What are my heating system choices?

By February 24, 2015March 16th, 2015Blog
Great homes need a great heating system

What are my heating system choices? Depending on your particular needs, there are eating system choices for new home construction or remodeling upgrades that you may have yet to consider. In the Eastern part of the U.S., there are all sorts of choices, and based on your preferences, and the age of your home, the limits are nearly endless.

An Overview

I’m sure you are familiar with many of the different heating systems, but some may be new to you, or something you have not considered. Here’s a list of the various heating systems typically found in this part of the country. Not familiar with the terminology? Don’t worry, we’re happy to explain.

  • Forced air
  • Radiant heat
  • Hydronic
  • Geothermal

Forced Air – This is perhaps the most common of heating systems for residential construction within the past 50 years. Heated air is pumped by electric fan systems throughout a portion of, or an entire structure. Ductwork is required, which is usually constructed within the walls, floors and ceilings of structures, purely for aesthetics. With a central furnace, ducts travel to different sections of the building to supply the forced air as heat. This central heating system is known as such due to the central location of the heat source. The original forced air systems have evolved from very inefficient systems to ultra-efficient in the use of energy. New central heating systems are measured in efficiency by SEER1 rating.

“In the U.S., the SEER is the ratio of cooling in British thermal unit (BTU) to the energy consumed in watt-hours.”

Forced air systems have long used a variety of fuel sources, including electricity, fuel oil, natural gas and propane. Early use of central heating systems of forced air were updated to include air filter systems, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, zone thermostats, timers, air quality sensors and a variety of other improvements over the decades.

There are disadvantages to the forced air systems, which are the need for routine maintenance with regard to filter changes, removal of mineral deposits in the humidifier and dehumidifier systems, motor maintenance and heating coils. Another disadvantage many people feel is the inconsistent temperatures they produce, as there must be a degree range of separation for the unit to function. The internal temperature of a zone must be set a few degrees from the desired temperature in order for the system to start, and when it reaches the desired temperature, shuts off. This on/off, on/off is not perfect, but is the most widely used system of temperature control.

The advantages of forced air systems are that they can be used for heating and cooling, making it efficient, convenient and easily convertible from one season to another.

Radiant Heat – By far the most comfortable form of heating a home, radiant heat derives its name by the use of heat emanating , or radiating from a localized source. The heat is constant without variation as long as the system is functioning properly. These could be the old-fashioned iron radiators, baseboard heaters, floor coils and tubes. This form of heating can be produced with natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or electricity.

Electric baseboard heaters produce an even, radiant heat, and can be temporary or permanently mounted by room, or linked together throughout the entire home. Based on locale, this may be one of the most expensive forms of radiant heat due to rising utility costs.

Radiant Floor Heat – Often used as a heating system for smaller spaces like a kitchen or bath, this type of heat is very appealing for its comfortable, stable temperature. Under tile floor surfaces it provides a spa-like feel under bare feet, as in a bathroom. This type of heating system is a great addition to remodeling projects when bath or kitchen flooring is being upgraded. The heat source can be any of the aforementioned, but are typically either low voltage electric or circulated hot water.

Hydronic Heat – Hydronic is the formal name for water source baseboard heating. As shown in Figure 1, the heat source generates hot water and moves it to the area to be heated by circulating the water via a system of pipes or tubes.

hydronic image

These areas can be localized by room, as in the case of floor tube radiant heating, or baseboard heating systems. Water is heated and moved by circulating motors so that the water maintains its relative temperature throughout all areas to be heated.

The advantages of this form of heating system is that the temperature is optimally set and forget. The most natural feeling of temperature control also provides a cleaner heating system, as there is no dust filtering necessary.

Disadvantages to whole-house hydronic heating is its installation costs. Tube or pipe installation into existing structures can be costly in terms of labor, especially if floor joists prohibit ease of installation.

Geothermal – This form of heating is the oldest, yet least understood in the modern era. Since Paleolithic time man has used the natural heat of the Earth to sustain comfortable temperatures as a means of survival. In recent years, geothermal, or Heat Pump systems have grown in popularity, especially in new home construction, as they are efficient, low maintenance and offer consistent temperature control. As you can see by the image below, this system of heat is very low cost to operate, but relatively expensive to install.


When you consider a heating system for your home or building, there are many things to consider beyond cost. Comfort, reliability, carbon footprint, maintenance, and accessibility in case of needed repair. Understanding what the critical needs are will go a long way to determining which heating system type is best suited for your requirements and budget.

I hope this explanation, albeit technical, has been a help. For more specific information on what your specific situation may be most beneficial, we’re happy to provide a no obligation discussion to help you make an informed decision.

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