Centralized heating systems rely on a single piece of equipment to generate heat which is then delivered throughout the entire interior space of your home. These systems may use a variety of fuels including electricity, oil, natural gas and liquid petroleum gas.
Electrical systems do not produce any toxic by-products and are generally safe and healthy to use. On the other hand, electricity is more expensive than oil and propane. Also, in the event of a power outage, the electrical HVAC system will stop working.
With oil and propane-based systems, the equipment is able to convert most of the fuel into heat, but homeowners must have a large storage tank to hold the liquid fuel. Natural gas systems are up to 99% efficient at converting the fuel into heat; however, they require a properly functioning ventilation system to dispense the carbon monoxide gas. Oil, propane, and gas generally cost less than electricity but are not as environmentally-friendly. It is also important to remember that their price tends to be highly volatile, which makes it difficult for homeowners to budget their heating bills.
Image courtesy of pixabay.com, licensed under CC0 Public Domain
Central heating systems may include a furnace, boiler or a heat pump. A furnace uses a burning chamber and flame to convert the fuel into heat. An air handler then blows the heat through air ducts into the living space. A boiler uses fuel to heat water which is then distributed to each room through a network of pipes. Most homes in the UK use a gas boiler system for heating. Electric space heaters, pellet stoves or fireplaces can also be used for home heating. However, these systems are not very efficient and their operating costs are high.
Heat pumps are very energy efficient, as they move heat instead of producing it. They are powered by electricity and use a chemical refrigerant to transfer heat from warmer spaces to cooler spaces. In the summertime, the pump extracts heat from inside your house and delivers it to the outdoor environment, functioning like an air conditioner. This process also dehumidifies the air, with liquid water being drained into your waste water system. In the wintertime, heat is extracted from the outdoor environment and transferred into your home.
There are three types of heat pumps used in residential buildings. An air-to-air heat pump is the most common type, involving the transfer of heat from the air. Water source heat pumps extract heat from a natural supply of water on a property, while a geothermal heat pump uses a network of pipes laid 10 to 35 meters under the soil. The pipes transfer energy from the earth's crust to your home. Ductless mini split heat pumps are a modern type of heat pumps that provide zoned climate control using several interior centres. They rely on a chemical refrigerant and a fan rather than air ducts to deliver the heated or conditioned air.
Heat pumps and mini ductless split heat pumps function as both heating and cooling systems. Other home cooling alternatives include central air conditioners, window air conditioners, evaporative coolers and fans for cooling. Central air conditioners deliver consistent cooling but are costly to operate. Room air conditioners can cool one space of your house, but are bulky, loud and difficult to place into the window. Electric fans do not actually cool the air in your house but offer a wind chill effect to help you feel more comfortable. Evaporative coolers, on the other hand, cool air using evaporated water.