Your Guide to Home Heating Types

March 7, 2022

Summary

Your heating system is a major component of your home. And operating it is a big part of your energy budget. In fact, heating your home can eat up over 40% of your energy bill. That's why it's important to understand the options available to you if you're considering an upgrade to your heating system, building an addition or outbuilding, or building a new home.

In this home heating types guide, we will examine the basics of heating systems, the different categories, and look in detail at many of your heating system options.

Table of Contents

Home heating: The basics

All home heating systems use an energy source to heat the air in your home, either directly or indirectly.

The differences between systems are in part determined by the type of energy source they use to heat the air. In addition, distinctions are made between whether the heating system is centrally located and uses ducts to transport warm air around the home, or whether the heat source is located in the room it is heating.

Further differences can be found in whether the heat source supplies direct heat via combustion, or utilizes some type of a heat exchanger to supply warmth to your home.

We'll begin our examination of home heating by looking at the three main categories of home heating types.

Three categories of home heating systems

While there are many different ways to heat your home, it's helpful to organize the different home heating systems available into three different categories. Let's examine the basic concepts of each and look at their advantages.

Central heating systems

Central heating systems, as the name suggests, are built around a central heating source. In most cases, warm air is distributed through the home via a series of ducts. Some home heating systems send heated water through a series of pipes to provide heat.

There are some distinct advantages to a central heating system.

  • The ductwork can serve a dual purpose, and be employed for air conditioning in the summer.
  • Upgrades and repairs are easier and require less time and effort.
  • These systems are usually quieter since the furnace or other heating systems aren't in the room being heated.

We'll examine several different types of central heating systems in this article.

Ductless heating systems

These systems are designed to provide heat without the need for a series of ducts to move warm air. These home heating systems require a separate heating unit for each room that you want to provide heat for.

The advantages of a ductless heating system are several:

  • They're relatively easy to install.
  • They are less expensive than central heating systems.
  • They are generally quite efficient, and since you can tailor the amount of heat for each room, they can save you money on heating costs.

We'll examine several different types of ductless heating systems in this article.

Direct heating systems

Direct heating systems are also known as "space heaters." They use either a flame or heating element to directly heat the air in your room.

Space heaters are usually used for supplemental heat or to heat small rooms or homes. They have some advantages:

  • They're inexpensive.
  • They are often portable and can be moved to different areas of the home as necessary.
  • They often don't require any installation work.

We'll examine several different types of direct heat systems in this article.

Central heating systems

As we discussed above, central heating provides warmth throughout the home via warm air supplied by ducts or with the use of pipes carrying warm water. And that same ductwork can be used for home air conditioning as well.

Different fuel sources are used to operate the furnace, boiler, heat pump that is at the heart of these types of home heating systems.

Let's examine furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps and the different fuel sources they employ.

Furnaces

At the heart of a central heating system is the furnace. Furnaces use their fuel source to warm air and then distribute it throughout the home - what's known as a "forced-air" system. The furnace doesn't directly heat this air. Rather, the heat it generates warms the air through a heat exchanger. This separates the combustion process from the air inside your home.

There are several different types of furnaces you can employ if you choose central heating to heat your home.

Gas furnaces use either natural gas or propane to heat the air for your home. A gas furnace is a reliable and usually very cost-effective heat source.

Oil furnaces use heating oil, also known as fuel oil to heat the air for your forced-air system. Oil furnaces require fuel oil delivery to your home and are not as common as gas furnaces or electric furnaces.

Electric furnaces use electrical energy to heat electric heating elements that in turn warm the air for the system. An electric furnace is an excellent choice when supplies of natural gas are not available for your home.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are an increasingly popular heating system for household use. A heat pump takes advantage of differences in temperature to heat or cool the air that circulates in your home. In the winter that's the difference in temperature between inside air and the cold air outside. Heat pumps are energy efficient and an excellent choice for central heating in many homes.

There are two types of heat pumps.

Air source heat pumps utilize the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to heat or cool your home. Air heat pumps are installed in the same manner as central air conditioners and are less expensive than the next option. The air source heat pump is the most popular heat pump system type.

Ground source heat pumps, also known as geothermal heat pumps, draw on heat from the ground or groundwater to warm your home. While very efficient to operate, a ground source heat pump is more expensive to install.

Boiler systems

Unlike furnaces, which heat air to provide heat throughout the home, boiler systems heat water or some other fluid that is circulated throughout the home for heat. Traditionally these systems have used radiators to provide heat in each room of the house, but boilers are also used to heat water for radiant floor heating (RFH) systems.

