Different Types of Heating Systems: A Comprehensive Guide

Different Types of Heating Systems: A Comprehensive Guide

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Finding heating systems for homes can be challenging. The most common types are gas furnaces and traditional boilers. However, there are other heating types. Each of these has its advantages, maintenance requirements, and operational costs.

The key point to consider is that the choice of the most suitable type of heating system largely depends on the features of the buildings and geographical locations, since mild and moderate climates differ markedly, especially in cold months.

In this guide, we'll look at the main types of home heating systems to help you make an excellent choice that suits your needs and budget.

Heating System: How It Works

Regardless of the type of heating system, each indoor/outdoor unit works according to the same concept: it generates heat from a fuel source, after which heat transfer occurs, which ensures a comfortable temperature in the indoor space.

The main difference between different systems is the variety of fuel sources and heat distribution methods. The fuel usually is propane, gas, electric current, solar energy, wood, and even geothermal sources (for example, if you use geothermal heat pumps). Air and hot water systems are most often found by distribution medium. Sometimes there could be hybrid systems.

Thus, there are three main components regarding heating types:

  1. Heat source (air distribution systems - furnaces; hot water or steam - central boilers)
  2. Distribution system (air through ducts for furnaces; water through pipes for boilers)
  3. Heat projection (baseboard units for water; radiator systems for steam)

Types of Home Heating Systems

The most common options when it comes to heating system types are:


Boilers and radiant systems are the most traditional. This type has the following method of operation, namely a central boiler circulates heated water or steam through pipes to radiators. Instead of an inducer fan or ducts, the boiler uses a pump. Additionally, some systems can circulate water through plastic pipes in the floor, such as floor radiants. The main controls are thermostats, aquastats, and valves, which are necessary to regulate the circulation and water temperatures.

This heating option is best suited for zoned heating and cooling. The downside is that the boiler may not be enough to maintain a comfortable average air temperature in all rooms when talking about more spacious houses.

The fuel source is most often gas, propane, electricity, or fuel oil. Among the advantages is that this type provides comfortable heat without drying out the air. Among the common disadvantages is that boilers cannot be combined with air conditioning systems.


Forced-air furnaces are among the most popular types of home heating. They have relatively low operating costs and can work on different fuels (gas, electricity, fuel oil, etc).

Fuel is burned inside the chamber, after which the furnaces distribute heated air through vents of air systems. Exhaust gasses are discharged through chimneys to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Modern high-efficiency furnaces have an inducer fan to force the air through, which saves energy.

Among the advantages of furnaces is that air conditioners can use the same ductwork. Also, they provide heating faster (gas and oil). Disadvantages include that they dry out the air and can transfer allergens through the ductwork. In addition, regular maintenance of ductwork should be carried out to avoid the risk of gas and carbon monoxide leaks. Lastly, since furnaces require ductwork installed, it may have higher initial costs if your home does not have it yet, as ductwork is more labor-intensive than pipes.

Radiant Heating

These systems use a boiler to heat water, which is then passed through a system of radiators to heat the space. 

Radiant heating is often found in older buildings, especially in colder climates.

Fuel sources are usually gas, electricity, oil, coal, or wood.

Among the advantages of such a system is that it uses cast iron or copper pipes, which have excellent conductivity and heat retention. In addition, radiant heating does not dry out the air and you can create zone heating.

Among the disadvantages are possible noise and the inability to combine boilers with central air conditioning.

This type of heating also has a subcategory - in-floor radiant system. This mechanism directs water or steam through pipes in the floor or walls of the house. Most often, the pipes pass through a concrete slab, on top of which the floor is laid. To operate such a system and heat the house, you need a central boiler.

The benefits of an in-floor radiant system include warm floors throughout the home, less noise, and constant heat generation.

Disadvantages include slower heating, difficult access, and expensive installation

Hybrid Heating

This is a combination of an electric heat pump and furnace, which has the energy efficiency of the first and the power of the second. Using a hybrid system, the heat pump will work most of the time. However, in case of extreme temperatures, the furnace kicks on. Because you use two systems, the operational load on each is reduced, allowing you to avoid frequent repairs.

The benefits of hybrids include more automated heating, increased efficiency, and constant operation during winter and summer months.

The disadvantages of such units include the fact that they may require regular checks. Also, if you live in mild climates, you don't need to use a hybrid system, since it is best suited for cold weather zones.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are two-way air conditioners. This mechanism works on the following principle: in the summer, the unit moves heat from cool indoors to warm outdoors. In winter, the reverse process occurs.

Although there are different heat pump models, most of them use forced air delivery systems to move air.

