Common heating systems compared

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With spring approaching, many people are considering dipping their toes back into the housing market. There’s a lot of houses out there to choose from at the moment, and it seems like I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about heating systems: What are the different kinds? What’s the best one? How do I compare them?

So for all of you house hunters, here’s an overview of some of the most common types of heating systems, along with a few of the pros and cons.

Zonal heating

Zonal heating systems are set up to heat specific zones of the house, as opposed to the entire house at once. A zone may be an individual room, or it may be a group of rooms. Thermostats control only the heater or heaters that make up each individual zone.

Common types of zonal heating systems include electric wall heaters, electric baseboard heaters, electric or gas fireplaces, ceiling cable heat, and radiant floor heat.

Electric wall heaters and baseboard heaters are less expensive to install than a central heating system, and don’t have a duct system to maintain. On the downside, they limit furniture placement in the room. Also, they tend to burn dust on the elements inside the heaters, creating dirty spots on the wall around them over time.

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Radiant ceiling cable is an outdated and inefficient system, with a lot of heat loss into the attic.

Radiant floor heat creates a very nice warm floor underfoot, and does a nice job of maintaining an even temperature in the room. Radiant floor heat can be expensive to install, and works best with floor coverings such as tile.

If you tend to stay in only one part of the house at a time, zonal heating allows you to maintain different temperature settings in different areas. Done right, and for the right type of person, this can result in some energy savings. But if you move around the house a lot, or if you forget to set back the different zones to different temperatures at different times of the day, you’ll quickly lose those savings.

Two other potential downsides to zonal heating systems are that they do not have the ability to add air conditioning, and, depending on the market you’re in, they may detract from resale value.

Central heating

A central heating system utilizes both a single furnace that creates heated air and a fan and duct system to distribute that heated air throughout the house.

Depending on the type of furnace, the heat is created through the burning of natural gas, propane, fuel oil or wood, or by passing an electrical current through a series of elements. Some types of radiant floor systems would be considered central heating systems as well. …CONTINUED