Portland is described as having a Mediterranean climate due to its close proximity to both the ocean and the mountains. However, we don’t see the warm weather found in other parts of the world also considered Mediterranean.
Oregon’s damp, chilly winters make most of us want to hunker down inside, stay warm, and wait out the rain. Having a good heating system to fend off the chill of an Oregon winter is essential.
When choosing a heating system, staying warm is likely the first thing on most people’s minds. Finding one that not only provides comfort but also works efficiently—saving you money—should also be a factor when finding the best heating system for your home. Especially now that Portland, Hillsboro, and Milwaukie have all instituted the requirement for a Home Energy Score assessment when selling a home.
And even if you have no plans to sell in the near future, being mindful about your home’s heating system and its energy use is important. Especially when you consider how much of your utility bill goes to heating: 29%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
We scoured the possibilities to find the best types of heating systems for homes in Portland and here’s what we found.
1. Heat Pumps with Ducting
Heat pumps are ideal for areas where temperatures don’t typically drop below 30 degrees in the winter like we see in the Portland metro area.
With this type of heating system, a technology called “heat transfer” is used to move heat by pumping refrigerant through heated coils both inside and outside the home. In the winter, they heat the home by pulling in heat from outside air to raise the temperature of the refrigerant, which moves the heat inside the home. In the summer, the heat pump does the inverse: transfers heat from inside to the outside, keeping the home cool.
Heat pumps don’t burn fuel, making them one of the most efficient heating and cooling systems on the market.
2. Ductless Heat Pumps
Ductless heat pumps basically work the same as other heat pumps, the obvious difference being that ducts are not required to pipe heat into the home. What makes these types of heat pumps so efficient is the reduction of air escaping through leaky ducts. There are two types of ductless heat pumps used for heating.
Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump—This type of heating unit is mounted directly on the wall inside the home. As with other types of heat pumps, there’s an outdoor unit, as well. In this case, it’s located just opposite the indoor unit.
Wall Mounted Multi-Split Heat Pumps—As with mini-split heat pumps, multi-split heat pumps have both an indoor and an outdoor unit. Instead of one outdoor connected to one indoor unit, one larger outdoor unit can power multiple units inside.
3. High-Efficiency Gas Furnace
High-efficiency gas furnaces have a higher AFUE—Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency—which, in simple terms measures the efficiency of a furnace’s fuel-to-heat conversion.
There are two types of gas furnaces.
Condensing Furnace—This type furnace is considered high-efficiency with an AFUE of 90%. It requires special venting and a second heat exchanger to heat the air from condensed exhaust gases. This is how it achieves higher efficiencies.
Non-Condensing Furnace—This type furnace is considered mid-efficiency with an AFUE of 80% to 90%. These require vents to move gases out of the home, usually through the roof.
We do not recommend radiant heat systems. Portland has a very moist climate and these types of systems often lead to greater moisture issues inside the home.
We do not recommend electrical zonal cadets. While you can control each room’s temperature, they typically are not energy efficient.
Geothermal has made a lot of advances in the last few years, but is often cost prohibitive to install.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Heating System
When shopping for a new heating system for your home, it helps to consider the following.
- What is your budget?
- Does you home already have ductwork in place?
- Do you have room for a central heating system—both inside and out?
- Do you need to heat your entire home, or do you need to heat only one room on an as-needed basis (known as supplemental or zoned heating)?
- What are your preferences regarding energy efficiency?
Maintaining a Heating System
After you’ve bought your new energy-efficient heating system—whether it be a heat pump or a high-efficiency furnace—consistent maintenance is the next step in achieving energy efficiency. Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting the most for your money.
Tune up your heat pump—Your heat pump will work all year long, so it’s a good idea to have it tuned up twice each year, with one of the tune ups occurring right before winter. This will ensure that normal wear and tear doesn’t compromise your heat source.
Know your heating system thermostat settings—While you typically won’t need to change a heat pump’s thermostat setting because it will switch on automatically, it helps to know you can if you need to. The two basic settings are “cool” and “heat,” with the third being “emergency heat.” Using this third setting will drive up your energy costs, so it’s best to only use it if the heat pump stops working.
Remove debris and snow from outdoor units—As we say above, every heat pump has an outdoor unit. In the rare event of snow in the Portland metro area, be sure it doesn’t pile up on the unit causing obstruction, which can lead to faulty operation. In autumn, fallen leaves can accumulate in the fan, as can dust and other debris throughout the year. Checking in on your heat pump and keeping it clean will go a long way in helping you maintain energy efficiency.
Clean and replace the filters—Dirty filters can not only foul up your energy efficiency efforts, costing you more money by making your furnace work harder or causing a breakdown, they can also create or exacerbate health problems for you and your family. To make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent dust and allergens in your home, check your filters every month. You can replace them as needed throughout the year and call in a professional to do an in-depth cleaning 2-3 times each year.
Clean the ducts—A good rule of thumb, in average circumstances, is to do a duct check once each year. If there is smoking in your home, if you have pets, or if family members have upper respiratory issues, more frequent checking is in order. When it comes to duct cleaning, it’s almost always best to hire a professional.
Lubricate oil ports—If you have an older furnace in your home, lubricate it once each year to ensure the efficiency of the shaft so it can generate as much heat as possible.
Retrofitting—If you have an older furnace or buy a home with one, you can retrofit it with new or custom-made parts to ensure optimal functioning.