A Primer on Heating Systems
You'll save money and stay more comfortable by matching the heating system to your climate, your house and your needs.
Synopsis: This is a guide to the basics of home heating systems, with clear explanations of how hot-air, piped hot water, and radiant floor systems work. Sidebars briefly discuss heat pumps and fuel choices while a glossary explains some of those mysterious acronyms that keep cropping up.
I learned to appreciate good heating systems at an early age — by growing up in a 1710 Pennsylvania log home that lacked one. I remember huddling around our oil-fired space heater on winter nights to soak up as much warmth as possible before dashing upstairs to the small corner room my brother and I shared. I even have a distinct — though no doubt exaggerated — memory of a particularly frigid winter night when firewood brought in at bedtime still had snow on it the next morning.
I still live in an old home, but I’ve worked hard to insulate and weatherize it against cold Vermont winters. I also spent a lot of time choosing the right heating system to make certain it’s a lot more comfortable than my boyhood home.
This article should help you to establish priorities and figure out what questions to ask your heating-system designer or contractor when choosing a heating system. I’ve tried to provide a broad overview, addressing basics of selection and fundamental decisions about heat-distribution options. Along with providing comfort, other goals that may come up when selecting a heating system include efficiency and size.
When it comes to heating-system design, there are two primary areas of decision-making: how to produce heat and how to move the heat where it’s needed. The latter decision is usually more important and should be made first.
Forced air heats the fastest
Forced air is the most common type of heating system in North America. It accounts for 62%…