Types of Home Heating Systems
There are several types of systems used to provide heat in a home, and within each broad type there are many variations. Some heating systems share components with the home’s cooling equipment, and some systems provide both heating and cooling. The term HVAC—heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning—is used to describe the overall climate control system in a home.
Forced Air Heating/Cooling Systems
By far the most common HVAC system in modern North American homes is the forced-air system that uses a furnace with a blower fan that delivers warmed air to the various rooms of the home through a network of ducts.
- Forced air systems can be filtered to remove dust and allergens. However, they also can increase the amount of allergens that are airborne.
- Humidifier (or dehumidifier) equipment can be integrated into the forced air system.
- Forced air furnaces are relatively inexpensive.
- These furnaces can achieve the highest AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) ratings of any heating system (but that does not necessarily mean this is the most efficient way to heat a home).
- Forced air systems can combine cooling with heating capability.
Gravity Air Furnace Systems
A precursor to forced air systems, gravity air furnaces also distribute air through a system of metal ducts, but rather than forcing the air via a blower, gravity air systems operate by the simple physics of warm air rising and cool air sinking. A gravity air furnace in a basement heats air, which then rises into the various rooms through ducts.
- Gravity systems have no moving parts and can last for many decades.
- The system equipment is very dependable and requires little maintenance.
In-Floor Radiant Heating Systems
Modern in-floor heating is a type of radiant heating system. Radiant heating is different from forced air heat in that it heats objects and materials, such as furniture and flooring, rather than just the air. Most whole-home radiant systems distribute heat via hot water heated in a boiler or hot water heater.
- Radiant systems provide comfortable, even heat.
- When heated by boilers, radiant systems can be very energy efficient.
Heat Pump Heating Systems
The newest home heating (and cooling) technology is the heat pump. Using a system that is similar to an air conditioner, heat pumps extract heat from the air and deliver it to the home via an indoor air handler. Standard home systems are air-source heat pumps that draw heat from the outdoor air. There are also ground-source, or geothermal, heat pumps that pull heat from deep in the ground as well as water-source heat pumps that rely on a pond or lake for heat.
- Systems offer both heating and cooling.
- Heat pumps can be very energy efficient.
- Individual wall units allow for precise control of each room.
- Fans are quieter than central forced-air systems.
- No ductwork is required.