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3 Types of Home Heating: Which Type Do You Need?

furnace burner

Here in Canada, the way you heat your home really matters. This is especially the case right now, since we know that heat plus humidity makes it harder for the coronavirus to survive!

So if you are experiencing heating problems, you don’t want to wait to address them.

We realize it can feel incredibly stressful to have to choose a new heating system during a pandemic – or anytime. After all, you are choosing a new appliance that will potentially eat up a whopping 61 percent of your home energy bill for the next 10 to 20 years.

But sometimes an old heating system won’t wait to be replaced until it is easier or safer to do so. Like it or not, ready or not, you may have to choose a new heater now.

This post offers a simple, straightforward explanation of three popular heating choices and what each can offer you.

Home Heating Option 1: Combustion Furnace

Combustion heat is by far the best known and most common of all the different types of home heating.

The simplest combustion-based home heat source is a fireplace or wood stove. This was the norm for heating the home for many years.

But then along came the home furnace. Today, this option has largely replaced the wood stove and fireplace as the primary combustion-based home heating choices.

Pros:

  • widely available with a wider range of affordable options

  • easier to install than most other options (provided ductwork is present)

  • plenty of fuel options

  • both ducted (central) and non-ducted mini-splits are available

  • can use different fuel types (electricity, propane, natural gas, oil)

  • no risk of water freezing and causing an outage

Cons:

  • incomplete combustion is a known health hazard

  • some people are sensitive to indoor air quality issues with forced air systems

  • will never achieve 100 percent energy efficiency

  • noisier to operate because of the blower motor and accessory components

  • less consistent heat output and distribution

Home Heating Option 2: Heating Boiler

Heating boilers are still popular today for providing both home heating and hot water.

A heating boiler uses heated or vaporized water (steam) to heat the home. It requires a special network of pipes through which to distribute the heated water or steam.

Pros:

  • can pull double duty to heat your home and deliver hot water

  • a non-drafty option that many people prefer

  • excellent for allergy or asthma issues linked to air quality

  • does not require ductwork or air filters

  • long-lasting system (especially when constructed out of cast iron)

  • can use different fuel types (electricity, propane, natural gas, oil)

  • less maintenance is required (no air filter to change)

  • quieter operation overall

Cons:

  • requires a special network of pipes to operate

  • can be more expensive to operate

  • installation and removal can be complicated

  • leaks can be dangerous as well as expensive to repair

  • slower to react to outdoor temperature or indoor thermostat changes

  • heating boilers provide only heat, not cooling

  • an outage can take out your hot water too

Home Heating Option 3: Heat Pump

Heat pumps aren’t a new heating option, but they are only now beginning to become more popular in North America as a dual-purpose (heat/cool) alternative to the combustion furnace.

There are three main types of heat pump systems: air source, water source or ground (geothermal).

Heat pumps can work in ducted or non-ducted spaces.

Pros:

  • no emissions produces cleaner indoor air

  • can do double duty to heat and cool your air

  • the most energy efficient of all heating options (some heat pump systems can generate 400-plus percent efficiency!)

  • some heat pumps can also provide hot water.

  • air source heat pumps are the most economical and are relatively simple to install.

Cons:

  • may not always be able to handle the very low temperatures of winter in some areas

  • very expensive to operate if you use the “emergency” heat option setting

  • electricity is the sole fuel option

  • if you use your heat pump for both heat and hot water and there is an outage, it can take out your hot water too

  • if you don’t want to use the built-in emergency heat, you need to install a backup secondary heat source for very cold days (or bundle up)

  • some water-source and geothermal heat pumps can be expensive and complicated to purchase and install

Choosing Your Home Heating System

If you already have one of these three types of heating systems, you may find it is simpler and more affordable to continue with the same type of system at replacement time.

The reason is that it can get expensive and complicated quickly to install or remove central systems like pipes or ducts!

But if your options are open (such as when you are planning new construction), you may find it more challenging to choose which heat source is best for your needs.

Here, consider these questions:

  • Do you need heating and cooling or just heat?

  • What other options do you have for a backup heat source on very cold days?

  • Does anyone in your family have allergies or asthma?

  • Do you have a preference for blown hot air versus radiant heat?

  • How important is energy efficiency to you?

  • What are your local fuel options and do you want flexibility in the future?

  • Would you like to use your heating system for hot water as well?

Get in Touch

Heating, HVAC, plumbing and electrical have been designated as “essential services” during this time. We are working remotely but are still here to serve you 24/7.

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-549-4616.

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