Home Comfort: Know The 5 Main Types of Heat Distribution Systems

Whether you’re a seasoned homeowner or you’re buying your first home, it pays to understand how you pay for your heating and cooling needs. If you’re not familiar with the 5 main types of heat distribution systems, here’s a basic primer for you.

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Forced Hot Air

Forced hot air is the most common type of heating system on the market – it dominates up north where reliable heat is at a premium in the winter months. While reliable, it’s not efficient.

Forced hot air relies on a furnace system to heat air, then move it through ductwork. A cold air return system draws air back into the system to be heated again and then redistributed into the living areas.

Because this system typically runs on fossil fuels, it can be expensive to run, especially when the price of natural gas. Furnaces are generally between 59 and 98 percent efficient, depending on how old they are and how well maintained they were during their useful life.

Sometimes, an old forced hot air system can be made into a very efficient one if you’re willing to hire a professional to install a HVAC system for you that’s higher efficiency than the one you currently have.

Otherwise, you need to think about another type of heating system.

Steam Radiant Heat

Steam radiant heat is an older type of heating system that uses cast iron radiators. These heating units are big, bulky, but they effectively heat a room with moist heat. They’re great for northern climates which tend to be dry during the wintertime.

Steam radiators also make the home feel warmer than it really is, due to the high humidity heat generated.

They rely on boilers, which pump super-heated water through the radiator. Efficiency of such units varies between 50 and 90 percent, with a total life expectancy on the boiler ranging between 15 and 30 years, depending on how well it is maintained.

Electric and Hot Water Baseboard

Electric baseboard heat was popular years ago, due to its high-efficiency. These systems can be between 95 and 100 percent efficient, and last 20+ years. However, the fuel (electricity) can be expensive.

Electric coils inside the radiator heat up (called “electric resistance heating”), which converts nearly 100 percent of the energy in the electric current to heat.

Radiant Heating

New radiant heat systems dispense with cast iron radiators and instead utilize high-efficiency plastic

tubing underneath the floor, behind walls, or in the ceiling. Like older radiant heat systems, hot water is pumped through the system to heat the home.

Unlike the old steam heating system, however, this system gradually heats a room, is a “closed system” that is relatively dry (low humidity) and is much more efficient to run and maintain than steam radiant heating systems.

Radiant heating also eliminates the need for ductwork, but that can also be a drawback, since you would have to install separate ductwork for air conditioning in the summer.


 

Carla Johnstone is a home comfort contractor. She likes to share what she has learned by posting online. You can find her articles on many home improvement websites.

 

 

Heather

I'm a coffee addict wife, "work at home mom", mother to two boys, blogging about the latest life hacks, recipes, DIY Projects and crazy "momisodes". --- Grab a cup of coffee and stay awhile!

15 thoughts on “Home Comfort: Know The 5 Main Types of Heat Distribution Systems

  • August 16, 2015 at 9:53 pm
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    Thanks for highlighting the different types of heat! We have ducted evap heating, but wish we could have heated floorboards here!

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  • August 17, 2015 at 2:09 am
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    This is great information. We use radiant heating. You are right about having to install a separate ductwork for air conditioning.

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  • August 17, 2015 at 4:09 am
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    This is a great tutorial. We definitely have forced air – dries our house out like crazy in the winter!

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  • August 17, 2015 at 6:58 am
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    What an informative article. These are such important factors to consider when looking for a home. We have forced air…a big improvement from radiator heating we had in a former apartment!

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  • August 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm
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    Whoa! I had no idea there were so many different systems. Thanks for sharing – this is great to know when we’re looking for a new home.

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  • August 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm
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    We have forced air but we looked at homes with several of the other types mentioned here. Great info to know about when house hunting!

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  • August 17, 2015 at 6:46 pm
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    We have forced air but it’s not very efficient. We’ll be miserable and hot upstairs but still cold downstairs. There’s no in between. Like you said, I definitely need to hire a professional.

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  • August 17, 2015 at 7:47 pm
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    Ahhhh we have forced heat and it’s not that bad… It definitely dries your skin out but as long as you have lotion you will be fine 😉

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  • August 17, 2015 at 9:55 pm
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    This is great information! I know it can be crazy to keep it all straight, especially if you are looking for a house to buy.

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  • August 18, 2015 at 3:15 am
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    I have no clue what’s what when it comes to different types heat for my home, so long as it does it’s job when needed I never gave it to cents so thanks for this informative post

    Reply
  • August 18, 2015 at 4:27 am
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    We have a woodstove. It’s extremely inexpensive and there is no worry of losing heat if the power goes out, which it does a lot here when we get a good snowstorm.

    Reply
  • August 18, 2015 at 10:45 am
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    Gosh, I didn’t know about these! In the UK we have mostly gas, oil or electric central heating! Under floor heating is fab though. Kaz

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  • August 18, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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    We just use central air and heating which has always been a convenience for us. The only thing I hate is that sometimes upstairs is so hot, and down stairs is freezing! My parents have the cute little heater fireplace they use.

    Reply
  • August 19, 2015 at 12:03 pm
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    Radiant heat is something I have not really heard to much about but it sounds like something that would be amazing. I have the forced hot air heat which can be very expensive in the winter month here in Michigan. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply

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