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Types of Home Heating Systems (2023 Guide)

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All heating systems keep your home at a comfortable temperature, but there are multiple options to choose from. Each type of heating system has advantages and limitations, and some may be better for certain homes and regions than others.

We at the This Old House Reviews Team have compared seven common heating system types to help you determine the best one for your home.

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HVAC Installation

Installation costs for common air conditioning units range from $500–$2,500.

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HVAC Repair

Depending on the repair, the typical cost ranges from $100–$2,000.

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Furnace Installation

Installing an electric furnace will typically cost $1,600–$9,700.


1. Furnace

Furnaces are one of the most common types of heating systems in the United States. A forced-air furnace heats the home by burning fuel—natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity—to heat a metal heat exchanger. The heat transfers to the surrounding air, and a fan blows the heated air throughout the home via ducts and vents.

Pros and Cons

Pros Requires less maintenance than other heating system types Uses ductwork that can be shared with an air conditioning system Is more affordable due to lower fuel costs and improved energy efficiency
Cons Has a potential risk of fire, explosions, and carbon monoxide poisoning Can carry allergens through the home via fans and ductwork

2. Boiler

Traditional boilers, radiators, and baseboard heaters are radiant or hydronic heating systems. They heat water in a central boiler using natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or electricity. The heated water or steam goes through a network of pipes to radiators or baseboard heaters throughout the house. When the water within the radiator heats up, the air heats up through a process called convection. The hot air circulates through the room by displacing cold air

When heat leaves the water, it returns to the boiler again. This continues until your home reaches the desired temperature.

Pros and Cons

Pros Allows homeowners to control heat distribution through zones Requires little maintenance because they have no filter Distributes heat evenly throughout the home
Cons May leak water, although this is uncommon Requires a separate system for cooling

3. Heat Pump

There are three main heat pump types: air-to-air, water source, and geothermal. Heat pumps use electricity and refrigerant to collect heat from the air, water, or ground (depending on the type) and deliver it to your home. Heat pumps work in reverse in summer by transferring the home’s heat out.

In cold months, the heat pump collects air from outdoors and blows or pumps it over a heat exchange surface, causing a refrigerant liquid to evaporate. This gas moves to a compressor, which increases the pressure and causes its temperature to rise. The heated gas is then passed over the internal heat exchanger’s surface. A fan pushes heat either directly into the room from the indoor unit or through the ductwork to warm the house.

Heat pumps work with ductwork or as a mini-split, ductless system. While some heat pumps operate independently, others may require a supplemental heating system in colder climates.

Pros and Cons

Pros Energy-efficient and generally cheaper to run than a gas furnace Does not burn fossil fuels Does not require ductwork
Cons Does not deliver enough heat in colder climates Has a higher-than-average up-front installation cost

4. In-Floor Radiant Heating

In-floor radiant heating systems—both electric and hydronic—use thermal radiation and electromagnetic waves to heat your home. Electric wires or water-filled tubes are installed underneath the flooring and warm a room by directly heating the floor instead of the air. Hydronic in-floor heating uses a boiler system and a variety of fuel sources, such as natural gas, oil, wood, solar, or some type of combination.

This effect is called radiant heat transfer, the same thing you feel when heating your hands over a warm oven or going outside to feel warm sun on your skin.

Pros and Cons

Pros Is more discreet and completely silent Is more efficient than baseboard or forced-air heating Doesn’t distribute allergens like forced-air systems
Cons Requires floor replacement during installation Has a higher up-front cost than other heating system types

5. Wood Heating

If you enjoy collecting and stacking your own wood, consider wood burning for house heat. This is done with an outdoor wood furnace or boiler, a wood stove or pellet stove, or a masonry heater. Wood is generally cheaper than other fuel sources, and you can save even more by cutting your own firewood. 

Due to the pollutants associated with wood burning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented regulations to limit smoke emissions from wood-burning room heaters. As a result, improved wood heater technology is now available. For example, pellet stoves use compressed pellets, made from wood or other organic material, for fuel and are typically clean-burning and more efficient than wood stoves.

Pros and Cons

Pros Is more environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuels Is a cheaper fuel source Is readily available depending on where you live
Cons Can be difficult getting heat to travel from room to room Can cause a house fire if not properly installed

6. Active Solar Heating

Active solar heating uses solar energy to heat liquid or air, then transfers solar heat directly inside the home or to storage for later use. If solar energy isn’t enough to heat the home, a backup home heating system provides additional help. Liquid systems are often used when there’s a solar heating storage system. However, both liquid and air active solar heating systems can supplement forced-air systems.

Pros and Cons

Pros Environmentally friendly Helps you save on utility bills Likely increases your home’s value
Cons Higher up-front costs Not as consistent as other fuel types and requires backup power sources

7. Hybrid Heating

A hybrid heating system combines an electric heat pump with a gas-powered furnace. This combination maximizes energy savings and system performance. The heat pump heats the home when outdoor temperatures are moderate. You can program your thermostat to automatically switch over to the gas furnace when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pros and Cons

Pros Gives homeowners a hands-off approach to home heating and cooling Is more efficient than traditional furnaces and heat pumps Provides a worry-free heating system in winter months
Cons May require more frequent maintenance checks Is unnecessary if you live in a warmer climate

How To Maintain Your Heating System

Most issues that can affect your heating system aren’t noticed until it’s too late—and always at the worst time. Preventive maintenance allows you to deal with potential problems before they become larger issues.

Maintenance requirements vary depending on your home’s heating system type. Forced-air systems have filters that need replacement at least twice a year to ensure the system runs efficiently. Luckily, this is an easy do-it-yourself (DIY) job for most homeowners. Most heating systems should be annually inspected, cleaned, and serviced by a professional. A licensed HVAC technician should check your heating system in the fall and air conditioner in the spring.

Our Conclusion

A heating system is a big investment and one you’ll be living with for the next 25 years. It’s important to compare different types of heating systems to see which best meets your needs and is most compatible with your home. You may want to consider consulting an HVAC professional for more information on each system.

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FAQ About Types of Heating Systems

What are some common types of heating systems?

The most common types of heating systems are furnaces, boilers, radiant heating systems, heat pumps, and space heaters.

What type of heating system do most homes have?

Furnaces and forced-air distribution systems are the most common type of heating systems. Furnaces are an affordable, reliable, and efficient home heating solution.

What heating system is most efficient?

The most energy-efficient heating system is the geothermal heat pump. In colder months, the heat pump transfers heat to your house from the ground or a nearby water source.

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