No matter where you live in North America, there's always a good chance that during almost any winter, you're going to need some kind of home heating to keep your home comfortable. Now, while some folks in southern-most Texas may beg to differ, it's no surprise that practically every home from Houston to Dallas has a furnace. Of course, not every region in the U.S. favors the same type of heating system. For example, natural gas or propane heat is favored for most of the rural midwest while many northern cities still retain boilers and radiators.
Because we know our customers save more money by understanding how they use energy, we've put together this basic guide to the different types of home heating systems in use so that homeowners can learn about the kind of heating system they have and how it works.
Basically, there are two kinds of heating systems, forced air and radiant.
Forced air systems use a blower or fan to pull air into the system to be heated and then blown out to be circulated throughout the home. They can be noisy with metallic squeaks from loose connections or vibrate when running and require routine air filter changes to keep them running well. But because they heat the air, they tend to warm up homes quickly. A forced air system is composed of air return ductwork, blower, a heating or cooling unit with heat exchangers housed inside the air handler cabinet, a plenum where the air exits the air handler, and supply ductwork. The supply ductwork carries the air to all the rooms of the home while the return ductwork carries all the air from the rooms back to the blower and air handler.
Radiant systems rely on the use of heat to move air through convection. That is, heated air rises and is replaced by cooler air…which is heated and rises and so on again. Because these systems essentially work passively, they tend to heat rooms slowly. Plus, they don't filter dust or allergens from the air and in some cases, are not as energy efficient. However, most are inexpensive to buy, install, and maintain.
Electric resistance heating is 100% energy efficient because all the electricity is converted to heat. And since the heating elements in an electric furnace are in direct contact with the air, the air heats up very quickly. This makes them very efficient but expensive to operate during extended cold weather.
In the case of all heat radiating systems, these work silently and don't buffet a room's occupants with blasts of hot air. However, they tend to work more slowly to warm up a room when compared to forced air systems. This is largely due to the fact that they rely on convection to heat the air and make it circulate through the room. That said, different types of radiant systems work faster than others.Radiant heat can be more efficient than forced air systems with duct loss problems, and some people with allergies prefer it because the lack of blowing air doesn't stir up allergens. However, because these systems circulate water as either steam or liquid, radiator systems can be prone to problems such as blockages and leaks.
Baseboard Heat: Electric (or "Convective") and Hydronic Heaters
These heating systems work best when they are mounted at least 3/4" above the floor or carpet. This allows cooler air on the floor to flow through the heater fins and be heated. One drawback is that fur from shedding pets can get pulled into these kinds of heaters and block airflow.
It really depends on how your home is built, what you can afford, and what you prefer. For example, if you are building an addition or are modernizing your home's HVAC, you may find that it might not be feasible to run new ductwork to different parts of your home. In which case, you might need to consider some type of baseboard system coupled with a ductless mini system for summertime cooling. And while it has been argued that forced air systems do stir up allergens, when they are equipped with HEPA air filtration they do a much more efficient job of purging allergens from the air throughout the entire home. If it's a matter of energy efficiency, then next to passive solar the most efficient is geothermal followed by its cousin, the heat pump. While these are very effective heating systems, during events like cold snaps or Polar Vortex visits they require heating back ups — usually in the form of built-in auxiliary electric resistance heating elements.
If you're thinking about updating your home's heating system or even just need some maintenance, it's best to contact a skilled professional like One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating for expert service.
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