What Type of Heating System Is Right for My Indiana Home?
When it comes to home heating and cooling for your Central Indiana residence, there are numerous types of heating systems that can do the job for you. Many homeowners are used to central furnace forced air systems that use natural gas or fuel oil to generate heated air, but today, there are more options for home heating systems than ever! Boiler systems including condensing gas fired boilers, oil fired condensing boilers, and hydronic systems that are steam or hot water systems; air source heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps with indoor air handlers that act as both a heating system and air conditioning systems; radiant floor heating; hybrid dual fuel air conditioner and heating units; mini split heat pumps for heating and air conditioning; electric resistance heating from baseboard heaters; and even electric space heaters and gas fired space heaters. Select a type of home heating system and choose a fuel source that offers the budget you desire for your energy bills, whether that be natural gas, fuel oil, electricity, or even active solar heating.
With so many types of home heating units available, choosing the right heating system for your house can feel like an overwhelming task. The home heating pros of Williams Comfort Air aims to make heating systems a lot less confusing – let our NATE-certified HVAC professionals explain the basics of each type of system, the equipment that makes up various heating and air systems, and what makes them different from one another. We’ll also talk about what you should consider as you choose an option that is best fit for your home, including energy efficiency ratings like annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) and heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), the size of your home, and your household’s heating needs.
Central Furnace Heating Systems
Perhaps the most well-known and widely used heating system in the United States is the furnace. Furnaces are central forced air systems – they are a central heating system that generates heat for the entire home from one centrally located indoor unit, and they are a type of forced air system because they utilize warm air supply ducts and cold air return ducts to distribute heated air throughout the house.
Modern furnaces use a pressurized system and blower equipment to circulate air through the ducts and home whereas older model gravity air furnaces relied on gravity to distribute hot air – if you live in an older residence, you may still have a gravity air furnace installed. If your home still operates a gravity air furnace for heating, it’s advisable to upgrade to a modern central furnace as these heating units are about two times more energy efficient than a gravity air furnace, they take up less space, and they are much more affordable to operate.
Furnaces generate heat by consuming a fuel source, which is typically either natural gas, fuel oil, liquid propane, or electricity. Gas furnaces are the most common type of furnace found in Central Indiana homes. The gas furnace is such a popular choice for a few key reasons. More energy efficient gas models are available compared to those that operate using fuel oil. While electric furnace models can be up to 100% energy efficient to gas furnaces that top out at around 98% AFUE, natural gas is a much cheaper fuel compared to both electricity and heating oil.
We generally categorize central furnace heating systems by their fuel source, but there are many other equipment options to consider amongst these types of home heating units. Sealed combustion air furnaces continuously bring in fresh, outdoor air for use in the combustion of fuel whereas atmospheric furnaces intake air from the home – sealed combustion air furnaces are more energy efficient and inherently safer as the combustion chamber is completely sealed from the home’s air supply. Condensing furnaces have a secondary heat exchanger whereas standard models just have a single metal heat exchanger – the second heat exchanger allows the furnace to operate at a higher energy efficiency level, capturing heat from exhaust gases to generate heated air for the home. Further, single-stage, two-stage, and modulating furnace models are available, providing more options for operating speed which translates into better energy efficiency and comfort.
Heat Pump Systems
Heat pump systems are types of heating systems that transfer heat rather than generate it by burning fuel. There are three main types of heat pumps, classified by the source heat is transferred to and from – air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps (also called geothermal heat pumps), and water source heat pumps. Because they transfer heat from one source to another rather than generate heat burning a fuel source, they are also able to act as an air conditioner and provide air conditioning to a home simply by reversing operation.
All heat pumps operate using electricity. These heating systems are highly efficient, transferring multiple units of heat energy for every unit of electricity consumed. In air conditioning mode, their efficiency is on par with a conventional central air conditioner; as heating systems, their energy efficiency far outranks that of any fuel-burning heating system option.
Air Source Heat Pumps
The air source heat pump is the type of heat pump heating system most commonly installed for home heating and cooling due to their affordability compared to other types of heat pumps. Air source heat pumps are a type of split heating system, meaning they utilize an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The outdoor unit is the heat pump and it is connected to the indoor air handler via refrigerant lines. They are also forced air systems as they distribute conditioned air via ducts, as well as central heating systems as all heating and air conditioning is produced from centrally located equipment. To heat a home, the outdoor unit extracts heat energy from the outdoor air; this heat is then moved to the indoor unit which transfers heat to air then circulates the heated air into the home.
Mini Split Heat Pumps
Some air source heat pumps are also ductless heat pumps, commonly called mini split heat pumps. These heating and cooling systems are different than the central furnace and heat pump forced air systems many are used to, as they operate using an outdoor unit and multiple indoor air handlers. Ductless heat pumps have a small outdoor compressor unit that can support one or a number of air handlers installed throughout the home. Instead of distributing air from a central unit, these systems transfer heat and push conditioned air directly into the space in which they are installed, providing zoned heating and cooling as a natural part of their configuration.
