Pros and Cons of 5 Common Types of Home Heating Systems
There are so many ways to heat a home.
Some heating systems share components with the home’s cooling system, while others work independently. Some are more effective for large spaces, while others are better for zoned heating. In some cases, a home can have more than one heating system: For example, homes with recent additions or seasonal rooms often use a different heating method for those rooms. And the different systems use a variety of fuel sources, including natural gas, propane, fuel oil, electricity, or solar.
The type of heating system you have in your home will depend on several factors, including your home’s specific heating needs as well as your own preferences. Ultimately, the right home heating system will keep your home comfortable while using energy efficiently.
If you’re planning a move or looking to update your existing home’s HVAC system, there are many factors to consider in choosing the right system for you. Here are five common home heating systems, with pros and cons for each, to help you make the right choice for your home.
1. Forced-Air Furnace
The most common type of home heating system in North America is the forced-air furnace. It uses a heat exchanger to warm air, which is then pushed by a blower fan through a duct system to registers throughout the house. Another system of ducts then returns air back to the furnace through cold-air returns.
The forced-air furnace is multipurpose, as it can be combined with a cooling system, using the same ductwork and fan. It can run on natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or electricity (but natural gas is the least expensive and most efficient).
- High efficiency ratings
- Long-lasting: can last 15-30 years before you’ll need a furnace replacement
- Can be combined with A/C
- Heats and cools quickly
- Filters and humidifiers can be added
- Fan can be loud
- Gas furnaces pose a fire risk
- Potential source of carbon monoxide poisoning (make sure you have a CO detector near your furnace!)
- Can dry out the air in your home (if not combined with a humidifier)
- Requires space for ductwork in walls
2. Boiler and Radiator System
Traditional boiler and radiator systems are most often found in older homes. The boiler works by heating water in a tank that is then sent through a series of pipes connected to radiators throughout the house via electric pumps (though some circulate steam through the pipes, rather than hot water).
This type of heating system is great for providing zoned heating, but is not as efficient as a forced-air system for heating large areas. Boilers can run on natural gas, propane, electricity, biodiesel blends, or fuel oil (but most boilers in the U.S. run on natural gas).
- Natural gas boilers are extremely efficient
- Easy to control the heat in individual rooms
- Won’t dry out the air like a forced-air furnace can
- Traditional upright cast iron radiators can be updated to baseboard or wall panel options
- Repairs can be expensive
- Radiators take up space, and you can’t put furniture or window coverings close to them
- Can’t combine with A/C
3. Baseboard Heaters
Baseboard heaters (also known as zone heaters) send hot air out of the top of the unit while pulling cool air into the bottom. There are two main types of baseboard heaters: hydronic and electric.
Hydronic baseboard heaters are essentially a modern version of traditional radiators. A central boiler heats water that then circulates through a system of piping to low-profile baseboard heating units. The boiler can run on natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or electricity.
Baseboard heaters also work great as a supplement to solar heating systems.
- Very energy efficient
- Runs quietly
- Low maintenance
- Precise temperature control
- Long-lasting — can last for several decades
- Takes up space, limiting where you can place furniture (units can’t be blocked)
- Slow to heat up
- Pipes are at risk of freezing if the system goes out
- Must clean heat coils regularly to maintain highest efficiency
- Can’t be combined with A/C
Electric baseboard heaters (a.k.a. electric resistance heating systems), on the other hand, aren’t typically used as a primary heating source. Instead, they’re used as supplemental baseboard heating for lesser-used rooms, like finished basements or seasonal rooms.
They are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and they can be installed almost anywhere. Because they have no moving parts, they are very low maintenance. One of the downsides to electric baseboard heaters is that they use a lot of electricity, so they can be expensive to use.
4. Heat Pumps
A heat pump is a combination air conditioner and heater — a single system that does both jobs. In winter, a heat pump removes cold air from within your home, heats it up, then pumps the warmed air throughout your home. In summer, it does the reverse, using a refrigerant to cool the hot air in your home.
There are three types of heat pumps:
- Air-source heat pumps pull in outside air when heating. These aren’t ideal for extremely cold climates.
- Mini-split, or ductless, systems have a small outdoor compressor unit and one or more indoor air handlers that blow air directly into a room. These are great for smaller spaces.
- Geothermal heat pumps capture heat from soil or a nearby water source, and are the most efficient type of heat pump.
Heat pumps are typically powered by electricity, but some can be fueled by natural gas.
- Precise temperature control in each room
- Runs quietly
- Heating and cooling can be combined
- Best for mild climates — not as effective in extreme hot or cold weather
- Air distribution is limited
- Each air handler unit must be controlled separately in separate rooms
5. Active Solar Heating
Active solar heating uses solar energy to heat a fluid that then transfers the heat either directly into the interior of your home or into a storage system for later use. This type of heating system can distribute heat using in-floor radiant, hot water baseboards, or a central forced air system.
In many cases, solar heating is supplemented with another system, especially in colder climates.
- Highly energy efficient
- Environmentally friendly
- Low maintenance
- Tax incentives may be available
- Expensive to install
- Needs to be supplemented with another heating system
Titan Heating and Cooling Installs, Repairs, and Replaces Home Heating Systems
At Titan Heating and Cooling, we can take care of all your heating and cooling needs. Whether you need a boiler, heat pump, or furnace replacement, air conditioning service, or general HVAC maintenance, the team at Titan is here to help keep your home comfortable all year long.
Contact us to schedule an appointment today!
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