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These Home-Heating Options Go Beyond Oil

The environmental and financial impacts of an electric system may make it a definite no-go, but there are ways to make an electric heating system a little gentler on the environment and your wallet in the long run.

By installing solar panels, you can reduce the amount of electricity you get from coal. The amount of electricity generated by solar panels varies by region. In Maine, for example, you can expect to get 1,300 kwh/year from a single one-kilowatt panel. In southern California, you can expect to get 1,800 kwh/year per installed kilowatt. Solar technologies are changing, but one installed kilowatt will cost about $9,000.

Geothermal Heat Pump

Another way to make an electric system more environmentally and financially friendly is by adding a geothermal heat pump. A geothermal heat pump uses the stable temperature of the soil relative to the air to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer.

Installation is expensive -- it can run upward of $30,000 -- but the system pays for itself in energy savings in five to 10 years. After that, you only have to pay for the electricity to run the pump (estimated at about $1,000 a year). Of course, if you install solar panels to power the system, you could have free heating for life.

Determining which option is right for you depends in large part on your local choices. Is natural gas available in your area? Are wood pellets available? Likewise, consider the age of your oil furnace or boiler. If it's 20 or more years old, you may need to replace it soon anyway, and that could make this the perfect time to switch to another form of heat.

Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.
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