Heat Systems at a Glance

There are options when choosing a new heating system for your home or business. The most common is a forced air system, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each type and each type should be explored. Some things to consider when making your decision include: the price of fuels in your area, the age of your home and your budget.

Forced Air is a very popular heating system. It utilizes a furnace, which pulls air in through ducts, the air is heated inside of the furnace and flows out into the house through additional ducts. The air flow is then directed to different rooms by heat vents. These systems can run off of gas or electricity. The ducts can also be used for delivering air conditioning throughout your home or business. Forced air does require ductwork which may be absent in an older home.

This type of system can be powered by combustion (using oil or propane gas), electricity, a heat pump or hydronic coil, which combines hydronic and forced air systems.

Hydronic Radiant systems utilize a central boiler, water heater or heat pump water heater with piping, to transport steam or hot water into the room. Heat is delivered into the room using radiators or floor systems like underfloor piping or radiant slabs. Radiant systems are quieter than forced air and people often feel warmer at lower air temperatures. The heat is delivered more evenly and people often report feeling more comfortable with radiant heat. However, radiant systems often cost 40% to 60% more to install when compared to forced air systems. These systems also do not filter the air and provide no system for air cooling.

Geothermal heating gets its name from the fact that the heat is derived from geothermal energy (ie. Energy from the earth). This type of heating is most common near tectonic plate boundaries, where the most volcanic activity is found. The system involves closed loop geothermal heat pumps that circulate a carrier fluid (usually a water/antifreeze mix) through pipes buried underneath the ground. As the carrier fluid moves through the pipes underground it absorbs heat. The now warm fluid passes through the heat pump which uses electricity to pull the heat from the fluid. The re-chilled fluid is sent back into the ground, continuing the cycle. Switching the direction of the heat flow will circulate the cooled water through the house for cooling in the summer months. Geothermal energy a renewable energy source. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, geo-exchange systems save 30–70 percent in heating costs, and 20–50 percent in cooling costs, compared to conventional systems. Geo-exchange systems also save money because they require little maintenance. As well as being highly reliable, they are made to last decades.

When purchasing a heating unit it is important to consider the following:

  • Gas and oil furnaces have ducts which vent the exhaust gasses. They rely on combustion to produce heat.
  • Electric furnaces use heating strips to warm the air and move it through your home.
  • Wood and coal furnaces are not often used in modern homes, and in older homes have often been replaced with electric, gas or oil units.
  • Dual heating units use a mixture of gas and an electric heat pump, or both oil and electric
  • Wall furnaces are convenient for apartment units or rental properties and or mounting on the wall.
  • Floor units are portable and heat one room, but will not create enough heat to warm an entire house.

Nearly all modern furnaces are proven to be reliable, efficient and come with similar warranties. An efficiency rating of 80% for your furnace is a huge investment to save on your energy usage. But an 95% efficiency for your unit is much more appealing. The stage of a furnace refers to the burner and gas valve function. If you have a single stage furnace it is more likely that all 100,000 BTUs come on all the time whether it is 50 degrees or 10 degrees. The 2 stage furnace gives you a gas saving solution which makes the burner and gas valve run at 60% capacity depending on the amount of heat needed. Both stages are available in 80% and 95% units.