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It’s Cold in Here: What to do When the Mercury Falls

 

With winter storms knocking on many U.S. doors again, keeping warm is top of mind. While many homeowners stick to traditional forms of heating such as forced air or radiant heating, some people opt for alternative heating sources ranging from wood stoves to small space heaters.

But before you opt in for one of these, it’s important to know both the pros and cons of these methods and how they may affect your home insurance. You should always consult your home insurance agent before making a big decision like changing your heating. Altering your heat source could affect the value your home or even put your home at higher risk, both of which will affect your home insurance premium.

Here are five of the most common types of alternative heating and their potential impacts on your home insurance:

Geothermal

Geothermal heat pumps use the earth’s below-ground temperature to heat your home. By using the constant underground temperature, instead of the outside air temperature, it makes geothermal heating much more efficient than conventional heating units. Geothermal heating uses clean, renewable energy, making it environmentally friendly. Geothermal units also require very little maintenance.

There are some major downsides to geothermal heating and one is the price tag. While these units offer low operating costs, they are very expensive to purchase and get installed. This type of heating also is relatively new, which means prices will remain high due to less competition. If you do decide to get a geothermal unit installed, expect disarray on your property. This is a big project that will be highly disruptive to your property. We’re talking heavy drilling and digging equipment. You’ll need to make sure the contractor has the proper insurance coverage, particularly liability insurance, before work begins.

Solar

There are two types of solar heating – active and passive. Both types harness sunlight to heat your home. Active systems often use solar panels on the roof to heat water or other heat transfer-fluids. These systems rely on electric pumps, valves and controllers. Passive systems are much simpler and often contain no electric components. While passive systems are reliable and easy to maintain, they are generally less efficient than active systems.

A big plus for solar heating is that it’s renewable, green energy. It also requires little maintenance and no fuel costs. However, solar heating systems come with a hefty price tag, and solar panels must be placed on the roof of the property, which doesn’t make for great curb appeal. Many insurers also have questions about their effect of their weight on your roof. Panels also can increase the value of your home, which means you’ll need to update coverage. Discuss these factors with your provider before you decide to switch.

Wood heat

For the most part, this is an outdated alternative heating source but some homeowners still opt for wood heat. This type of heating is fairly inexpensive, renewable, and you are less reliant on a utility company for your home’s heat.

However, wood heat has big disadvantages. For one, it’s inefficient. Unless your home is very small, a fireplace or stove isn’t going to heat it very well. While this heat type is renewable, it’s still aiding pollution. But the biggest problem with using wood is fire safety. Wood heat highly increases your chances for a house fire, which is why home insurance providers aren’t a huge fan of this heat option.

Pellet Stoves

A pellet stove is much like a wood stove, only it uses wood pellets made from recycled materials to burn and heat the home. Unlike regular wood, these pellets produce less smoke and emit fewer pollutants. Overall, pellets stoves have more benefits than wood stoves, and they are also safer.

While pellet stoves may be safer and easier to manage than wood, they can still be considered a fire hazard and a less efficient than other types of heating.

Space Heaters

Space heaters are generally used as supplemental home heating.  People may use them to heat a drafty room or cold garage. They are relatively inexpensive and can be found at most home improvement stores. While space heaters may seem handy, they can be a deadly fire hazard and should be used safely and sparingly. Never leave them on or plugged in while you are out of the house and never fall asleep with one running.

Overall, heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, behind only cooking fires. Consider that the average claim paid in a home fire exceeds $33,000, and you can see why home insurance providers pay close attention to your heating source.

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