Keeping your home warm throughout the winter months is incredibly important in creating a safe, comfortable environment for you and your family. However, there are many types of home heating systems available and, unless you are experienced in HVAC, it can be difficult to know which option is the best heating system for your house (and budget!).
And, making the wrong choice can add up to big bucks.
Heating your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home, typically making up about 42% of your utility bill. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Energy reported home heating costs are expected to rise anywhere between 6-18% in the 2020 winter season. And, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Colorado households consume 15% more BTUs (British Thermal Units) than the national average. So, choosing an energy efficient heating system or ensuring proper maintenance of your current home heating system will be critically important in controlling your home heating costs this winter.
Main Types of Home Heating Systems
There are three core types of home heating systems to choose from: central heating, direct heat, and state of the art heating systems.
The majority of households in the U.S. are heated with either furnaces or boilers. Furnaces work by heating air and distributing it throughout the house using air ducts. This type of heating system is called a ducted warm-air or forced warm-air distribution system. It can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or fuel oil. In the U.S., furnace efficiency is regulated by minimum AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). AFUE estimates seasonal efficiency by averaging peak and part-load situations. AFUE is like your car mileage between fill-ups, including both highway driving and stop-and-go traffic. The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace or boiler. And if your furnace’s AFUE is low, it can cost you. In fact, Colorado State University recently found that older furnaces and boilers can have efficiencies as low as 56%, while new units can achieve efficiencies of almost 99%. At Mercury Heat and Air Conditioning, we offer free furnace inspections and air filter replacements to help you ensure optimal performance year-round.
Boilers & Radiators
Boilers heat spaces by heating water and either using hot water or steam for heating. With steam boilers, steam is distributed via pipes to steam radiators that distribute heat to specific rooms. With hot water boilers, hot water is distributed via baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems, or can heat air via a coil. Steam radiators work by boiling water to create steam. That steam then travels up a set of pipes into the radiator, which in turn, heats up the room via radiation and convection. Steam boilers are much less common in homes today and operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers, making them inherently less efficient. However, high-efficiency versions of all types of furnaces and boilers are currently available.
A great way to describe a heat pump is like a “two-way air conditioner”—during the summer, an air conditioner works by moving heat from the cooler indoors to the warmer outside. In winter, the heat pump reverses this by capturing heat from the cold outdoors with the help of an electrical system and delivering that heat to the inside of the home. Almost all heat pumps use forced warm-air delivery systems to move heated air throughout the house. There are two common types of heat pumps: air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps. Air-source heat pumps use the outside air as the heat source in winter and heat sink in summer.
Ground-source (also called geothermal, GeoExchange, or GX) heat pumps capture their heat from underground, where temperatures are more constant year-round. Air-source heat pumps are far more common than ground-source heat pumps because they are cheaper and easier to install. However, ground-source heat pumps are significantly more energy-efficient, and are frequently chosen among homeowners who plan to live in the same house for a long period of time or have a strong desire to live more sustainably. Let our team of HVAC experts help you determine whether a heat pump makes sense in your home.
Gas-Fired Space Heaters
Gas heaters are best for use in the garage or in large outdoor spaces that are well-ventilated.
These units can provide decent heating performance, particularly for cabins and other buildings where large temperature differences between bedrooms and main rooms are acceptable. To evenly heat an entire home, another heating system should be considered. Gas-fired space heaters use one of two types of gas: propane or natural gas. These types of heaters come in two forms – vented (for indoor use) and unvented (for outdoor use only). It’s essential for health that unvented gas heaters are not used indoors, as they can reduce the amount of oxygen in the room and can emit harmful gasses in an enclosed space.
Electric Space Heaters
Portable or plug-in electric heaters are inexpensive to buy, but costly to use. These resistive heaters include “oil-filled” and “quartz-infrared” heaters and convert electric current from the wall socket directly into heat, like a toaster or a clothes iron. WIth electric space heaters, it takes a lot of electricity to deliver the same amount of useful heat that natural gas or oil can provide onsite. Apart from poor energy efficiency, safety is the biggest concern when using portable electric space heaters as they can start a home fire if they overheat or continues to run after falling over. Look for tip-over switches that will automatically shut the heater off if it falls over and a protective grill or seal covering the electric heating elements.
