percent efficiency).

ReVision’s pellets are made of local Maine wood waste from forest product manufacturing plants, as well as from wood harvested from Maine. As fossil fuel supplies dwindle and trees continue to regenerate, wood pellet heating is expected to become more price-competitive. Because wood is a locally produced commodity, the price of pellets is more stable than that of fossil fuel, which is prone to the jolts of speculative market forces beyond local control.

Pellet-burning equipment burns “pellets just as conveniently as a boiler burns oil,” said Pat Coon, founding partner of ReVision Energy, a member of the Green Alliance. “These systems take fuel from a delivery truck and put it into a hopper (most gasifying wood boilers come with internal hoppers); the boilers draw the fuel from the bin and into the hopper—all with no smoke and low emissions. Not to mention it’s as local as it gets.”

It’s All In The Walls
The real key to efficient home heating, however, rests inside the walls. Enter Mike Wilson, owner of the Hampton, New Hampshire-based MJW Drywall, a Green Alliance company that specializes in super-efficient and long-lasting spray-foam insulation. With an R-value—a measure of thermal resistance—nearly twice that of fiberglass or cellulose, closed-cell foam insulation (so-termed because it is air tight), can reduce a building’s energy use by up to fifty percent.

Foam can be used in every part of a house—window frames, attics, foundations, roofing and inside the walls. Though it costs more up front, a building insulated with closed-cell foam uses less energy and emits less CO2 and fewer particulates into the air. And by using a certified insulator, the owner can apply federal and state weatherization rebates and tax credits to cover up to thirty percent of the cost of installation.

“By completely sealing air infiltration and eliminating cold spots, the building achieves a more uniform heat exchange, a higher R-value per inch,” explained Wilson. “Because closed-cell foam, also referred to as high-density foam, is so effective, it requires less of it—meaning that three inches of foam can do what six inches of cellulose might try to do.”

In all likelihood, New Englanders will continue to endure frigid winters and unpredictable oil prices. But while the lower reaches of the thermometer and the upper reaches of commodities markets are out of our control, we can still access more effective, greener heating alternatives.

What Can A Building Owner Do?
Close to sixty percent of New England homes use #2 heating oil. If a new heating system isn’t feasible this year, you can still make your home more efficient—going green and saving green at the same time. For more information, visit energystar.gov.

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