I received an email today from someone asking whether Jetmasters use a lot of gas. It’s a question that I answered best a few years ago when I wrote about heaters for Fairlady magazine. So I’m reprinting that article below. Other GreenerHouse posts on heating can be found here and here.
Warm House, Cool Planet
The battle of the sexes erupted in our lounge one recent winter when our creaky Westpoint oil heater finally conked out. To replace it, my wife demanded something that flickered yellow, glowed orange and suggested romance. I insisted on something calculated to maximize efficiency, easy on my green conscience and not too hard on my wallet over the long-term, either. In the end, there was only one way to keep the peace: His and hers heaters.
Chilly consumers today are faced with a wider range of home heating options than ever before. You can plug in convection heaters, oil-filled radiators, or fan heaters. You can light anthracite in a fireplace, a convector, or an airtight stove. You can install electric heating wires underfloor, undertile or undercarpet. Gas heaters may be radiant or convective, flued or unflued, rollabout, built-in or freestanding, and any combination of the above. To add to the confusion, what looks cheap today may cost more down the line. And more importantly, what appears clean may force the environment to pay a price for generations to come.
South Africans have made electricity their first choice for home heating, encouraged by some of the cheapest kilowatts in the world. But Eskom derives 88 percent of its power from the dirtiest of fossil fuels: coal. Think of the electric main arriving at your house as a little pipeline of coal slurry. For every 100 rand on your electric bill, more than a quarter tonne of carbon dioxide has been pumped into the atmosphere on your behalf. The Australian Consumers’ Association has calculated that in equally coal-dependent Sydney, where winters are a little cooler than Cape Town’s, but considerably warmer than Johannesburg’s, warming a house with electric heaters can contribute 3.4 tonnes of CO2 toward global warming each year, far more than any other energy source they investigated.
In the resulting global greenhouse, the last of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s glacial ice will melt in 2015; South Africa’s drought-plagued maize crop will fall by a fifth in the next 50 years; and rising temperatures will trigger massive extinctions of sensitive fynbos flowers. It may be too late to stop some of these catastrophic projections from becoming reality, but I would rather not have them on my conscience. I moved down the list to other heating options.
Ironically, burning anthracite coal at home can produce far less carbon dioxide than heating with electricity. It depends on how you burn it, however. Throw the nuggets into a hole-in-the-wall fireplace, and up to 90 percent of your heat and coal-budget goes up the chimney. This black option makes electricity look positively green. Modern, tapered fireplaces and convectors improve the heat output, but the cleanest, most efficient option is an airtight heating stove. These pricey heaters—nearly R8 000 for Franco Belge’s popular Belfort stove—combine high-tech inner construction with an old-fashioned, cast-iron exterior to convert 65 to 85 percent of coal energy into heat for the room. In contrast, three-quarters of the coal energy that goes into electricity is lost in generation and transmission.