Wood-Burning and Pellet Stoves
Wood heating can be a very sensible heating approach in rural areas if you enjoy stacking wood and stoking the stove or furnace. The cost of wood is generally much lower than gas, oil, or electricity. And if you cut your own wood, the overall savings can be huge. Pollutants from wood burning have historically been a problem in some parts of the country, causing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement regulations that govern pollution emissions from wood stoves. As a result, new models are quite clean-burning. Pellet stoves offer a number of advantages over wood stoves as they emit fewer pollutants, are more convenient to operate, easier to control, and provide better indoor air quality. When choosing a wood or pellet-burning stove appliance, it’s important to pick one that’s properly sized for the space to be heated. When an appliance is too big, people tend to burn fires at a low smolder to avoid overheating, which results in wasted fuel and is one of the biggest causes of air pollution. However, on the flip side, an undersized unit will not provide sufficient heat.
While the warm glow of gas and wood burning fireplaces may offer a beautiful aesthetic to your room decor (or a sneaky way to dispose of secret documents!), they are typically not an effective heat source.
Did you know? The typical fireplace installation relies on air drawn from the room into the fireplace for combustion and dilution, resulting in the fireplace generally LOSING more heat than it provides!
In installations where the fireplace has a tight-sealing glass door, a source of outside air, and a good chimney damper, it may potentially serve as a decent heat source.
State of the Art Home Heating Systems
Radiant Floor Heating
Radiant floor heat describes heating systems that distribute heat within a home by circulating warm water in tubes underneath the floor. This warms the floor, which then warms the people in the room. The upside? It is highly controllable and considered to be extremely efficient by its advocates. However, the downside is that it can be expensive to install and requires a very experienced system designer and installer to ensure effective operation. Radiant floor heating may also limit your available carpet choices and other floor finishes as you don’t want to cover or inhibit your heat source.
Ductless, Mini-Split, Multi-Split
Traditional central heating is not always the best fit for every home. If you have an older home, installing a central heating system may not be possible due to lack of space for ductwork. Fortunately, there’s a popular, flexible solution: ductless heating units, known as ductless mini split or multi-split heating systems. Mini-splits or multi-splits don’t require full-sized air ducts to work. Conventional central heating systems generate warm air at a single point and distribute it via large ducts throughout the home. However, a “ductless” mini split system distributes heat through refrigerant lines instead of water or air and includes an individual operating unit in each room. Mini-split units can be very appealing for homeowners as they are dual-purpose and can distribute heat in the winter and cool air in the warmer months. Having mini-split units in each room allows you to better control the temperature of each room in your home, so rooms that aren’t used regularly can be turned off to save energy. This room-by-room control makes ductless mini splits a great option for lowering energy costs more flexibly than with a whole-home central heating or air conditioning system.
Combined heat and power (CHP)
Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration for houses is a relatively newer method of home heating that is not widely available yet but is gaining popularity due to how incredibly efficient it is. CHP heating systems use a small generator to meet some of the electric demand of a home, and then recover the wasted heat (typically more than 70% of the heating value of the fuel) to heat the house and make hot water. They can provide incredible cost-savings in homes that otherwise would have high heating costs due to the insulation challenges associated with the home material, such as solid stone or brick homes.
About Mercury Heat and Air Conditioning
Mercury Heat and Air Conditioning is proud to serve as one of the most trusted and highly rated HVAC companies in Denver. That’s because we understand the meaning of family and keeping yours safe. As a fourth-generation family owned business run by Colorado native Patrick Guiry of Guiry’s Paints, the importance of protecting family is core to our business and guides everything we do. Mercury Heat and Air Conditioning was created to meet the demand for the same level of high quality service in home and light commercial heating and air conditioning in the Denver metro area. Our friendly team of HVAC experts goes above and beyond to ensure you receive the solutions you need at the prices that fit your budget, because that’s what we’d do for our own family.