These heat pump systems are very flexible as they can be used in a number of applications, for whole house heating and cooling or to provide heating and cooling to select areas only. Because they do not require ductwork, they can be installed in homes without existing ducts or where new ducts are necessary to efficiently support a new forced air heating system, but cost or space requirements are prohibitive. While mini split systems typically cost more to install than conventional air source heat pump units, they can be installed quickly, offer great energy efficiency, and deliver better indoor air quality without the typical perils associated with ducted heating systems.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Ground source heat pumps use the Earth’s natural energy as a source of heat for home heating, and also uses the Earth as a heat receptacle when operating as an air conditioner for home air conditioning systems. Components of geothermal heating and cooling systems include the geothermal heat pump, the ground loop, and the distribution system; many of these types of heating systems are forced air systems that use ductwork for air distribution, though it is possible to configure them as hydronic systems with radiant heat. They transfer heat from below ground using the ground loop – the fluid inside the loop absorbs heat and carries it up to the heat pump, which is typically installed inside the home, not outside as with air source heat pumps. The indoor heat pump units include air handlers, and these units transfer the heat energy to the home’s air then circulate air throughout the space.
Geothermal heating systems are extremely energy efficient, transferring as much as 4 to 5 units of heat for every unit of electricity consumed in operation. Depending on how the home heating system is configured, geothermal space heating systems can also double as hot water systems, providing the hot water needed for various household uses. They are also highly affordable to operate, thanks to their minimal electrical use and ability to harness natural energy as a free heat source. Compared to an air source heat pump or other types of heating systems, ground source heat pump systems are very expensive to install due to the cost of ground loop installation. Installation of the ground loop does require use of the property, and various configurations can be used to work with the available space.
Boiler Heating Systems
Boiler heating systems are often found in older homes, as boilers were widely used in the past to heat homes using hot water instead of air. Hydronic systems involve the use of a boiler, which burns fuel to either heat water or generate steam. The hot water or steam is sent throughout the house via a network of pipes and radiators, radiant heat baseboard heaters, or radiant floor heating. Boiler systems deliver radiant heating that warms people and things in the area, instead of warming the air as forced air systems do. Without the air movement of forced air systems, boiler heating systems offer better indoor air quality with less particle pollution.
Boilers are most commonly fueled by natural gas, fuel oil, or liquid propane, though in the past coal-powered and wood burning units saw more use than they do today. Condensing gas fired boilers and oil fired condensing boilers are more energy efficient than traditional boiler heating units. Condensing boilers run at lower temperatures so that the units consume less fuel during operation while retaining more heat. The annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) for condensing boilers is 90% or higher, while basic efficiency boilers start at 80% AFUE.
Radiant Floor Heating Systems
Radiant floor home heating systems are typically configured as hydronic systems, using hot water to give off radiant heating for people in rooms of the home, though they can be installed as electric-based heating systems. In hydronic radiant heating systems, a boiler or hot water heater is typically used to heat water, though heat pumps are sometimes chosen. Hot water is piped through tubing laid within the floor of the home, giving off radiant heating to people within each space. Electric radiant heating systems simply use wiring connected to the home’s electrical source – these electric heaters are installed in floors or in walls and are preferable for heating smaller spaces versus hydronic radiant floor systems.
Other Home Heating Systems
While we’ve discussed the main types of home heating systems that are used to heat entire residences, below is information regarding less commonly used residential heating system choices.
- Hybrid or dual fuel heating or heating and air conditioning systems combine two different types of heating units that operate using separate fuel sources. They may be configured as split systems with indoor and outdoor equipment or as a packaged unit, with all equipment housed in one equipment cabinet. Hybrid or dual fuel heating only systems are made up of a gas furnace and electric air source heat pump. Systems that also offer cooling may include a conventional air conditioner and electric air source heat pump, or a conventional air conditioner with a gas furnace. Using a hybrid dual fuel heating system allows you to heat your home using the most energy efficient method per current conditions, and alternate between the two heat sources as conditions change to always heat your living areas with the highest efficiency available.
- To heat only a select area, you may choose to use a space heater. Electric space heaters and gas fired space heaters come in a variety of capacities to fit the heating needs of a space of any size. These electric heaters are typically portable and come in various models providing numerous ways to heat a space. An electric space heater may through radiant heat, convection, or other methods. Gas fired space heaters are meant for heating larger areas. They can burn natural gas, kerosene, or liquid propane, and can be either vented or unvented. Vented gas space heaters exhaust combustion byproducts out of the home using a small flue – because of their installation needs and capacity, these heaters are often left in one space. Unvented gas fired heaters are cheaper and more portable as they don’t require a flue – they exhaust any combustion byproducts into the living area, thus are not legal to install in sleeping areas.
- Pellet stoves are a popular modern alternative to the wood burning stoves that have long been used to heat homes. This home heating system is cleaner to operate than wood burning alternatives, offering better indoor air quality for users. Instead of burning lumber, pellets made of renewable resources are used to generate heat. Pellet stoves are available in a range of capacities, so options are available to provide enough warm air for one small area to an entire home.
Get Help Finding the Right Home Heating System
It can be difficult to find the right home heating system for your dwelling amidst the many available choices. Don’t risk your comfort on guesses – get the help and guidance of Williams Comfort Air’s heating system professionals as you shop new heating units! Contact us today to learn more.