Smart Heating: A Must for Energy Efficiency in Residential Buildings

Passive house, by Pichler Haus [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Smart heating is not just a new commodity, it is a must… and a challenge. Integrated with IoT systems, smart heating will help us control the power and residential fuel consumption.

Nowadays, everything becomes smart: smart cities, smart communities, smart utilities, smart buildings, smart homes, smart services, etc. Part of this big new smart habitat ecosystem, smart heating is something perfectly possible due to new connected smart devices, Internet of Things and mobile applications. Nothing simpler to remotely control your home heating system from a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone.

Problems with classic heating systems

Many of today’s home heating systems didn’t run properly. The main reasons are the lack of remote heating control and inadequate heating infrastructure. All of these make our energy bills artificially inflated. Practically we pay for what we waste, or for what we don’t use.

The main inconveniences related to traditional heating are:

  • Single area heating for the entire home space;
  • Higher energy bill due to heating loss;
  • Improper heating efficiency;
  • Manual control of temperatures;
  • Reduced lifecycle for heating systems due to improper use;
  • Heating fuel over-consumption;
  • Impossibility to manage power consumption;
  • Unjustified costs for heating system maintenance.

How does a smart heating system work?

Mapping temperatures for every home and rooms is not very easy. The main factors which make the difference are rooms’ size, home or residential group positioning, local climate, floor plans differences, roofs structure, windows and doors quality, heating system architecture, and many other.

Smart homes are using temperature-control devices such as thermostats, which are able to adjust the heating intensity function of pre-scheduled time and temperatures. Advanced apps allow the smart control of heating units and sensors, facilitating the remote temperature control for individual rooms and adjacent areas.

Some smart heating systems are based on smart vents replacing traditional vents, control sensors in each room, control hubs in any apartment or house from a residential area. You have the possibility to control the temperature and humidity by a simple mobile device. The systems have learning capacity function of inhabitants’ behavior. Monitored by individual room, the heating vents could be controlled and programmed to provide the desired temperatures in each room.

But the remote and temperature programmable control of heating comfort in multiple rooms and indoors is not the only way to better manage the energy efficiency. Efficiency can be significantly improved by looking to alternative energy sources, or by improving the heating system infrastructure.

Energy efficient home design

Before we plan to design a new home or renew an existing one, we have to conduct a home energy assessment to identify how the residential area is using the energy. We have to find the best ways to control energy use and

eliminate rising costs. In addition to the owner’s behavior, climate and location conditions, this assessment should include:

  • Appliances and home electronics
  • Insulation and air sealing
  • Space heating and cooling
  • Water heating
  • Windows, doors, and skylights.

How to plan a most efficient heating system?

Designing home heating systems should consider a wide series of variable parameters. First of all, which heating source is better for a certain purpose? The choices are between traditional furnaces and boilers, high-efficiency heat pumps or a hybrid based on the heat pump and propane furnace systems.

Establishing the best choice for a residential project requires consideration of system costs, efficiency levels, energy rates, comfort levels, the severity of the climate, and any applicable incentives or credits. Carbon emissions are one of most critical restrictions in considering combusting with fossil fuel. According to a study from 2013, America’s 132 million housing units are responsible for 22% of the nation’s total energy use each year, while generating 21% of the nation’s carbon emissions [1].

How to improve heating systems?

In many cases, heating system’s efficiency is related to proper design. Modern CAD applications could be used in conjunction with building, architecture, and utilities design software to better design the heating infrastructure in the residential area. But architects and utilities engineering teams should have a perfect collaboration in order to better design heating vents and heat pumps placement.

Analysing the efficiency of heating systems is not a simple matter. Key metrics such as annual energy costs, CO2 emissions, comfort level or simple paybacks should be considered. The heating systems include mainstream components as boilers, furnaces, air-source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, and hybrid heat pump-propane furnace systems. The source of energy could be electricity, heating oil, and propane.

Passive house, a smart heating alternative

Passive house ventilation system simulated with SimScale

One of the trends for increased efficiency in housing heating and ventilation is the passive house concept. This model doesn’t require classical building heating due to their excellent thermal insulation. A new approach to guarantee the heat distribution and the fresh air supply across all rooms is to use dual outer walls. The air hull surrounding the building can be used to control temperature and air distribution without the installation of ventilators, only based on the stack effect. Convective flow effects can help to achieve both cooling in summer and heating in winter.

One of the promoters of the passive house system is IBEEE, a holistic development and engineering service provider for electronic systems and buildings energy concepts. IBEEE used the SimScale simulation software to investigate and quantify the performance of the fanless ventilation system used in their passive houses. For this purpose, two simulations for identical designs were carried out, one with the active system and the other with the passive one.

Due to the availability of on-demand high-performance computing power on the SimScale platform, the engineers from IBEEE were able to complete the simulation, which was ready for direct evaluation in the web browser. The simulation showed that the fan could not only be replaced by the stack effect but that this is actually more powerful than the active solution. The evaluated flow rate is almost 40% larger than the one of the active solution.

Download this case study for free

Simulation as key tool in building efficient residential heating systems

Due to the extensive number of variables involved (e.g. efficiency ratings, energy costs, system costs, prototype house characteristics), energy engineers should consider a large spectrum of simulation analysis to identify the best efficiency model. The ideal smart heating system is a balance of several factors.

CAE platforms like SimScale consider all main three models of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation. SimScale thermal simulation allows the thermodynamic analysis for heating systems optimization: improving heating effects, prediction of thermal expansion and conduction, and identification of optimal materials. Also, thermodynamic models are facilitating the investigation of temperature distribution in different components of heating systems like boilers, furnaces or heat pumps, and energy saving by tracking the heat flux.

Superheater boiler pipe analysis

This creep analysis of a superheater boiler pipe is just one example of how SimScale’s thermal analysis feature could be used to better design or to improve the heating systems or components. SimScale Public Projects library is a free platform where experienced energy and buildings engineers can have easy access to simulation and less experienced users can learn from more than 15000 free simulation setups, using them as templates for their own heating and cooling projects.

SimScale is the world’s first cloud-based simulation platform, enabling you to perform CFD, FEA, or thermal analyses. Sign up for the 14-day free trial and join the community of 70 000 engineers and designers. No payment data required.


[1] Newport Partners LLC, “Performance Comparison of Residential Heating Systems: Energy, Economics, Emissions, and Comfort”, July 2013