Why doesn’t anybody make an efficient heating system?

I have a oil burning steam heating system in my house. The burner burns the oil, (it’s a rather cool looking flamethrower type thing) and heats up some water to turn it into steam, it floats through the radiator system eventually heating up the radiators and transferring the heat to the air around them. Wonderful.

Back when oil was a buck a gallon this seemed fine, but lots of people signed oil contracts this year at $5.00 a gallon or more and by now it seems to me the obvious failing of these boiler systems is becoming intolerably expensive. And that failing? All the heat goes up and out the chimney.

My oil guy tells me my boiler is 80 something percent efficient. He does this by sticking some testing sensor IN THE EXHAUST of my boiler. You know, where all the heat goes before it leaves via the chimney.

I can’t say how angry I get about this, and by now I can’t be the only one.

How hard or expensive is it to add a few well thought out heat exchangers to the exhaust of your boiler to transfer the heat somewhere more useful than outside your house?

I was at my parents house the other day. They have a gas fireplace. I was thinking of gettingĀ  gas fireplace insert to supplement the oil system in my house BECAUSE IT’S SO DAMN EXPENSIVE. I figure the dollar per BTU of gas and oil are not the same at any given point, so one of them has to be cheaper to run at any given time. But that would depend on the efficiency of the gas system, now wouldn’t it…

So I took a look at my parent’s gas fireplace. It’s genius. It’s got that franklin design where it pulls in the intake air from outside so it doesn’t suck the warm air from inside your house, drawing cold air in after it.

It’s got that angled top (I forget the name) so that the rising heat behind the firebox gets pushed forward out the vent thus causing it to circulate even without a blower.

We turned it on, and within 20 seconds, the front glass was untouchably hot. Heat is transferred to the room via the glass, and via air that circulates around the firebox. Heat up the firebox and the heat transfers to the air circulating around it and into the room. Brilliant.

Then I went outide, where the exhaust from the firebox goes. I couldn’t stand near the thing it was so hot. Yup, you got it, far more heat leaves the outside of the house than stays in it.

To be fair this thing is designed to be decorative first, and warm the house second, but jesus christ, for a little bit of extra money, you could put some fins on the firebox to make it transfer the heat more efficiently.

This just kills me.

I’m an efficiency freak. Given the option to make something suck or suck less, I usually pick suck less, even if it costs a little more or takes more effort on my part to make. You usually get your time and money back by having the thing last longer or save you money in some way.

So then I found out about vent free systems. PURE GENIUS. Burn the fuel so efficiently that the exhaust is breathable, thus you get almost 100% of the heat from the burn being used to heat your house.

Sounds great at first. I’m no chemist, but it’s hard to imagine even ze germans making a gizmo that burns perfectly. After a little reading it turns out they do not. The end product of a natural gas burn is water and some nasty nitrogen dioxide type thing that you really don’t want to breathe in any quantity. So that’s out.

Somebody built a gizmo for suckers who want to save money and die young. And apparently they’re selling. Just not in california, they’re illegal there. Who’d a thought.

But Nobody Seems To Want To Build An Efficient Heat Transfer System On Existing Wasteful Boilers.

I just don’t get it. It can’t be that hard. We can land a fucking man on the moon (oh, wait, we can’t) but we can’t make more efficient heating systems?

One Response to “Why doesn’t anybody make an efficient heating system?”

  1. Electric heat is 100% efficient. Every unit of energy that goes into the system comes out as heat, which stays in the house. Then you’ve got heat pumps, which are *more* than 100% efficient (which is really cool when you think about it).

    The trick, of course, is to move outside of Con Ed territory, where electricity is sold at more reasonable prices. When I moved from New Castle to Yorktown (Con Ed to NYSEG) my electric bill basically stayed the same, even though I am now heating with electric and have no oil bill.

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