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Types of Home Heating Systems (2024 Guide)

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Author Image Written by Brenda Woods Updated 05/16/2024

Most U.S. households use furnaces and boilers to heat their homes, but there are many other types of heating systems available. Although each has its own advantages and limitations, choosing the best heating system for your home will depend on your house type and location.

In this article, we’ll compare seven common home heating systems, break down the cost of heating systems, and explain how to maintain them.

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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.

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1. Furnace

A forced-air furnace heats the home by burning fuel—natural gas, propane, or oil—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. Some furnaces use electricity instead of fuel or as a backup source. Furnaces, especially those that use natural gas, are ideal if you live in a colder climate because they’re one of the most efficient heating systems.

Pros of Furnaces
Require less maintenance than other heating system types
Use ductwork that can be shared with an air conditioning system
More affordable due to lower fuel costs and improved energy efficiency
Cons of Furnaces
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. These systems are most common in places with long, harsh winters. The heated water or steam goes through a network of pipes to radiators, an in-floor heating system, 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, and the water returns to the boiler to be reheated. A boiler is another efficient heating option, so you’ll often find them in households located in colder areas.

Pros of Boilers
Allow homeowners to control heat distribution through zones
Require little maintenance because they have no filter
Cons of Boilers
May leak water, although this is uncommon
Require a separate system for cooling

3. Heat Pump

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. This two-way system is ideal for moderate climates because the average air temperature is warm enough for the pump to pull some heat from the thermal environment.

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.

There are three main heat pump types:

  • Air-to-air heat pumps: Air-source heat pumps, which use ambient air as the heat source, are the most common type. They work best in moderate climates.
  • Geothermal: Geothermal heat pumps use underground loops to extract heat from the ground, which stays at a constant temperature year-round. They are more efficient than air-to-air heat pumps, especially in cold climates. However, they are also more expensive to install.
  • Water-source heat pumps: Water-source heat pumps rely on a nearby water source rather than pulling heat from the ground or air. They are less common than other types but can be a good choice in areas with consistent water temperatues.

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. You can learn more about the different types of heat pumps and how they work in this video featuring building technology professional Ross Tretheway:

Pros of Heat Pumps
Energy-efficient and generally cheaper to run than a gas furnace
Do not burn fossil fuels
Do not require ductwork
Cons of Heat Pumps
Do not deliver enough heat in colder climates
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 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 of In-Floor Radiant Heating
More discreet and completely silent
More efficient than baseboard or forced-air heating
Doesn’t distribute allergens like forced-air systems
Cons of In-Floor Radiant Heating
Higher up-front cost than other heating system types
Requires floor replacement during installation

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 of Wood Heating
More environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuels
Cheaper fuel source
Readily available depending on where you live
Cons of Wood Heating
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 can 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 of Solar Heating
Environmentally friendly
Helps you save on utility bills
Likely increases your home’s value
Cons of Solar Heating
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 of Hybrid Heating
Gives homeowners a hands-off approach to home heating and cooling
More efficient than traditional furnaces and heat pumps
Provides a worry-free heating system in winter months
Cons of Hybrid Heating
May require more frequent maintenance checks
Unnecessary if you live in a warmer climate

New Heating System Costs

The amount you spend on a new heating system depends on your chosen setup, the type of heating system you choose, and the size and layout of your home. Prices also vary by brand, efficiency rating, and location. We’ve listed the average price range* for the most common home heating systems below:

  • Active solar heating: $18,000–$39,000
  • Air-source heat pump: $4,500–$8,000
  • Boiler: $3,700–$8,300
  • Electric furnace: $1,700–$7,100
  • Gas furnace: $3,800–$10,000
  • Geothermal heat pump: $4,450–$24,450
  • Hybrid heating system: $2,500–$10,000
  • In-floor radiant heating: $1,700–$6,000
  • Oil furnace: $3,800–$10,000
  • Wood boiler: $7,000–$16,000 

As you compare costs, be sure to factor in the effect different heating systems will have on your monthly budget. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating costs make up about 29% of your energy bill. What you pay comes down to three main factors:

  • Home insulation: A tightly sealed, well-insulated home traps heat better, reducing the energy needed to keep your home warm.
  • Fuel costs: The type of fuel and its market price directly impact heating costs. For instance, heating oil tends to be a more expensive option than natural gas.
  • Efficiency ratings: Home heating systems are assigned an efficiency rating based on one of three formulas—annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), heating season performance factor (HSPF), or coefficient of performance (COP). More efficient systems use less fuel to produce the same amount of heat, which translates into lower energy bills.

Location and climate can also greatly impact which options are available and how much different systems cost to run. For instance, natural gas tends to be cheaper than heating oil but is not as readily available in New England.

*Cost data sourced from Angi.


How To Maintain Your Heating System

No matter what kind of heating system you have, you’ll want to perform regular maintenance on it. Most issues that can affect your heating system aren’t noticed until it’s too late—and often at the worst time. Preventive HVAC maintenance allows you to deal with potential problems before they become larger issues and costs less than emergency HVAC repair. In the video below, heating expert Richard Trethewey explains the importance of maintaining your heating system, especially if you have a furnace:

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. You can expect to pay $75–$200 for an annual tune-up.


Our Conclusion

A heating system is a big investmentand one you could be living with for the next 25 years. By comparing the different types of heating systems for homes, you’ll learn which best meets your needs and is most compatible with your home. Before purchasing a new system, we recommend receiving quotes for the cost of an HVAC installation from at least three different HVAC installation professionals for a customized recommendation and quote.

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FAQ About Types of Heating Systems

What type of heating system do most homes have?

Most homes have a forced-air furnace, boiler, or heat pump. Furnaces are an affordable, reliable, and efficient home heating solution for moderate climates, while boilers are more common in older homes and colder climates. Heat pumps have also been gaining popularity in moderate climates.

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, which stays warmer than the air. However, geothermal systems have a higher upfront cost than other options.

What is the best heating system for a house?

The best heating system for a house depends on several factors, including climate, fuel availability, budget, and existing setup. For instance, heat pumps excel in moderate climates, while high-efficiency gas furnaces may be more cost-effective in colder climates. If you already have ductwork, sticking with a forced-air system might make more sense than switching to a ductless mini-split or radiant heating system.

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