Everything You Need To Know About a Heating System


Everything You Need To Know About a Heating System

Winter is just around the corner, and it brings the uncomfortable cold with it. As you plan to spend more time inside your house, the value of a good heating system becomes more obvious. Your home is a sanctuary, a safe space against the freezing cold, and you must make sure it stays warm throughout the winter months. So, whether you’re constructing a new house or renovating an old one, you’ve got many options on offer.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about a home heat system – from mechanical basics to specific types and their best use case. If you’re on the lookout for a new heat pump system or a furnace, there’s quite a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in!
A white electric heat pump placed on the backdoor patio outside the house
A white electric heat pump placed on the backdoor patio outside the house

How Does a Home Heating System Work?

All home heating systems work by generating heat and spreading it evenly through every room of your house. There are two basic principles of home heating – air heaters and radiators. Both use a heat source to either heat the air and spread it around the living space or heat metal pipes with boiling water to radiate warmth wherever they pass through.
There are many types of materials used in heat systems – coal, gas, electricity, wood, etc. Fuel and electricity are the most common ones as they’re widely accessible and highly efficient. Air heaters also come in many shapes and forms. AC units, ducts, and fans all work great for both big and small houses.

What Parts Go Into a Heating System?

Every home heat system is made up of three key parts:

  1. Heat Source. A heat source is the first step of every home heating process. It’s a thermal power generator that uses energy materials and alternates them into heat. The heat source is generally placed in the basement or your back garden. The most common types use a heat pump, furnace, or boiler, but there are also some less common alternatives like solar panels.
  2. Distribution System. A complex system of ducts or pipes that spread the heat all over your house.
  3. Control System. Typically, a thermostat controls the temperature at which the heat pump operates. They’re centrally operated units with a display or buttons regulating the degrees and the cooling/heating switch of your system.
There are other parts as well. Air-handling components like fans and air filters regulate the airflow in systems with ductwork. Safety features such as valves, vents, and fuses activate in case of an emergency. You can also include optional parts like expansion tanks, humidifiers, and ductless mini-split units. But for now, let’s focus on the three key parts.

Types of Heating Systems

Now that you know how a heating system works, it’s time to choose the one appropriate for your home. You’ve got many options on offer, each with its own pros and cons, so making the correct choice is crucial to ensure warmth during the whole winter. What separates these systems from one another is that they all use different materials and distribution systems.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a huge hit among new homeowners. As of 2023, roughly 16% of homes use heat pump systems. Unlike traditional systems, pumps take air from the outside and bring it into your home. In summer, they do the opposite – blowing in cold air to cool you as a typical AC unit would.
This versatility is their biggest upside, on top of the ability to efficiently use electricity. Heat pumps also use electricity instead of fuel and do so much more efficiently than electric furnaces.
Pros and Cons

Some of the main advantages of using a heat pump system are:

  • Energy Efficiency. Air-to-air heat pumps use almost half the electricity of other electrical heaters like furnaces. Geothermal ones are even more efficient in warming up your space with very little energy used, if applicable to your living situation.
  • Versatility. The ductwork of a heat pump system can be used to keep your house warm during winter and cool during summer. It makes them much more versatile than radiator units, which can only provide heat. 
  • Environmentally Friendly. These produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to combustion-based heating systems, making them a greener option.
You also have to consider the following downsides:
  • Installment Costs. Purchasing and installing a heat pump system might be more expensive than some traditional heat systems.
  • High Maintenance. Due to having tricky parts like filters and coils, heat pumps require a lot more maintenance over the year.
  • Inefficiency in Extreme Cold. Heat pumps won’t be as effective as fuel-based heating systems in extremely low temperatures. They need at least a moderately cold climate to extract warm air from the outside.
Ideal Homes for Heat Pump Systems
  • Moderate Climates. Due to their inefficiency in extreme colds, heat pump systems are best for houses in areas of moderate climate.
  • All-electric Homes. New homes that run every appliance on electricity will be great as you won’t need to install new gas pipes or coal boilers.
Diagram of a home heat system using a heat pump
Diagram of a home heat system using a heat pump


