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Worldwide Methods for Heating/Cooling a Home

It’s a big world out there, with different climates and different ways of approaching those climates. Having lived in Southern Alabama all my life, I know the joy of that wonderful man-made comfort called the air conditioner. I also know the misery of having the air conditioner die in the middle of 100 degree humid weather…not pleasant.

Different regions of the world have different techniques for heating and cooling. Just as air conditioning is important for Southeast United States, the climate of a region plays a big role in the different choices for heating/cooling methods.

Temperatures, humidity, and weather patterns make the difference in heating/cooling.

Heating

1. Furnaces and Boilers

Furnaces and boilers usually rank the top choices in both the United States and Europe. These types usually run off electricity, oil, or gas. Furnaces work by heating air and distributing the air through ducts throughout the house. Boilers heat water and provide heat through either hot water or steam.

Furnaces and boilers run on electricity are highly efficient, but electricity costs can be very expensive. A condensing boiler or furnace condenses water vapor and uses the heat from the condensation to heat the house. Condensing units, though more expensive, are more efficient than non-condensing units.

Gas condensing boilers, which are a favorite among European consumers, run on natural gas. This is both an energy efficient and cost effective method of heating the home. Both gas and oil boilers and furnaces are popular among North American and European consumers.

2. Wood Burning

One of the oldest methods of heating, wood burning is still a popular method of heating today, and it has especially gained popularity in recent years. Wood burning is cost effective, especially compared to heating powered by electricity (as many furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps are), so many people are resorting to wood burning appliances. Wood is plenteous in most cooler climates, especially in North America and Europe, and is accessible and affordable. Logs, chips, and pellets are commonly used in wood burning appliances.

The problem with heating by burning wood is pollution, especially in houses that are poorly ventilated. Wood smoke is a breathing and lung irritant, and it can trigger allergies, asthma, and other breathing problems. Long-term exposure can even have fatal consequences. This is a particularly bad problem in third-world countries—such as areas in Africa, South America, and Asia—where burning wood or other flammable sources is the primary method for heating and cooking. Poor ventilation and constant exposure to wood smoke leads to health problems and early death; women and small children are particularly susceptible.

3. Solar Heating

One of the newest technologies in heating, solar heating is slowly becoming more and more popular. Known most prevalently for its high energy efficiency, solar heating can also be cost effective. The cost of a system varies, but it is an economical choice if it displaces expensive heating systems and if it can be used for most of the year.

Solar heating is steadily becoming popular across the entire world. Found on Inhabitat.com, here are some solar powered houses from different countries across the world:

Sweden

Silvervillan, a low-energy home in Sweden

South Korea

One Ocean, a solar-powered, naturally ventilated Thematic Pavilion in South Korea

Denmark

Solar heated home in forest of Denmark

New Zealand

Owhanake Bay House in New Zealand, complete with solar-powered hydronic heating and domestic hot water

4. Geothermal Heating

“Geo” means earth and “thermal” means heat. Therefore, geothermal heating involves using heat stored in the earth. This is how it works:

Geothermal power is generated in over 20 countries around the world including Iceland, the United States, Italy, France, Lithuania, New Zealand, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Russia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China and Japan. Geothermal heating is highly efficient and also economical. (Geothermal energy can also be used to cool a home.)

5. District Heating

Another lower energy source for heating is district heating. Very popular in Russia—providing over 70% of the heat distributed in Russia—district heating is great for places that experience mostly cold weather. District heating is produced in a central location and then distributed to consumers via pipes. Compared to individual heating systems, district heating is great for lowering energy consumption and carbon emissions. (This same system also works for cooling.)

Cooling

1. Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is used in about 2/3 of American homes. This is 5% of all the electricity used in the United States, which equals roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the air…not exactly environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, America has some extremely hot and dry or hot and humid climates that can be insufferable without air conditioning. However, there are some cooling alternatives, many used in other parts of the world.

2. Passive Cooling

The oldest forms of cooling are part of what is called passive cooling. Though it has been ignored for a long time, Tpassive cooling is gaining popularity again as people are seeking more energy efficient ways of cooling a home. Passive cooling takes advantage of natural features, such as the environment, position of the house, ventilation, and more energy efficient methods.

Evaporative Cooling (Swamp Coolers)

Evaporative cooling works by cooling air by passing it over water-saturated pads. The water evaporates into the home, resulting in cooler air; the warm air is pushed out through open windows. This solution is great for dry, hot areas, and it is particularly popular in the Middle East and other desert-like areas. However, because evaporative cooling is constantly submitting water into the air, it should not be used in humid areas. The only drawback is that evaporative coolers require regular maintenance.

Radiant Cooling

A form of cooling similar to evaporative cooling (and sometimes used in correlation with it), radiant cooling is based on the principle that cold is merely the absence of heat. Radiant cooling involves cooling a house by absorbing the heat in the house. This works by running panels through the floor or ceiling to absorb the heat; many have cold water running through them. Though it is a rare method in the United States—mostly because it is unfamiliar, expensive, and impractical for humid climates—radiant cooling is very popular in Europe. However, it is not the best idea for humid climates, especially without a proper dehumidification system, but it works well in dry areas like the Middle East.

Ventilation

Ventilation is a key feature of passive cooling. Building houses so that they make the most of fresh, cool air is an important feature that not only keeps a house cooler but also one that can save money and energy. In developing countries of Africa, South America, and Asia—where there are no modern amenities—ventilation may be the only method of cooling a home. Yet, ventilation is not just a feature of poor environments. As a matter of fact, here are some spectacular exceptions:

Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe

Designed after African termite mounds—which are kept at a constant low temperature in order to produce their food—this building is built to maximize ventilation.

Manitoba Hydro Place in Manitoba, Canada

The most energy efficient building in North America, this tower in Manitoba, Canada, maximizes ventilation, as well as solar and geothermal heating.

Edifício Forluz in Brazil

Designed for the Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais (CEMIG) headquarters in Brazil, this skyscraper features natural ventilation, natural resources, and reused materials.





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