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Heat, Light & Electric

Home Heating Systems: Today’s Top 3 Heat Source Options

You probably don’t give much thought to the types of heat sources in the basement, but this is what heats your home. What happens if you ever need to replace them? Here’s what you need to know about the three most popular options.



Boilers are used in newer, more efficient, heating systems, but they date back to a time when most people used cast iron radiant steam heat. Boilers heat water, which is pushed through piping to heat the home.

In old systems with steam heat radiators, the water in the system would become super-heated and steam would be shot into the air from a blow-off valve located on the side of the radiator. They produce a high-humidity heat, which often makes the home feel warmer than what the thermostat says.

It also combats the dry air during the winter, eliminating the need for a separate humidifier.

Boiler efficiency varies by age, and can be as low as 50 percent or as high as 90 percent. The downside to newer boilers is the installation price.

But, new radiant heat technology promises to pay off in the long-run, due to its incredible efficiency. Instead of using cast iron radiators, small plastic tubes are run underneath the floor or behind walls. Sometimes, the tubing is installed in the ceiling.

As water moves through the tubing, it gives off its heat, heating the room.



A furnace system is the most common type of heating system in the U.S. because of its inherent reliability and simplicity. It’s also one of the cheaper systems out there. Replacement parts are plentiful, and a qualified technician can help you with the heating installation and maintenance – which isn’t difficult to begin with.

Today’s furnaces can be made to be up to 95 percent efficient, but older furnaces may be less than 60 percent efficient, so efficiency varies a lot by age and manufacturer.

A downside to this type of heating is that it requires ductwork, which is expensive to install, and air conditioning systems must be added separately. Also, because the furnace blower (fan) blows air into the room, it can kick up allergens and dust in the house.

Finally, when oil and gas prices rise, so does the cost of running a furnace, as most furnaces burn natural gas for heat.


Electric Heat Pumps

Heat pumps don’t create heat. Rather, they move it from one location to another. A heat pump works by drawing in heat from ambient air, using a refrigerant to generate the heat.

Because refrigerant boils at a low temperature, ambient air can be used to heat the refrigerant and cause the system to pressurize, creating heat – heat which is then used to heat the home.

This system works well down to ambient temperatures of about 35 to 40 degrees. Beyond that, a supplemental heat source is needed to heat the home. This system works well in milder climates where the temperature rarely gets below freezing.

One major drawback to this type of system is that it costs more to install than other systems and it uses energy during a defrost cycle in the winter months to keep the refrigerant lines from freezing, diverting energy (heat) away from the system, increasing costs.

But, overall, the system is very efficient and often costs less to operate than either a furnace or boiler.

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