BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Can technology save us from high energy prices? No, say the experts, but it can help.
Modern, high efficiency heating systems can reduce the amount of oil or gas you burn. And other, less familiar technologies offer ways to heat without any oil or gas at all.
Heating contractors and the manufacturer of one popular brand of furnace say state of the art units include very efficient boilers and heat exchanges for heating the hot water. They include electronic "brains" to monitor how the system is working and how much heat is needed. And if you use your furnace to heat your hot water, they say you should have a separate hit water storage tank, so the furnace doesn't need to run as often to keep your water hot.
Some of these features can be added to existing systems.
There are electronic devices called outdoor reset controls that adjust the boiler depending on the temperature outside. And just about any furnace can be connected to a separate hot water storage tank.
All these devices are costly, but the heating experts say simply buying an inexpensive programmable thermostat for your house can save oil or gas, and save you money. That's because it makes sure the heat is only turned up when you need it.
As for more exotic technologies, there's a lot of work going on with heat pumps. These are popular in the southern part of the U.S. but are not as well known in colder climates like ours, but there are new designs that claim to work well in cold areas, pulling heat from the outdoor air and pumping it inside, using no fuel except electricity. Engineering students at the University of Maine are studying ways to produce less costly heat pumps, so they can be more attractive to Maine homeowners.
Nearly all the energy experts agree on one point: the first line of defense against high energy costs is to have a tight and well-insulated house. Whether the home is new or being retro-fitted, they say to focus on proper construction and weatherization first. Whatever technology you use will work better and use less energy if the house can keep more of the heat inside.
This story was originally posted on November 20, 2008.