Radiant heating systems, also known as underfloor heating, or radiant heating, circulate heated water through a system of pipes laid under the flooring in each room.

One of the key advantages of radiant heat is even heating. You'll see less variation in temperature since residual heat remains even when the boiler isn't operating. Systems with boilers are usually quieter and don't spread dust as forced air systems can do.

On the other hand, systems with a boiler are usually more expensive to install and upgrading can be more difficult than with forced air systems. In addition, these systems only provide heat, unlike forced air systems, which can do double duty by accommodating air conditioning.

If a boiler is something you're considering, one of the most important decisions you'll need to make is the type of fuel you'll use to heat the water in the system boiler. These are the most common options.

Natural gas. A gas boiler will use natural gas, which is readily available in many areas and burns cleanly.

LP gas. Liquified petroleum (LP) gas also is readily available and burns cleanly, but must be delivered onsite and stored in tanks on your property.

Oil. Oil must be delivered and you'll need a storage system as well.

Wood. You can use wood as fuel for a boiler system, but this can be expensive unless you have a ready supply of wood. There's also the downside of smoke generation and removal of ashes. Pellet heating, using wood pellets, is a cleaner and more convenient option.

Solar. Passive- or active-solar heating systems can be used to heat water for a radiant floor heating system.

Ductless heating systems

Ductless heating systems are growing in popularity as heating and cooling systems. Most ductless heating systems combine an indoor unit with a compressor that's mounted outdoors.

They're easy to install, and since they're designed to work in a single room, they don't require a series of ducts. In addition, since the heating levels can be tailored to each room, they offer the possibility of savings on energy bills. These systems are also ideal for additions or remodeling of existing spaces.

The following are the main categories of ductless heating systems.

Minisplit heat pumps

Minisplit heat pumps are the most popular ductless system, and the use of these systems has increased greatly in recent years.

A mini-split system consists of two parts - an indoor unit and a linked heat pump compressor unit, located outside. Minisplit systems not only heat, but they also operate as air conditioning units, and many offer smartphone control via apps.

Window AC with heat

As the name suggests, these are window air conditioning units with a heater built in.

Window air conditioning units with heat are a good choice for supplemental heating and cooling. Since you can heat or cool an individual room with them, they allow you to keep temperatures cooler in the rest of the home. They're also a good choice for additions or a remodeled area, like an in-laws suite.

Portable AC with heat

If you're looking for a portable heater that also has cooling capabilities, portable AC with heat units is a good choice.

These units require no installation work and can be easily moved to different areas. They're a good choice for supplemental heating or cooling in additions, workspaces, or other areas where you don't want to install a permanent heating system.

Direct heating systems

Direct heating systems are the simplest type of home heating system. If you've ever sat in front of a fireplace or around a campfire, you've experienced direct heating.

A direct heating system isn't designed to heat an entire home and doesn't use ducts or any type of distribution system to move warm air throughout the home. Yet that can be useful for heating smaller areas or providing supplemental heat. Many of these operate as portable heaters, so they can be moved around the home or put away when the season doesn't call for heat.

All space heaters require some care in their use, so be sure to follow all manufacturer's instructions carefully when they're in use.

Electric space heaters

Electric heaters are one of the most common types of space heaters. You'll find models in a wide price range, designed to heat both small and large rooms. For a touch of style, you can even find models designed to look like a mantel with a fire inside.

Pros and cons

On the plus side, most electric heaters are portable and can be moved around the home. When used properly, they're quite safe.

On the negative side of the scale, electric heaters can quickly ramp up your heating costs if they're used frequently.

Radiant space heaters

Radiant space heaters look like electric heaters at first glance. But rather than heating the air around them like electric heaters, radiant heaters emit powerful infrared rays that heat the objects in the room.

Here are some pros and cons of radiant heaters.

Pros and cons

Radiant heaters are more efficient than electric space heaters. And since they warm the objects in a room, they'll provide you with a more direct feeling of warmth.

Using a radiant heater exclusively or frequently will result in higher electric bills, despite their relative efficiency.

Baseboard heaters

Baseboard heaters are electric resistance heating units that are installed along the wall, usually below the window in a room.

Since they're permanently installed, they're usually connected to a wall-mounted thermostat for control.

Pros and cons

Baseboard heaters warm up quickly, so you can turn the temperature down when you're away and quickly reheat when you return. When positioned under windows, they'll help warm air coming in from the outside.

