Understanding the Different Types of Heaters for Your Home

There are many types of heaters available for installation to keep hot air flowing in homes. Central forced air systems such as a central furnace or heat pump systems like an air source heat pump or ground source heat pumps are incredibly common, but these heating systems aren’t the only option you have.

Each home heating system uses specific equipment, which may differ from what is used to configure other systems. Heating units like gas furnaces require an indoor gas furnace connected to cold air return ducts and supply ducts to deliver heated air. Heating systems using heat pumps have an indoor air handler connected to an outdoor unit, while mini-split heat pumps utilize a small outdoor compressor unit linked to one or more indoor air handlers. One heating system may have multiple fuel source options such as natural gas or fuel oil while others are strictly electric heaters, or the equipment may be configured for active solar heating.

Six Common Types of Heaters

Your heating system choices include boiler systems such as condensing gas-fired boilers or oil-fired condensing boilers, hydronic systems like radiant floor heating and those that function as home heating and hot water systems, hybrid heating and cooling systems that generate heat and also offer air conditioning mode, ductless heat pumps that provide zoned heating, wood-burning, and pellet stoves, and even electric resistance heating from baseboard heaters or electric space heaters.

Choosing the right home heating system can be a tough decision, given there are so many options – including heating units that double as air conditioning systems! Thomas & Galbraith’s heating pros help you understand the different home heating systems, how they heat, and how they are unique from other options so you can make the right choice for your residence. Learn about annual fuel utilization efficiency and energy efficiency ratings’ impact on household energy bills, along with finding the right fit for your home size.

Central Furnace Heating Systems

Furnaces are the most common type of home heating system used in the Cincinnati area and throughout the country. They are forced air systems that generate heat from a central unit in the home, making this type of heating system a perfect option for whole-home heating. A fuel source is combusted to generate heat in a metal heat exchanger, such as gas or oil-filled heaters. Sealed combustion air models always pull in fresh air and never use the home’s air as combustion air as atmospheric models do, making them a safer and more efficient option.

Central furnaces distribute heated air using ducts for delivery; there are supply ducts that take warm air from the unit to living areas and cold air return ducts that bring room air back to the unit for heating. Today’s furnaces rely on balanced pressure throughout the heating system and ducts to distribute warm air, though gravity air furnaces may still be in service in some older homes that require gravity for distribution. While a gravity air furnace may still be running, it’s certainly advisable to upgrade to a modern furnace that is more energy efficient, takes up less space, and produces lower energy bills.

Gas furnaces that burn natural gas as a fuel source are the most commonly used type of furnace in this part of the United States; in addition to the gas furnace, there are also models that run using fuel oil, liquid propane, and even furnaces that are electric heaters. Furnace energy efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE); gas furnaces are up to 98% energy efficient, though models that are electric heaters can be up to 100% efficient. Even though electric heaters may be more efficient, the gas furnace is often more affordable to run as natural gas prices are lower than electricity and fuel oil.

Heat Pump Systems

Home heating systems that utilize heat pump equipment transfer heat rather than create it. For this reason, heat pumps not only offer home heating, but air conditioning as well – they are able to function as both a heater and an air conditioner, delivering heating and cooling to the home. They are electric heaters and transfer heat from different sources, depending on the type of heat pump used – the most common heat pump heating systems are air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal heat pumps. These types of home heating units are very efficient, transferring more units of heat than the units of energy they consume, making them more efficient than any heating system that burns its fuel source; when acting as an air conditioner, their efficiency is equivalent to a conventional air conditioner air conditioning system.

Air Source Heat Pumps

Air source heat pumps are the most commonly used types of heating systems using a heat pump, due to their affordability. Heat energy is transferred from one air source to another – indoor air and outdoor air. The heat pump sits outdoors and is connected to an indoor air handler that exchanges heat and distributes heating and cooling through the home’s ducts. They are central forced air systems.

Ductless Heat Pumps

Ductless heat pumps, also called mini split heat pumps are a type of air source heat pump system that is configured differently than a conventional central forced air system. These heating systems also function as air conditioning systems but use one small outdoor compressor unit that can be paired with multiple air handlers installed within the home that house the heat exchanger coils and blower. Thanks to this setup, zoned heating is automatic as the air handlers are controlled separately from one another.

