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Five Types of Heating Systems Found in Homes

Serving Families Throughout Clackamas
A heating radiator

Everyone needs heat to stay warm in their home. In fact, we’ve depended on in-home heating for almost as long as we’ve walked the face of the planet. In ancient days, heating was almost exclusively the job of fire burning in a hearth somewhere in the home, but today there are loads of different ways that are safer, more effective, and far easier than constantly tending to an open flame.

Different Types of Heaters for Homes

Odds are, you probably depend on one of these types of modern heating equipment to keep your home warm and comfortable. If the time for replacement is drawing close, then you may also be considering switching to a different type of heating to save money or simply heat your home more evenly. Here are five common types of heating equipment and some facts about each of them that help you understand them better and choose the right one for your needs.

1. Furnaces

Remember how we talked about ancient heating consisting of a fire that burned bright pretty much constantly? Furnaces are the modern-day evolution of this form of heating. Rather than forcing wood into a fireplace for heat, modern furnaces self-feed themselves with the fuel they need, automatically ignite to provide warmth, and even pump the heat throughout your home using a combination of a blower fan, heat exchangers, and efficient duct systems.

Furnaces today usually rely on natural gas because natural gas can produce far more heat from a small amount of fuel. Likewise, natural gas can be pumped into your heater limitlessly through gas lines that are safe and reliable. No more worrying about constantly fetching wood to fuel your flame. However, some furnaces also still depend on heating oil, but these generally aren’t common outside the New England area of the country.

2. Boilers & Hydronic Heating

Boilers use the remarkable heat containment power of water to transport heat throughout your home. Water can actually absorb a ton of heat and energy while remaining in a liquid state, and thus it’s actually quite effective at bringing even and reliable heat all throughout your home. You can think of a boiler sort of like a tankless water heater—your main unit uses a fuel source (usually gas) to bring water up to an extremely high temperature before sending it through a specialized series of plumbing lines. Those lines lead the hot water to radiative heating fixtures like a hydronic floor heater or radiators positioned in rooms all over your home. These devices radiate the heat out into the rooms, keeping you comfortable. The water that cools off through this process is then sent back to your boiler where it reheats, and the process starts over.

Boilers are particularly common in older buildings, where walls and floors are often too thin to contain full-size heating ducts. Because these systems generally only rely on a small plumbing line, they can be run through even tight spaces and still provide an incredibly effective heat source. They’re also incredibly easy to zone, giving you even greater flexibility with your temperature control.

3. Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are quickly becoming the most popular type of heating because of their incredible energy efficiency. Unlike most other types of heating that rely on some sort of fuel source to produce heat, these systems don’t actually produce any heat at all. Instead, they capture heat from the air outside, concentrate it, and then pump it indoors to where you want it in order to keep your home comfortable. Think of it sort of like an air conditioner, only in reverse.

Heat pumps are incredibly popular in temperate to warm climates because these places generally don’t have winters that ever get cold enough to the point where their effectiveness is diminished. However, that does bring up the big weakness of this type of heating system: because they absorb heat from outside, they can only do effectively down to certain temperatures. While these temperatures are generally well below freezing, almost all systems will have to go through defrosting cycles periodically, and that could lead to stretches where the heat stops.

4. Electric Radiative Heating

Electric radiative heating is extremely popular in small and particularly older spaces like apartments and townhomes. These types of heaters use electric heating elements that glow red-hot when a current is pushed through them. This heat then warms the air throughout your home and keeps you comfortable. It’s remarkably simple, and in many cases, highly effective. While these also don’t rely on a fossil fuel source for heat, they simply aren’t as efficient as many other heating methods and they’re dwindling in popularity as a result. Likewise, the fact that they rely on a red-hot heating element can make them a real risk for either fires or burn injuries.

5. Direct Vent Heating

Much the same way a heat pump is the heating alternative to air conditioning, direct-vent heating is the alternative to mini-split air conditioning systems. These types of heaters are small, wall-mounted, and directly vent the heat they produce into your home while using outdoor air to do so. This leads to better energy efficiency, safer disposal of exhaust, and effective heating all throughout your home. Also, not dissimilar to mini-split cooling, these systems also offer the ability to zone your heating system effectively, giving you better control over your indoor temperature and even saving you more money on energy.

Bonus: Heating Options for Older Homes

Ductless Heating Systems

For many older homes, traditional heating systems with ductwork can be problematic. Aging duct systems often leak conditioned air, wasting energy and leading to uneven heating throughout the house. Here's where ductless heating systems come in, offering a breath of fresh air (and warmth!) for older homes. Ductless systems, also known as mini-split systems, consist of a small outdoor unit and wall-mounted indoor units in each room or area that needs heating. Since they don't rely on ducts, they eliminate energy loss and provide targeted heating, ideal for combating uneven temperatures common in older homes. Installation is minimally invasive compared to traditional systems, minimizing disruption to a home's existing structure. Additionally, ductless systems offer efficient operation, potentially lowering heating costs. 

Updated Fireplaces

Older fireplaces don't have to be relegated to decorative relics. With innovative upgrades, they can be transformed into reliable sources of heat for older homes. Modern fireplace inserts offer a variety of benefits, including:

  • Fuel Choice Freedom: Modern inserts allow a choice between wood-burning, gas, or electric fireplaces, catering to a range of preferences and lifestyles.
  • Reliable Warmth, Even During Outages: Some fireplace inserts boast impressive heating capabilities, providing consistent heat even when the power goes out.
  • Enhanced Efficiency: Modern inserts are designed for optimal heat production, minimizing wasted energy and maximizing warmth from your chosen fuel source, which translates to potential savings on heating bills.
  • Year-Round Appeal: Even if a fireplace isn't used frequently, upgrading it visually can create a stunning focal point.

Do you need a new heating solution? Is your heater acting up on you? Call A-TEMP Heating, Cooling & Electrical at (503) 694-3396 today to request a service appointment.