A Simplified Guide to Choosing your Heating System

which heating system to choose
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The type of heating system to install is one of the biggest considerations homeowners have to make in most parts of the United States. The winter months are brutal in many areas around the country, with temperatures reaching as low as 15.1°F (-9.4°C) in some states.

With heating expenses consuming more than half of the energy budget for each household, heating system efficiency should then be an important consideration.

But why?

Efficiency corresponds to how much heat a system can produce according to its fuel consumption. A high-efficiency heating system produces more heat while consuming less fuel. That equates to lower energy costs.

If you’re in the market for a new heating system, you will likely benefit from this heating system efficiency guide to find what works best for your household.

Types of Heating Systems

Heating systems come in different shapes and sizes. Depending on your heating needs, one type will be more appropriate for your home than others. Either way, fitting an entire heating system is both a costly and complex job. We recommend consulting a professional installer due to the complex nature of different heating systems. The guys at yourjobcost.co.uk got ready price guides for any sort of tradesmen you ought to need while redoing your heating system and more.


home heating furnace

Furnaces are large ovens that heat air inside large tanks, which is then distributed through air ducts using a motor. They are one of the more popular choices for residential heating in North America where a majority of households rely on a central furnace for their heating requirements.

Furnaces are highly efficient. They supply heat with relatively low fuel usage while also producing little to no noise while operating. They have long lifespans and come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit the heating needs of any home.

There are four general types of furnaces based on fuel type.

  1. Electric furnaces rely on electricity. They come with the lowest cost upfront, with typical prices coming to as low as $2,000 for the entire system. Most of them have annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) ratings of up to 100% while requiring very little professional maintenance.
  2. Natural gas furnaces (or natural draft) utilize natural gas as fuel. They are widely considered as one of the more difficult furnace types to install due to the safety factor involved in handling the combustible material. Natural gas systems typically cost around $4,500 to $6,500 including installation costs and have AFUE ratings ranging from 78 to 97%.
  3. Oil furnaces are less expensive than natural gas but are also slightly less efficient, boasting efficiency ratings between 80 to 90%.
  4. Propane furnaces are popular for homeowners in the Midwest. Residential propane furnaces use propane gas to generate heat. These systems are slightly more efficient than oil or gas systems, boasting AFUE ratings of above 90% while producing 35% fewer carbon emissions.


Boilers are special types of furnaces that burn fuel to heat water, producing steam for centralized heating distribution with an added bonus of hot water for domestic use. Boiler systems use large tanks or closed vessels to heat water inside, which is then distributed through a special system of pipes using a pump.

heating boiler
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New boiler costs range between $3,000 and as high as $7,500, excluding the cost of labor. Standard-efficiency models with 80 to 89% efficiencies typically cost an average of $3,000 to $6,000 while high-efficiency models (90+% efficiency) can go as high as $11,000.

Although upfront costs are generally high for boiler systems, they usually make up for it with fuel efficiency and ease-of-use. In general, boiler systems are perfect for HVAC systems with zoned heating. Furthermore, by using water or glycol as a heat transfer medium, heat losses in the pipes and radiators are minimized.

Electric Heat Pumps

Unlike furnaces and boilers, electric heat pumps do not actually generate heat. Instead, they work by absorbing heat from other environments and distribute the collected heat around your home.

There are different types of heat pumps, which vary depending on the heat source. These include:

Air-Source Heat Pumps

air source heat pump

Air-source heat pumps use cold air from outside environments as the heat source and the heat sink during hotter months. They are highly efficient heating systems, with Energy Efficiency Ratings (EER) of 20, that provide heat at much lower energy costs than other heat pumps. They typically cost around $3,000 to $12,000 for a system consisting of multiple units for multi-zone systems.

Ground-Source Heat Pumps

Ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal heat pumps, function in the same way as air-source pumps, although using a different heat source. Geothermal pumps use heat from the sun that is stored underground, which also functions as a heat sink in hotter months. The refrigerant condenses the heat and is distributed through a system of air ducts. They are generally more efficient than air-source heat pumps, with EERs of more than 35 and up to 45. Although they are highly efficient, they are also significantly more expensive than open-air, costing anywhere between $11,000 to $25,000, without the installation costs.

Hybrid Heat Pumps

Heat pumps with hybrid configurations use different sources of heat. Aside from using natural sources like the air and ground, they can also derive heat from solar energy, furnaces, and boilers.

One of the biggest advantages of hybrid systems is their flexibility. Because they utilize different heat sources, they can perform at full efficiency at different parts of the day. They also allow homeowners with existing heating systems to retain the use of their radiators and piping systems as they are.

Choosing an Efficient Heating System

When in the market for a heating system, choosing one can be quite taxing with the abundance of available systems. Here are a few factors that will affect your choice.

Home Size. The size of your home, as well as the amount of coverage you need (single room, multiple rooms, or entire home), will determine the size and type of heating system you’ll need.

Location. States like California and Florida require less heating than states further north such as North Dakota and Maine. In these states, homes will require better insulation along with a robust heating system capable of delivering more heat while using less fuel.

Source of Power/Heat. Although a majority of households rely on electrical power, natural gas and oil are also viable options for heating, especially since electricity tends to be more expensive than natural gas or oil.

Efficiency. As a ratio of energy produced per unit of energy consumed, you want to be able to produce high amounts of heat while using little fuel to keep energy costs low.

Costs. Something to keep in mind about costs is that many efficient heating systems, while using relatively less fuel, tend to cost more upfront. Other less expensive options also tend to require more maintenance.

Making Your Choice

There are a lot of factors you need to consider when selecting an efficient heating system for your home. While it is always a good decision to opt for systems that have high efficiency ratings, they may also be more than what you actually need. The best thing to do is to strike a good balance between the different factors such as cost and efficiency to end up with the optimal choice.


About Amanda

I love to buy a lot of products for the home, and dissect them out. I split them into duds and winners, and share the findings here on my site. As a reader of my site, I'm aiming for your next purchase to be an informed and inspired one.

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