Furnaces are among the most common and widely used home heating systems in the United States. They’re reliable, efficient, cheap, and easy to run, with professional repair mechanics widely accessible all over the country.
This type of heat system operates on gas or other type of burning fuel like oil. Inside the main chamber, combustion of the fuel produces heat, which is then transferred to a heat exchanger, where it warms the air. A blower fan circulates the heated air through ducts, delivering warmth to your rooms.
Pros and Cons
The pros of using furnaces are the following:
  • Quick Heating. Contrary to heat pumps, furnaces don’t rely on outdoor thermal sources. They burn store-bought fuel and heat your home much faster.
  • Cheap to Run. Gas is relatively affordable, making furnaces very cost-effective and cheap to maintain.
  • Even Warmth. Furnaces use ducted tubes to spread warmth, meaning all your rooms will be evenly heated.
Anything that requires lots of fuel to run has some noticeable drawbacks:
  • Carbon Footprint. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study, furnaces have up to 50% higher carbon footprint compared to heat pumps. Combustion-based heaters emit greenhouse gases, massively contributing to environmental concerns.
    • Take up a Lot of Space. Having a large basement means a lot of storage, but still, furnaces can take up a lot of space in your home. Especially if you have to install ductwork all over the house.
Ideal Homes for Furnace Systems
    • Cold Climates. Places where winter temperatures often go way below the freezing point will be ideal for furnace heating. Their fast and independent heater will warm up your house quickly, even if you leave it turned off for days.
    • Houses with Installed Ducts. Having pre-installed ducts is a huge upside when considering any heating system that operates on circulating air. It can cut installation costs by thousands of dollars.
    • Houses with Cheap Gas Access. Gas prices have been significantly surging over the past few years. If you live in areas like the West Coast, where prices are quite inflated, you might want to reconsider other options.


Unlike other heat systems that rely on force-air technology, boilers use water to heat up your whole house. The boiler, usually placed in your basement, heats up vast amounts of water above its boiling point to produce steam.
Then, the steam is distributed through pipes to radiators, baseboard heaters, or radiant floor systems. These radiators heat together with the water, emitting warmth around the room.

Radiating heating systems are not that popular in the US. The latest research shows that as of last year, only 8 thousand new houses were built using these systems. Their inability to cool down the house in summer badly damaged the reputation of boilers.

Pros and Cons

Although a less common option, there are many reasons to choose a boiler over a heat pump or furnace:

  • Cost-effective. Water takes less energy to heat than air and stays warmer for longer. This makes boilers cheaper to run as they take less fuel to heat your house at the same temperature for the same duration.
    • Better Indoor Air Quality. Radiator heating doesn’t remove moisture from your room as forced air venting does. It is thus more humid and comfortable, unlike furnaces, which blow the air over an open flame.
    • Floor Heating. Only people who have walked over a heated floor know the true advantage of it. Your feet are the main acceptors of cold temperatures. Using floor pipes to heat your home can feel mesmerizing during cold winters.


The big cons that made boilers so unpopular in the US are:
  • High Initial Costs. Because many houses don’t have pre-installed pipes, it can cost you a lot to complete the installation. Additionally, not many HVAC experts specialize in boiler maintenance due to the fact they are so uncommon.
  • No Cooling Option. The main disadvantage of boiler systems is their lack of cooling options. You’ll need to install a separate AC unit to cool down the living space in summer.
Ideal Homes for Boilers
  • Older Houses. Old houses with pre-installed pipes are great for boiler heating as they cover the main con of these systems – installation. 
    • Preference for Floor Heating. Many people have a strong preference for floor heating. If you belong to that group, boilers are the way to go.


Design of a radiator and a heating panel encircled by a drawing of a house

Keeping Your Home Warm

Home heating systems are one of the most important parts of your house, and understanding all there is to know about them can be a real game changer. Picking the best type of heating system can ease up the maintenance work and save you a lot of money in the long run.
Heating systems are an investment you make for decades to come. You must know how to keep them in great shape and be informed of their inner workings. But you’re not alone!

With over 15 years of experience in the field, our main mission at Value HVAC Services is to help you make the best decision for your needs. Wherever you live and whatever the reason you’re looking for a new heating system, don’t hesitate to contact us on our website or email, or feel free to visit us in person. 

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