What to Look For When Buying a Residential Heating System
Choosing the home comfort system that’s right for you, your home, and your family is no small task. And certainly not one to be taken lightly. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as the age of your home, its overall energy efficiency, location, the size and layout of your home, and even your lifestyle. Do you want an integrated system that addresses all your heating, cooling and air quality needs in one? Or, are you simply replacing or adding one system or another? Obviously, budgetary constraints are important too.
What are the tradeoffs between up-front equipment and installation costs versus energy costs over the life of the system? Will spending a little extra now save you a bundle over time? How will your choice affect the resale value of your home? What can you expect in terms of guarantees, warranties and ongoing service?
New Construction or Remodel
If you’re building a new home or undertaking a major residential remodel, look to have a system custom designed to integrate heating, cooling and indoor air quality in one. The architect and engineer on your project should give you a wide range of options and explain the pluses and minuses of each. The relative economy of forced air (gas and oil furnaces) versus radiant heat (electrical and hot water systems) may vary with energy costs.
Conversion may be an option, such as from heating oil to natural gas, but the costs may or may not be justified by the savings over time.
While the heating systems of today are more efficient and reliable than ever before, heating is still a major expense in most homes. Here in the Mid-Hudson area, where we experience more frequent and severe cold weather, we may spend up to two-thirds of our energy budget on heating alone. The cost itself illustrates the importance of understanding what kind of system will provide your family with affordable comfort.
The different types of heating systems to choose from are:
Gas and Oil
These types of furnaces provide your home with even heat by circulating it throughout your home through ducts. This circulating system is also known as forced air.
When purchasing these kinds of heating systems, be sure to request “sealed combustion.” These specific types of furnaces use outside air to burn the fuel. Not only does this increase energy efficiency, but it also reduces the chance of introducing dangerous combustion gasses into your home.
A boiler usually heats your home by circulating heated steam or water through a series of pipes and a baseboard or radiator-type heat exchanger. Unlike a forced air furnace, a boiler does not circulate air through the house, which might make the air inside the home feel stuffier. There are both gas boilers and oil boilers typically used in a home.
Where vaulted ceilings are involved, radiant floor heat is more efficient and provides a warmer and more comfortable area than furnace (forced air) heat. Instead of rising, the heat remains on the floor where it can be felt underneath all kinds of floor cover including: stone, wood, tile or carpet.
Heat pumps are much more reliable than they were 10 years ago. Electric heat pumps are an energy-efficient way of heating (and cooling) your home. In places where gas is unavailable or electricity makes the most economic sense, heat pumps are your best option.
Electric resistance heating, typically found in the form of baseboard heaters, electric wall heaters, electric radiant heat, electric space heaters, electric furnaces, or electric thermal storage systems is often used in multi-family dwellings, like apartment houses. The unit has an electric heating element enclosed in metal piping. The heating unit warms air, which rises to the top of the room while cooler air in the room is drawn into the bottom of the heater. Each unit has its own thermostat, which permits different temperatures in each room. Electric heat is often more expensive than heat produced by combustion appliances like oil, propane, and natural gas furnaces.
The cost of an electric resistance heating system may force you to switch to either a gas, oil, or heat pump system. If you already have a gas, oil, or heat pump system you may want to switch based on the system’s efficiency and what measures could be taken to improve it. However, because the pipes and storage tank are already in place, you will probably want to continue using your gas or oil heating system.
In cold climates, it is a wise decision to invest in an extremely efficient heating system (about 95%). Your budget will also help you determine which system makes the most sense for you.
The cost of a new heating system could cost several thousand dollars. In considering what system is right for your needs, you need to decide on a type of fuel, a balance cost, a reliable contractor, and a sufficient warranty. It may be a good idea to ask a reputable contractor to evaluate your heating and cooling needs, especially if your system is more than 10 years old.
To help you make the best decision regarding what kind of heating system (model, brand name, heating capacity, and efficiency) you should invest in, check out The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings. This guide comes complete with charts that allow you to calculate economical savings and energy efficiency that will accompany various systems.