Heating Systems

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Modern homes are warmed throughout and provided with hot water by some kind of heating system. Some of the pros and cons of different systems are discussed here, with more details given later in the chapter. Installing a new system is best left to the professionals. However, you may sometimes extend or maintain some types of existing system yourself.

Central Heating

The most popular home-heating system—forced-air heating—is discussed opposite. It warms the whole home and is fully adjustable to your needs. However, there are other options for heating your home, like radiant floor heating in a bathroom. You might want extra heating in some areas, or to install a different system in a new addition.

Choosing a Heating System

If you’re having a new system installed, your choice will be influenced mainly by the fuel you intend to use, and by ease of installation. When upgrading all or part of an old system, it will often be easiest to replace like with like. Your installer will be able to advise you about replacing major components such as furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners with modern, energy-efficient versions. The advantages and disadvantages of the main systems are shown below.




Forced-air furnace


Gas burns in a central furnace, distributing heat through floor or wall registers in rooms until house reaches the desired temperature. Most popular type of heating in the US.

Forced-air furnace


Oil ignites in a central furnace, distributing heat through the air. Oil burns faster than gas.


Gas or oil

Circulates heat through water to maintain temperature. Can also control your hot water heater.

Heat pump

Refrigerant and air, Electricity back-up

Gathers heat from outside and disperses it to inside. In summer they work like air conditioners. Popular in Southern states.


Well or lake water

Type of heat pump that has buried pipes to pull heat from the ground.



Boiler produces steam that flows through pipes to radiators located in rooms.

Baseboard heating

Electricity or water

Electric wall systems are easy-to-install by electricians. Not as efficient as gas furnaces.

Radiant heating

Electricity or water

Popular in bathroom floors. Water-based systems use tubing to distribute heat. Electric systems use mesh mats with heating coils.

Solar heating


Exterior panels collect energy from sun and convert it to heat.


Forced air is the most common type of heating system in today’s homes. It is popular because of its reliability and because it can heat a house quickly. Forced air can also be combined with other heating systems to give you control over the temperature of each room.

A forced-air furnace is fueled by gas or oil. It is commonly found in the basement, with ducts connecting it to the rest of the house. Cold air is drawn from the rooms by a blower.

The air flows through a filter, and is then heated by the furnace. The warmed air returns through the floor registers, heating the rooms. If you do not have a basement, the furnace may be located in a closet, garage, or attic.

Forced air systems (as shown in image below) are regulated by a thermostat. When you set your thermostat to a particular temperature, the thermostat starts the furnace when the temperature falls below that reading.

Click Image for large size: Forced-Air Heating System
Above: Forced-Air Heating System: Click here for full-sized image.


If you have radiators, baseboard heaters, or a radiant system in a single room, or throughout your home, you may have a hot- water heating system. The way a hot-water system works is similar to other types of heating system. just as a thermostat senses a drop in temperature and kick-starts the forced air system, the thermostat will do the same for the hot water system. In a hot water system, the water is heated, it expands and flows into a tank where it compresses the air. That air then is directed to each baseboard or radiator heater where it heats the room. Oil, gas, or electricity can fuel a hot water system.

Maintaining a hot-water heater can be a DIY job. The pumps need to be oiled regularly to keep the system running smoothly. The equipment should be dusted occasionally. Expansion tanks need to be drained. And it is essential to bleed trapped air from the system.


Installing a heating and/or cooling system is not a DIY project, as it requires regulated materials and equipment. Selecting the right type of unit also involves calculating the load in your home and sizing it for your needs. In some cases, you must be a licensed HVAC technician to buy heating and cooling equipment through a distributor.

Before you hire a contractor to help you select and install a new system, ask what products the contractor represents, and check references, Contractors generally associate themselves with two or three brands, so if there is a particular brand you want installed in your home, you may want to contact the manufacturer for contractor references in your area.

After your system is installed, maintaining your heating system is essential to keep your house safe and your energy bills low. Clean filters regularly, and follow all manufacturers maintenance recommendations.

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