There are two most common types of heat pumps:

  1. Air-source heat pumps. In summer, outside air is used as a heat sink, and in winter as a heat source. This type is a cheaper and easier-to-install option.
  2. Ground-source heat pumps. The source of heat is geothermal activity since ground temperatures are more constant throughout the year. This type is more efficient and environmentally friendly but costs more. 

These heat pump types also differ in the installation method. The air version is installed in the same way as a standard central air conditioner. At the same time, the ground-source option requires digging a loop 3-5 feet into the ground. Sometimes geothermal activity can be groundwater, when heat is drawn from a nearby water source.

The advantage of a heat pump is that this system uses electricity to transfer heat rather than generate it, which saves you money on bills. Also, pumps have a positive coefficient of performance because they deliver more energy than they consume. In addition, you can hook up your system to solar panels.

The disadvantages of pumps include their high cost of installation, as well as the fact that such a system is not very suitable for climate zones with extremely cold outdoor temperatures.

Ductless Mini-Split

A mini-splits system is a type of heat pump. This option is ideal for cooling/heating all year round.

The system consists of two units connected using tubing and electrical wiring. Air comes out of the indoor unit.

The peculiarity of this type is the presence of a built-in air handler, so the ductwork is not needed for the functioning.

These mini-splits can be connected to multiple indoor air handlers to provide a comfortable temperature throughout the entire home.

The advantages of this system include no need for ductwork, zone coverage, and low operational costs.

Disadvantages include the higher cost of installation and repair.

Wood-Burning & Pellet Stoves

Pellet or wood-burning stoves are best suited for heating large spaces. You can make them freestanding or fireplace inserts.

The fuel source is wood or pellets made from various organic materials. In addition, modern stoves equipped with a thermostat are more efficient and easier to use. Convection or blowers are used to distribute heated air.

The advantages of stoves include their functioning without the need for electricity and the affordability of a fuel source.

Disadvantages include the need for regular cleaning and the creation of a proper ventilation system to allow gasses to escape safely.

Electric Space Heaters

These electric heaters convert electricity into heat, working on a similar principle to home appliances. However, the main thing to know is that such heaters are expensive to use, despite their relatively low price.

Benefits include the affordability of heaters. The disadvantages include high electricity bills.

Baseboard Heaters

Due to the features of the baseboard design, such systems are a supplementary heat source of heating. There are two main types:

  1. Hot water baseboard heaters. The operating principle is similar to radiant heating. That is, water flows through the pipes to the heating units due to which heating occurs.
  2. Electric baseboard heaters. Here the heat source is electricity instead of water. The mechanism of operation implies that warm air rises into the room, and cold air goes down and heats up.

The benefits of this type of system include energy efficiency, low maintenance, precise temperature control, and durability. Disadvantages include a longer time to heat the space and poor combination with air conditioning.

Factors To Consider When Choosing a Heating System

There are several aspects to keep in mind before purchasing a system:


The cost you'll spend on a heating system depends on a number of factors, including the type of system, your location, and the complexity of installation.

Most often, the approximate cost for different types of systems can be as follows:

  1. Boilers: $3,500-8,000
  2. Furnaces: electric - $1,500-7,000; gas/oil - $4,000-10,000
  3. Radiant heating: $1,500-6000
  4. Hybrid heating: $2,500-10,000
  5. Heat pumps: air - $4,000-10,000; geothermal - $4,500-25,000
  6. Solar heating: $18,000-40,000

Cold-Climate Efficiency

It is important to consider your climate zone. If you live in an area with a cold climate and low temperatures, then not every system will be able to provide you with the necessary efficiency to heat your home evenly and maintain a comfortable temperature inside.

For areas with cold climates, it is best to choose hybrid systems. For areas with milder climates, you may want to rely on other factors when choosing the right system.

Energy Efficiency Ratings

Each system has its efficiency ratings. Typically, the lower the cost, the lower the efficiency. Therefore, the best solution would be to purchase a system that primarily suits your financial capabilities. However, you should not save too much, since a high-quality and durable system is more cost-effective in the long term.

Your Home 

Other important factors to consider before buying are:

  1. Size of your home
  2. Layout features
  3. House insulation level

Contact Airmaker HVAC Inc. for a heating system today. Enjoy fast service, the best prices, and professional assistance for your needs!


What heating system is the most efficient?

The best solution in terms of efficiency is a geothermal heat pump. However, this type of system has a high upfront cost compared to other options.

What is the best choice for a house?

Depends on the features of your climate and home. So, for cold climates, it is best to choose gas furnaces. For moderate climates, heat pumps are an excellent solution. Also, if you have ductwork in your house, it is worth choosing forced-air systems.

What is the most popular type of system?

There are 4 types of heating systems, which are the most popular: furnaces, heat pumps, boilers, and space heaters.

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