You'll probably want to hire an electrician to install these heaters, so this extra upfront expense needs to be factored in.

Gas space heaters

Gas space heaters heat with a flame-based system fueled by propane, natural gas, or kerosene. It's important to understand the necessary safety precautions that need to be followed when using these devices.

Units that are only rated for outdoor use should never be used for indoor heating. As with any device used for space heating, be sure that the unit is the correct size for the room you'll be using it in.

Perhaps most importantly, follow all manufacturer recommendations regarding venting and ventilation when using a gas space heater. Install a carbon monoxide detector in any room where you'll be using a gas space heater.

Pros and cons

On the positive side, gas heaters can warm large areas very quickly. And depending on fuel costs they may be a more reasonably priced alternative to electric space heaters.

On the other side of the coin, safety is very important when using gas space heaters. Follow the precautions already mentioned and look for units with safety features like overheat protection and automatic shut off if the device is knocked over.

Wood-burning stoves

While sitting by a fireplace conjures up cozy visions, fireplaces are quite inefficient for home heating. One alternative is the wood-burning stove, or simply a wood stove.

While a wood stove might not be right for everyone, they do have some advantages and disadvantages that we'll examine here.

Pros and cons

Wood stoves can create exceptional heat. Once the stove is warmed, the entire surface operates as a radiant heater warming the area around it very effectively. Along with this advantage, wood stoves can be an economical choice to operate if you have a ready supply of wood. And modern wood stoves are quite efficient as well.

Probably the biggest disadvantage to a wood stove is the wood. If you don't have access to cordwood, you'll need to purchase regular supplies. And the process of hauling, splitting, and stacking wood can be a very time-consuming task.

Play it safe with space heaters

If you choose to use direct heat systems or space heaters in your home, be sure to follow all safety recommendations. Fires can occur because of overloaded outlets or cords with electric space heaters, while a gas heater without automatic shutoff features can be knocked over or placed too close to a combustible surface.

Any type of heater that produces a flame also produces carbon monoxide (CO). This odorless and colorless gas can be deadly. Follow all instructions for proper venting and ventilation, and be sure your home has a carbon monoxide detector.

Using solar for heat

When most people think of solar power, they envision solar panels on a roof, providing power to the home. Yet solar heating operates on a different model, using the power of the sun to supplement existing heating with a solar thermal system.

Solar heating

A typical solar heating system operates by circulating heated fluid through radiant floor heaters, low-powered heaters located on the baseboard, or by heating the ducts of a forced-air system. In each case, fluid is circulated through roof-mounted solar collectors. When heated, the fluid circulates to a solar collector storage tank. Here, heat exchangers warm water that circulates through the heating system of choice.

While installation of these solar heating systems can present a significant upfront expense, they can significantly reduce heating expenses over the life of the system.

Which systems are the most energy-efficient?

As we've seen, you have a lot of different types of home heating options to choose from to generate heat for your home. We all want to save money, so what's the most efficient system?

The smart choice for efficiency is to choose central heating. A central heating system built around an energy-efficient furnace, heat pump, or boiler offers the most options for keeping your energy bills in check.

While mini-split ductless heating units are an excellent way to add heat and cooling to additions and remodeling, the expense of outfitting an entire home with multiple units can present a major upfront cost. And the cost of space heating, while useful for adding supplemental heat, can quickly add up into a major drain on your budget.

What's the best system for you?

Consider these questions when deciding how to add or upgrade heat to your home.

Are you heating the entire house, or do you need supplemental heating or heating for an addition? While central heating is a great all-around solution, a smaller system may be all you need.

Does your home already have ductwork or pipes for forced-air or radiant systems? Adding a new energy-efficient heat pump, furnace, or boiler may be just the ticket.

Do you have the necessary space for a central heating system?

How much can you budget for your system?

Let Team Enoch help

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the heating system for your home. Making a smart, well-informed decision can be difficult. That's where Team Enoch can help.

At Team Enoch we have extensive experience in designing and installing heating for homes both large and small; new and old. Whether you're looking for a central heating system or would like a mini-split ductless heating system, we have the experience to help you pick the right gear, then install it properly. And once your new system is in place, you can count on us for regular checkups and maintenance to keep it running at peak efficiency.

A warm and comfortable home is important. If you're in the Dallas Fort Worth area and you are in the market for a new heating system, or if your home's existing system needs attention, Team Enoch has the expertise to help your out. Contact us for all your home heating and cooling needs. Remember, estimates are always free!

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