Although home heating and home cooling systems are often lumped together as being one and the same – after all, together they account for about 56 percent of the energy used in average American homes – they’re actually vastly different creatures particularly when it comes to eco-friendly, technological advancements.

Eco-friendly cooling is often thought to have the upper hand given that modern air conditioning itself is a more nouveau concept.

Heating, on the other hand, wasn’t blessed with the same running start, technology wise, as cooling given that home heating at its core is a much more primal concept.

Think of it this way: Which came first, the humble wood-burning stove or the window unit? Fire or Freon?

Still, numerous advancements have been made to lower the environmental impacts – namely the CO2 emissions associated with old and inefficient oil-based boilers and natural gas furnaces – of keeping a home warm and cozy.

Although they may not boast the same high-tech “wow” factor as many newfangled air conditioning systems do, eco-friendly heating is on the rise.

Here are a few advancements – some updated spins on ancient methods – in the world of eco-friendly heating that MNN is tracking:

Nothing quite beats settling down in front of a roaring fireplace on a chilly evening. Cheaper and more satisfying than running a furnace, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are not without environmental drawbacks, particularly toxic air pollution.

Although pellet stoves and EPA-certified wood stoves are popular, low-emitting eco-alternatives, we’re fond of EcoSmart Fireplaces that run on clean and renewable liquid bio-ethanol … no gas or electric connection or actual chimney/flue is needed. EcoSmart Fireplaces come in a variety of models from full-on portable pieces of designer “fire furniture” to fireplace inserts to fireplace grates, all sleek, modern room-warmers.

Although ideal for room or “zone” heating, EcoSmart Fireplaces and other low-polluting wood-stove and fireplace alternatives can’t exactly replace a furnace or boiler and serve an average home’s complete heating needs.

Enter geothermal heating systems. While not exactly a “new” technology, harnessing geothermal energy for home heating (and cooling) purposes has become an increasingly popular and super-efficient – albeit pricey and more complex – central heating eco-alternative.

Homes heated by geothermal power usually have geothermal heat pumps – or ground source heat pumps – that use the constant subterranean temperature of the earth itself to heat a home.

Radiant heating is a popular, non-convection (the circulation of warm air in a room) method of low-impact space heating that most popularly involves hydronic (liquid) tubing systems that are laid underneath a floor or wall and heated by traditional boilers or solar water heaters.

Essentially, radiant heating warms furniture and people in a room, not the air itself. The U.S. Department of Energy describes the science behind radiant heating:

Radiant heating systems involve supplying heat directly to the floor or to panels in the wall or ceiling of a house. The systems depend largely on radiant heat transfer: the delivery of heat directly from the hot surface to the people and objects in the room via the radiation of heat, which is also called infrared radiation. Radiant heating is the effect you feel when you can feel the warmth of a hot stovetop element from across the room. When radiant heating is located in the floor, it is often called radiant floor heating or simply floor heating.
Two other popular forms of eco-friendly home heating involve the warmth of the sun: passive solar design and active solar heating. Have any other tips on eco-friendly heating? Let us know about them in the comments below.