How Do Heating Systems Work?
How Do Heating Systems Work?
By Amy Nutt

It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but not every heating system is created equal. Though most of your home's heat will be delivered to its destination as a result of adjustments you make to your individual zone's thermostats, the method of delivery could be very different depending upon what resource is responsible for heating your home.

The most common resources used to heat a home are natural gas, oil and electricity. In both oil and natural gas heated homes, the systems could be further broken down into two more possibilities: forced water systems and forced air systems. In forced air systems, hot air is carried through duct work inside of the walls of your home and delivered via discharge vents that may be on the floor, the walls or the ceiling. In forced water systems, water is heated at the boiler and pushed through cooper pipes to radiators which provide heat to the individual rooms.

Forced air systems will generally heat a room more quickly, but in order to maintain the temperature to which the thermostat is set they may have to continue running, where forced water systems (with cast iron radiators) the radiators will take longer to heat up, but will hold the heat for a much longer duration allowing the boiler to run less often once it has heated the room to the requested temperature.

In both types of natural gas and oil home heating system, the generating of the heat begins with a furnace or boiler. When the thermostat is set for a higher temperature than what the current temperature of the home is - the boiler will fire, using either the gas or the oil to heat the water or air depending upon the delivery system. The heated air or water will then travel through the ducts or pipes to deliver the heat where it is needed. Once the room has reached the requested temperature, the boiler will shut down until the temperature drops below where the thermostat is set. Both natural gas and oil systems can be very efficient, with the latest technology it's really difficult to determine which type of system is more beneficial for today's homeowner.

Electric heating for the entire home isn't usually considered quite as efficient as whole home natural gas or oil systems, but the technology does seem to be catching up. Electric home heat is generally easier to install and initially les expensive because there is no boiler or furnace required to burn a fossil fuel. Electric heaters look very much like the baseboard heaters that are hooked to forced water systems but are connected by copper wire directly to your home's electrical service panel. Electrical heaters can be operated from a thermostat as well and when heat is required the electricity provided by your service panel will heat a coil inside of the baseboard unit to deliver heat to that particular room.

With electric baseboard heaters you can add extra heat to an already existing system of another type, provided that you have the space required in your panel board to supply the necessary power. Electric baseboard heaters are a great way to add heat to a finished basement, attic or attached garage that had no heat before because they require no piping or duct work for installation - it may not be easy to run the wire necessary to make the connection, but it's generally much easier to run pliable wire that it is to run rigid pipe or ducts.

Three different types of systems, working in different ways, all to deliver exactly the same results, it's up to you to decide which system (or which combination of systems) may work the best to suit your particular home heating needs.

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