Types of Home Heating Systems

  • 01 of 07

    Types of Home Heating Systems - Overview

    radiator valve
    Various Types of Home Heating Systems. © Home-Cost.com 2007

    Your home may have one of several types of heating systems. They can range from blowing hot air through ductwork to piping hot water through your floor.

    Whatever type of heating system you have, it will have advantages and disadvantages. So it's worth a quick review of the most popular types of home heating systems, how they work, and their pros and cons.

    Let's review the following systems:

    • Forced Air
    • Radiant Heat
    • Hydronic (Hot Water Baseboard)
    • Steam Radiant
    • Geothermal
    Continue to 2 of 7 below.
  • 02 of 07

    Forced Air Heating and Cooling System

    HVAC vent
    BanksPhotos/Getty Images

    Forced Air System

    This system is by far the most common type of home heating and central air conditioning system.


    Fuel Sources

    Furnaces may heat air using various fuel sources such as natural gas, propane, oil or electricity


    • Only distribution method that can used for cooling
    • Air may be filtered
    • Air may be humidified
    • Air may be dehumidified
    • Inexpensive
    • Furnace can attain highest AFUE


    • Requires ductwork and takes space in walls
    • Furnace fan can often be heard
    • Moving air can distribute allergens
    • Air requires filtration and regular maintenance.
    Continue to 3 of 7 below.
  • 03 of 07

    Radiant Heat

    Warm water floor,pouring concrete floor
    elenaleonova / Getty Images

    Radiant Heating System

    This system is known to provide the most natural and comfortable heat in a home. It can come in a number of forms, from a pot belly stove to in-floor hot water tubing. It works through the process of radiation or direct transfer of heat from a hot to a cold surface.


    • Most commonly provided via hot water tubing embedded in the floor or directly below the floor surface
    • Radiant panels may be used in ceilings
    • Heating stoves

    Fuel Sources

    • In-floor systems use hot water...MORE heated by a boiler
    • Boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity
    • Heating stoves may use wood or coal


    • Comfortable, even heat
    • Boilers can be energy efficient


    • Slow heating up cycle since surrounding materials must warm
    • Expensive installed cost
    • Difficult access to hidden piping if maintenance problems emerge.
    • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.
    Continue to 4 of 7 below.
  • 04 of 07

    Hydronic (Hot Water Baseboard)

    Baseboard heater
    Thinkstock Images / Getty Images

    Hot Water Baseboard System

    Similar to radiant heat, this system uses hot water heated by a boiler to heat a space by a combination of radiation and convection.


    • Hot water heated by boiler and piped to "fin-tube" baseboard units mounted along walls. The fins increase the surface area of heat dissipation making the unit more efficient.
    • Air is distributed by convection as air rises and is heated by the baseboard unit.

    Fuel Sources

    • Boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or...MORE electricity


    • Energy efficient
    • Quiet
    • Close temperature control


    • Baseboard radiation / convection units must remain unobstructed and can provide challenges in furniture placement and drape design.
    • Slow temperature increase.
    • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.
    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Steam Radiant

    David De Lossy / Getty Images

    Steam Radiant Heating System

    Steam radiators are nostalgic and not often used today. They are characterized by cast iron upright radiators radiating heat with steam.

    Steam systems come in two varieties, one-pipe and two-pipe systems. With one-pipe systems the water and steam travel in the same pipe but in opposite directions. In two-pipe systems, steam flows in one pipe and water condensate returns in another set of pipes.


    • Heat is distributed with steam piping and radiator units

    Fuel...MORE Sources

    • Steam boiler may be fueled by natural gas, propane, oil or electricity


    • Efficient and warms spaces quickly
    • Radiant heat is comfortable
    • Old hot water system radiators can now be replaced with smaller convection units or vertical wall panel radiators


    • Radiators can be unsightly
    • Radiator locations may limit furniture placement and window coverings
    • Air conditioning requires a separate ductwork distribution and cooling system.
    Continue to 6 of 7 below.
  • 06 of 07


    Boiler unit
    Peter Dazeley/Getty Images


    A boiler is the heating plant used to create hot water or steam for hydronic baseboard, radiant heat or steam radiator heating systems. Boilers can use a variety of fuels including natural gas, propane, oil or electricity.

    Steam boilers are more complex than hot water boilers and have special gauge glass, pressure gauges, blow off valves and automatic feeds.

    Hot water boilers can be small, compact, energy efficient and low maintenance.

    Continue to 7 of 7 below.
  • 07 of 07


    geothermal ground loop
    Ground Loop Geothermal Heat Pump. © US Dept of Energy


    The newest home heating (and cooling) technology is called a Geothermal Heat Pump (GHP). Heat pumps work like a refrigerator that can run in reverse. Heat is taken from one source and deposited in another location. With ground loop geothermal systems, heat is taken from or deposited to the earth by use of a ground loop pipe.

    The EPA states that a Geothermal Heat Pump can save 30 to 70 percent on home heating and 20 to 50 percent on home cooling costs over conventional systems. But these...MORE systems are not cheap.

    An excellent overview of Geothermal Heat Pumps including cost, manufacturers, and details on this technology can be found at Toolbase.org Geothermal Heat Pumps.