Home Heating Systems - Heating Options

What types are available?

home heating

Home heating systems can make the difference between a damp, chilly house and a warm, comfortable place to live. There are many different choices of home heating system. This page outlines the most popular designs.

Home heating systems: the furnace model

A furnace draws air, through a ductwork system, into an area where it is warmed. (This area is sometimes known as a heat exchanger.) The air is warmed by an energy source. Popular energy sources include gas, electricity and oil, but some homeowners opt for a more traditional coal or wood furnace.

Once the air is warmed, it is delivered back into the house. In most furnace-based home heating systems, there is a filter to get rid of the dust in the air before you breathe it in. Then a blower or strong fan drives the air into the house, usually through metal vents on the walls or in the floor.

If you choose to heat your home with a furnace system, you need to remember a few points:

  • Check and clean your filter regularly. Dust and dirt make your furnace less efficient, which costs you money in higher fuel bills. If the filter gets very dirty, there is also a danger of damage to the motor.
  • Clear exhaust vents. This means making sure that nothing blocks them from the outside, whether that's snow in the winter or general backyard debris. If the exhaust vents become blocked, you risk letting carbon monoxide fumes into the house.
  • Have an annual check-up. A service technician should check your boiler for cracks, as well as checking the safety mechanisms and temperature settings. The technician's fee (usually between $50 and $100) is worth it because letting a professional look over your boiler is your best prevention against carbon monoxide poisoning. You will probably also find that your boiler runs more efficiently afterwards, saving on heating costs.
  • Avoid having an oil furnace with a buried tank. If oil from a buried tank leaks, it becomes an environmental hazard.

Home heating systems: radiant heat

Radiant baseboard heaters are metal units that radiate heat from the area of the wall nearest the ground. One advantage of baseboard heaters is that each unit has its own control, which means that you can adjust the temperature of each room separately. However, they are usually more expensive to run than the traditional furnace model of heating.

It is also possible to have a radiant heat system installed in your ceiling. Electric heating elements are installed in the ceiling, and the heat radiates down on the room rather like the sun shining on a hot day. Each area has its own control. It is also possible to have electric heating elements installed in floors and (less commonly) walls. Radiant heat is less effective if there is anything blocking the path of the heat, so arrange your furniture carefully in order to let the heat flow properly.

Other home heating systems:

Electric heat pumps

Heat pumps do exactly what the name suggests: they pump heat from one area of the house to another. They extract warmth from various sources, including outdoor air and the earth. The system may warm the air more if necessary. Then the air is circulated through the house. Systems that take the heat from water sources are usually more efficient than systems that take the heat from the air (otherwise known as air-to-air systems). During warm weather, a heat pump system can serve as an air conditioner. Vents and filters are metal.

Home heating systems: hydronic heating

Hydronic heating uses hot water. The water is heated in a boiler before being circulated through the house in tubes. There may also be metal units, similar to baseboard heaters, which radiate this heat into the room. If you have a hot water hydronic heating system, you should have the boiler checked annually for safety and efficiency reasons.

Space heaters

These are among the least efficient forms of home heating system. Some are portable, fuelled by electricity or gas, while others are permanently attached to a wall. You should always ensure that there is nothing blocking your space heater. So, for example, don't hang damp clothes on a space heater.


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