All of Your Home Heating Options, Explained

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Did you know that heating your home uses more energy and costs more than any other system in your home?

Luckily, home heating appliances have changed a lot in the last decade to become much more energy efficient. There are several different types of home heating and cooling systems that you can use to lower your utility costs.

Different Types of Home Heating Systems

If you’re looking at replacing your home heating system, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of different options. There are a few classic home heating systems in the U.S. These include furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps.


Furnaces are the most common central heating source for most homes. Most furnaces burn fuel to generate warm air, then a blower or a fan is used to circulate the warm air throughout a duct system. The duct system distributes the warm air throughout the house.

Fuel options for furnaces include natural gas, propane, heating oil, and electricity. Like most things, there are some pros and cons to having a furnace heating system in your home.

The upsides of a furnace system:

  • They’re the most common and inexpensive type of heating system.
  • They’re typically easy to maintain and repair.
  • Modern furnace types are designed with energy efficiency in mind.

The downsides of a furnace system:

  • Commonly controlled by one thermostat and cannot be used for zone heating.
  • The fan responsible for circulating air within the furnace system can be loud, although newer models are designed to be quieter.
  • Forced air systems can dry out the house in cold weather. Because it’s already cold outside, there’s very little moisture in the air and a humidifier may be needed to maintain good indoor air quality.

Boilers and Radiant Heaters

Boiler systems are a type of heater used to heat your home with hot water. Most boilers can use natural gas, heating oil, propane, or electricity for fuel. Whichever fuel type your system uses is responsible for heating the water.

Once the water has reached temperature, it travels through a pipe system into radiators dispersed throughout your home. After the heat has transferred to the air, the cool water then travels back to the boiler and the heating cycle starts again.

Most boiler systems use natural gas or oil for fuel. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to heating your home with a boiler system.

The upsides of boilers: 

  • More even heat distribution throughout the house compared to forced air systems.
  • Boilers are more energy-efficient than furnaces.
  • Boiler heat is great for zoned heating when you only want to focus on heating certain areas of the house.
  • Radiant heat is less noisy than forced air heating because it doesn’t rely on a loud fan to circulate.

The downsides of boilers:

  • Your geographical location can limit your fuel options. Natural gas is the least expensive fuel source for boilers. But, depending on where you live, you may only be able to access the more expensive heating oil fuel type.
  • Boiler systems may cost more upfront. While a boiler system may save you money on your utility bills over time, it can cost more to purchase and install.

Heat Pumps

Also known as “two-way air conditioners,” air-exchange heat pumps (the most common type of heat pump) provide warmth by pulling warmth from the outside air and directing it into the house as warm air via ductwork. To cool in the summer, heat pumps are set in reverse to draw hot, humid air from the home and expel it outdoors.

The other type of heat pump is a ground-source (geothermal) heat pump that draws heat from underground and converts it to warm air inside your home and then cools your home by pumping warm, humid indoor air underground.

The upsides of heat pumps:

  • Heat pumps replace your heating system and your air conditioner. This is a major advantage for Alabama homeowners since we have mild winters and hot summers.
  • Heat pumps last longer than air conditioners or furnaces.
  • Heat pumps operate continuously, turning off and on less frequently than furnaces.
  • Like boilers, heat pumps deliver even, steady heat.
  • Because they’re powered by electricity and are much more efficient than the appliances they replace, heat pumps cost less to use year-round.
  • They lower your home’s carbon footprint
  • They reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when they replace a gas-, propane-, or oil-burning furnace or boiler.
  • The federal government is offering new and improved rebates and incentives on heat pumps.

The downsides of heat pumps:

  • Heat pumps cost more upfront

Related Content: 8 Signs You Need a New HVAC System

Best Alternative Home Heating Options

Now that you’ve reviewed the standard home heating systems, let’s look at the best alternative heating options. Different heating systems have their various pros and cons. An alternative heating system can help you supplement your traditional heat source or replace it entirely, depending on your situation. Some common alternate heating sources for homes include woodstoves, floor radiant heating, and solar heating options.


Old-fashioned wood stoves that use wood for fuel were once the go-to heating source for most homes. Today, woodstoves are usually fueled by wood pellets that consist of wood by-products, nut shells, and other organic materials.

Pellet stoves are much easier to install than traditional fireplaces and older woodstoves. If you’re considering this alternative heat source, be sure to choose the correct size to heat your size home. Pellet stoves are available in many different sizes, producing heat at rates between 8,000 and 9,000 BTU (British thermal units) per hour, which is typically enough to heat an entire home.

Radiant Floor Heating

A newer type of radiant heat, under-floor heating plays off the same system boilers use. This heat source uses water to heat your house from the floor up. This heating system may be preferred by those who don’t like the dryness that comes with forced air. This heating system is also considered more efficient than forced air heating, as the heated air isn’t required to flow through ductwork to reach its destination and lends itself well to zone heating.

The one major downside of an under-floor heating system is that to install it, you must rip up any existing flooring and replace it.

Solar Heating 

Solar heating has been around for a long time. There are two types of solar heating: passive and active.

Passive Solar Heat

Using solar gain, also known as heat transfer, passive solar traps energy from the sun in an absorber such as your flooring. Then this heat is slowly released from the absorber over time. To make the most out of passive solar heat, your home should also have up-to-date, energy-efficient insulation, windows, and doors.

Active Solar Heat 

Far less common than passive solar heat, active solar heat is still a viable option for heating your home. This heating system works by using the sun’s rays to warm water or, in some cases, air. Then the warmed water or air is transferred directly to your living area, either by a blower or a radiant system. The storage method for the heated water will vary from home to home, but the basic concept remains the same.

How to Find the Right Home Heating Solution

The best home heating solution for you depends on your home’s existing infrastructure and whether you want to use an alternative heating system to supplement or replace your current one.

While looking at your home heating options it’s a good idea to note models that are the most energy efficient.

For boiler or furnace heating systems, you’ll want to look at their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which looks at the specific model’s efficiency at turning fuel into heat compared to the amount of fuel required annually. Furnaces and boilers with an AFUE of 90 percent or more are very efficient.

For heat pumps, you’ll want to review the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). This factor looks at the amount of heat required to warm your home for a season compared to the total energy used during the season.

Replacing & Repairing Home Heating Systems in Montgomery, Alabama

If it’s time to replace (or repair) your home heating source, the AirNow Home Services team is here in the greater Montgomery, Alabama area to help. We offer free consultations and estimates and can offer specific advice based on your unique situation. Call us at 334-384-6050 or contact us online today.