Lately quite a few people have been emailing asking questions about heating bills, insulation, heating costs, turning down the heat . . . So I thought it would be nice to do a small guide of short post that answer some of the questions that keep coming up, just a reference. Each of the following topics comes from a longer article so you can click on the link to read more in detail.
In different countries, heating bills differ due to the size of homes, the depth and length of winter, and the cost of energy generation which factors in both the fuel costs and the efficiency of the heating devices. Because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the ensuing cessation of natural gas and oil flow into Europe from Russia, European fuel costs have skyrocketed. And because fuels have been diverted from other parts of the world to Europe, whether for profit or humanitarian reasons, the cost of fuel has affected everyone.
We expect the winter of 2022’s heating costs to be higher no matter the type of fuel. This is because even if one uses an efficient electrical heat pump, much of the electrical grid is powered by natural gas so its affected by the fuel shortage. The only places where this might not be true would be in areas that have built up very unique energy infrastructure independent of fossil fuels, for example in the Nordic countries (nuclear, wind and hydropower), France (nuclear), Brazil (hydropower).
If you’re facing a more basic question like you don’t understand your electricity bill, then take a look at our guide on how electric bills work.
There is a difference between cost and the amount of fuel used. This is because the efficiency of the heating devices, the type of heating device, and the cost of fuel differ from place to place. For example, oil heaters are terribly inefficient so you need to burn a lot (in terms of cost) to generate the same amount of heat as a heat pump (again in terms of cost). Similarly, electric heating (not heat pumps) is at the bottom of the list in terms of efficiency. Consider looking for alternatives to electric baseboard heating when the life cycle of the heater comes to an end.
In the UK, natural gas still dominates the type of fuel used for heating whereas in Germany a drive for efficiency has biased new home construction to installing electrically powered air-source heat pumps.
The reason why we examine the cost of heating between the different sources of course is to help you save on costs. If you switch to a different type of system, you can benefit from the higher efficiency of the technology. For one thing, straight electrical resistive heaters are the most inefficient type of heating. These are the systems that use electricity to heat up a “heating element” directly that radiates heat. Because they’re quite inefficient, yet easy to install as they just wire directly to the electrical system, they’re common in small apartments so make a smaller difference because there’s less space to heat. In an apartment, a tenant has less choice anyway.
Heating is often thought of as a problem of generating heat. However, if you have a house that leaks no heat, then your heating cost will be zero. This is because heating really is a combination of generation and loss of heat. By applying good practices to insulate walls, ceilings, windows, cracks, you can cut down heating costs by a good fraction. If you apply an architect and engineer’s eye toward remaking your home, you can extract even more use out of every kilowatt hour of energy put into heating.
Now we’re getting into details. After optimizing your heating system, and reducing losses of heat, you’re faced with the temperature to set the thermostat. It turns out that even a single degree Celsius change can have up to a 10% change in your heating costs. This depends on where you live. The moral of the story is to turn down the thermostat as much as you can tolerate, by increasing the number of layers you wear and sectioning off areas of the house you don’t need to habitate and therefore don’t to heat, you can bring down your energy usage.
We already talked about heat losses. Now we talk about serious ways to address it. Structural changes to the house to alter its fundamental “envelope” cost in the range of 5 to 10% the entire cost of the house. This type of retrofit pushes your house closer to something called a “passivhaus”, which is a building standard that results in such miniscule energy losses, the heating cost reduction can be 90% or more.
Does it make sense economically? Well, saving $1800 for 10 years recovers an $18,000 investment. So it’s not so clear it makes sense unless you sit down and calculate clearly. More serious building retrofits achieve greater efficiency gains but will cost proportionately more due to the law of diminishing returns. Ways of standardizing energy efficiency of buildings will make the process and solutions more efficient. New York put in a city law that grades buildings on sustainability which puts buildings and energy solutions on similar footing.
Our readers will no doubt be interested in recommendations for specific heaters. Although we don’t do a lot of reviews of specific products, there are a few, including general guides that give a sense of what the product space looks like. For example, take a look at our review of efficient space heaters.
I founded Shrink That Footprint in November 2012, after a long period of research. For many years I have calculated, studied and worked with carbon footprints, and Shrink That Footprint is that interest come to life.
I have an Economics degree from UCL, have previously worked as an energy efficiency analyst at BNEF and continue to work as a strategy consultant at Maneas. I have consulted to numerous clients in energy and finance, as well as the World Economic Forum.
When I’m not crunching carbon footprints you’ll often find me helping my two year old son tend to the tomatoes, salad and peppers growing in our upcycled greenhouse.