On a chilly winter’s night, one thing to be thankful for is a central heating system in your home. Systems differ based on the type of fuel they use and on how they distribute heat throughout a home. They also differ when it comes to how effectively they heat a house.
If you are considering upgrading your home’s heating system, understanding how the different types of systems differ and the pros and cons of each option will help you choose the heating system that is right for you.
You can split up heating systems based on how they distribute heat throughout a home, the type of fuel they use and the mechanism that provides the warmth. Available fuel types include:
Some heating systems are central systems, meaning they send heat throughout the house, usually through a series of ducts or pipes — depending on the type of distribution system. When you use a central heating system, you heat the entire house to the same temperature.
Other options include space heating and supplemental systems. Space heating typically involves a portable electric heater, vented or vent free gas heater, or fireplace. When you use a space heater, only a small area gets heated. Some people like to use space heaters to supplement a central heating system, while others use space heaters because they only need to provide heat in a single area of their home, such as a sun room.
A mini split system has flexibility to heat and cool and entire home or it can provide heat to a single zone or room, but it is not the same thing as a space heater. Mini split systems have a compressor located on the outside of a house that can connect to a variety of ducted, wall hung, or ceiling mounted air handling units on the inside of the house. While noisy window units have the compressor and air handler installed in each room that is heated, a mini split system locates the compressor outside of the home for quiet operation. When you have a mini split system installed, you have the option of setting the heat to one temperature in one room and a different temperature in another area.
Unless you live in a part of the country where it is warm all year, the odds are likely that your home is among the 97 percent of households in the U.S. with some form of heating equipment. Some types of home heating systems are more common in the U.S. than others. Here is a look at a few of the most popular types of heating systems:
The majority of homes in the U.S. use a furnace to provide heat. Furnaces use a variety of fuels – such as heating oil, electricity, propane or natural gas – to heat homes.
Furnaces use forced air to distribute heat throughout your house. Inside of a furnace, air is warmed up by the fuel source. A blower then pushes the warm air through a duct system and into various rooms of a house. Cooled air returns to the furnace through a separate series of ducts, known as a return.
Furnaces and forced air heating systems would not be among the most commonly used heating systems in the U.S. if they did not have some advantages. Some of the benefits of a furnace include:
There are some drawbacks of using a forced air furnace in your home. The disadvantages of a furnace include:
Boilers have a few things in common with furnaces and forced air systems. Like a furnace, a boiler can use a variety of fuels, such as electricity, natural gas, heating oil or propane. A boiler can also be very energy efficient, especially if it is a newer model.
A significant difference between a boiler and a furnace is how they heat. While a furnace heats air and then distributes the warm air throughout a home through a series of ducts, a boiler heats water. The heated water or steam travels through the home via a series of pipes. The heat then seeps out into the house through convectors, cast iron radiators, baseboard radiators or even air handlers.
Like forced air furnaces, boiler heating systems offer several benefits to homeowners. Some of the advantages of a boiler include:
Boilers are not perfect. There are some disadvantages to using this type of heating system. Some of the drawbacks include:
Heat pumps work by gathering heat from outside and releasing it inside during heating season. In the summer, it reverses direction to gather heat from the air inside of the home and discharge it outside. Two primary types of heat pump exist. Air-source heat pumps transfer warmth from the outside air into the house. Ground-source or geothermal heat pumps pull warmth from the ground or an underground water source.
Air-source heat pumps are considerably more common than geothermal or ground-source heat pumps. Both geo thermal and air-source heat pump can be installed in a house with ductwork, in which case the heated air travels to the rooms of the house through ductwork. Ductless or split system heat pumps are also available.
If you are looking to upgrade the heating system in your home or have recently added on to your house and are considering your heating options, heat pumps offer a few advantages:
Heat pumps do have some drawbacks that are worth considering, especially if you live in an area that sees frigid temperatures in the winter:
Heating systems have come a long way when it comes to energy efficiency. The furnaces and boilers you are likely to see for sale today are considerably more efficient than models produced a decade ago.
Although today’s heating systems are much better at energy use than older models, systems still vary when it comes to how well they use energy. If you are trying to determine whether or not a particular furnace or boiler is energy efficient, one thing to look at is its annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). AFUE compares the model’s efficiency at turning fuel into heat to the amount of fuel it uses annually. A boiler or furnace with an AFUE of 90 percent or higher is pretty energy efficient.
Heat pumps use a different metric to measure efficiency, the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). HSPF is the ratio between the amount of heat needed during a season and the total energy used during the season. The most efficient heat pumps have a higher HSPF, usually at least 8.5.
If it is time to replace your heating system with a newer, more energy-efficient model, SMO Energy can help. Our energy consultants will listen to your needs, evaluate your home and recommend the most appropriate heating system for you. We offer free in-home consultations. Get in touch today to schedule an appointment and to learn more about how to improve your home’s heating system.