Asked by Laura
Editor: Here's what our friends at Green Home Guide say.
Answered by Randy Potter, EarthBound Homes
From what you have explained about the history of your house, it sounds like you have a very inefficient and likely leaky forced-air duct system. Most traditional duct systems can have upwards of 40% leakage. (That's right, almost half the heat that your furnace creates never reaches the living space!) In addition to this, you likely have an old and inefficient furnace unit and your high ceilings and vents make it even harder and more inefficient to heat and create any feeling of warmth for occupants.
Running electric space heaters is absolutely the least efficient way to heat your home. These units typically draw 1500 watts continually, so running several of these all night can quickly become an energy use nightmare. Also, living in the Silicon Valley, I know that there are more and more frequent "Spare the Air" days during the winter when you are not allowed by law to use your wood stove, and these also happen to be the coldest, so counting on the wood stove can be tough.
It sounds like abandoning the forced-air system would be a good idea if indeed you are also looking to solve your cooling needs, since then you can go with a highly efficient heating and cooling unit called an air-to-air heat pump "mini split" system.
These relatively inexpensive units use the temperature of the air to create either heating or cooling and are extremely efficient at doing both. They are small units that are perfect for space-conditioning a single room, so you would likely need a couple of systems. They sit in an external wall and have their operating "guts" in a separate unit which sits outside, just like a small wall- or window-mounted air conditioning unit.