Your home may have one of several types of heating systems. They can range from blowing hot air through ductwork to piping hot water through your floor.

Whatever type of heating system you have, it will have advantages and disadvantages. So it’s worth a quick review of the most popular types of home heating systems, how they work, and their pros and cons.

Forced Air Heating and Cooling System

Forced Air System

This system is by far the most common type of home heating and central air conditioning system.

Distribution

  • Air heated in a furnace
  • Air distributed from furnace through ductwork and into room by registers

Fuel Sources

Furnaces may heat air using various fuel sources such as natural gas, propane, oil or electricity

Advantages

  • Only distribution method that can used for cooling
  • Air may be filtered
  • Air may be humidified
  • Air may be dehumidified
  • Inexpensive
  • Furnace can attain highest AFUE

Disadvantages

  • Requires ductwork and takes space in walls
  • Furnace fan can often be heard
  • Moving air can distribute allergens
  • Air requires filtration and regular maintenance.

Radiant Heat

Radiant Heating System

This system is known to provide the most natural and comfortable heat in a home. It can come in a number of forms, from a pot belly stove to in-floor hot water tubing. It works through the process of radiation or direct transfer of heat from a hot to a cold surface.

Distribution

  • Most commonly provided via hot water tubing embedded in the floor or directly below the floor surface
  • Radiant panels may be used in ceilings
  • Heating stoves

Fuel Sources

  • In-floor systems use hot water heated by a boiler
  • Boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity
  • Heating stoves may use wood or coal

Advantages

  • Comfortable, even heat
  • Boilers can be energy efficient

Disadvantages

  • Slow heating up cycle since surrounding materials must warm
  • Expensive installed cost
  • Difficult access to hidden piping if maintenance problems emerge.
  • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.

Hydronic (Hot Water Baseboard)

Hot Water Baseboard System

Similar to radiant heat, this system uses hot water heated by a boiler to heat a space by a combination of radiation and convection.

Distribution

  • Hot water heated by boiler and piped to “fin-tube” baseboard units mounted along walls. The fins increase the surface area of heat dissipation making the unit more efficient.
  • Air is distributed by convection as air rises and is heated by the baseboard unit.

Fuel Sources

  • Boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity

Advantages

  • Energy efficient
  • Quiet
  • Close temperature control

Disadvantages

  • Baseboard radiation / convection units must remain unobstructed and can provide challenges in furniture placement and drape design.
  • Slow temperature increase.
  • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.

Steam Radiant

Steam Radiant Heating System

Steam radiators are nostalgic and not often used today. They are characterized by cast iron upright radiators radiating heat with steam.

Steam systems come in two varieties, one-pipe and two-pipe systems. With one-pipe systems the water and steam travel in the same pipe but in opposite directions. In two-pipe systems, steam flows in one pipe and water condensate returns in another set of pipes.

Distribution

  • Heat is distributed with steam piping and radiator units

Fuel Sources

  • Steam boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity

Advantages

  • Efficient and warms spaces quickly
  • Radiant heat is comfortable
  • Old hot water system radiators can now be replaced with smaller convection units or vertical wall panel radiators

Disadvantages

  • Radiators can be unsightly
  • Radiator locations may limit furniture placement and window coverings
  • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.

Boilers

Boilers

A boiler is the heating plant used to create hot water or steam for hydronic baseboard, radiant heat or steam radiator heating systems. Boilers can use a variety of fuels including natural gas, propane, oil or electricity.

Steam boilers are more complex than hot water boilers and have special gauge glass, pressure gauges, blow off valves and automatic feeds.

Hot water boilers can be small, compact, energy efficient and low maintenance.