Ductless heat pumps offer a very flexible home heating option as they do not need ducts installed for distribution. As such, these heating systems are a good choice for homes that do not already have ducts or applications where installing new ducts is necessary but the cost makes it prohibitive or the space isn’t available. The system’s ability to connect with one or multiple indoor air handlers allows it to be used as a whole-home heating option, an electric space heater for an area not connected to a home’s central forced air system such as a new addition, or recently finished attic, or as a means of supplemental heat where more heated air is necessary for comfort. Without ducts, they offer better indoor air quality than conventional forced air systems and they’re more energy efficient, too.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

Commonly known as geothermal heating and cooling systems, these heat pumps transfer heat energy between the home’s indoor air and the ground. The ground loop component absorbs heat energy from below ground and carries it to the geothermal heat pump installed inside the home – there is no outdoor equipment above ground. These may be configured as forced air systems and paired with air handlers or hydronic systems that transfer energy to water that is piped through the home, such as for radiant floor heating.

Geothermal heating is highly energy efficient, producing as much as 4 to 5 times as much warm air for the energy the equipment consumes. They can also double as hot water systems for homes and can be configured for active solar heating. They are quite expensive to install due to the cost of placing the ground loop.

Boiler Heating Systems

Boilers are types of home heating equipment commonly used in homes that are older, though they can be installed in newer construction, too. They are typically set up as hydronic systems not forced air systems, meaning they create heat by burning fuel which a heat exchanger uses to produce steam or hot water. A network of piping is installed throughout the house, circulating hot water or steam to radiators or baseboard heaters for radiant heating. Radiant heaters warms the things or people in a space rather than the air. Because they are not forced air, they offer better indoor air quality than furnaces and air source heat pumps as no particle pollution is circulated.

Boilers run using natural gas, fuel oil, or liquid propane, though older models were commonly wood-burning or coal-fired. Condensing gas-fired boilers and oil-fired condensing boilers offer higher energy efficiency than conventional models, with an AFUE 90% or higher compared to 80-85% AFUE. Typically boilers are chosen to replace older boiler models, as installing an entire new boiler home heating system can be very expensive due to the need to run piping and install radiators as well.

Other Radiant Heaters

Radiant floor heating systems are installed below a home’s flooring, commonly in new homes but they can be put into existing residences. They are typically hydronic heating systems and a boiler or water heater is used to heat water before it is circulated to pipes placed below the floor. These home heating systems produce radiant heat and a bonus of warm floors for additional comfort. Hydronic radiant heating systems are installed in-floor typically in larger applications such as whole home heating whereas wall systems using electric heaters and elements are commonly used for smaller space heating needs.

More Home Heating Systems

  • Hybrid heating systems, also called dual fuel, combine two types of heating units that use a separate fuel source. Commonly a natural gas furnace is paired with an electric heat pump. They can be split systems with indoor and outdoor equipment or packaged systems where all equipment is housed in one unit. These heating systems allow for the most energy-efficient type of heating to be used for the present conditions.

  • Portable space heaters can be used as permanent or temporary heating systems for smaller areas. Electric portable heaters are often portable, with various models offering different heating methods such as radiant heat or convection. Gas-fired heaters can be operated as home heating systems for larger spaces. Propane space heaters, ceramic space heaters, or infrared space heater options are typically used. Vented gas-fired space heaters are typically installed as permanent as outside venting is required whereas unvented gas heaters are more portable. Unvented models are typically more affordable yet are not safe for use in all home heating applications.

  • Pellet stoves are another alternative heating system that is more environmentally friendly than a wood-burning stove. They can produce enough warm air to keep small areas comfortable and don’t burn fuel, offering better indoor air quality than wood-burning stove models.

Find the Right Heating System for Your Home

Choosing a heating system can be difficult, with so many options available. Find the right home heating systems for your residence when you work with the heating pros of Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing. Our team is here to answer your questions in regards to heating equipment and how it will function in your home – contact us today to request a consultation.

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