How to Choose a Heating System

Someone holding a smart phone with a home icon and a heating scale.

Heating systems typically use the most energy out of all the components in a home. Selecting the perfect source of heat for your home will help reduce energy costs in the long run while providing you with the maximum level of comfort in any weather. From traditional furnaces to heat pumps, here are some home heating options and how to choose the right one for your home.


Most homes use a central furnace for heat. Furnaces are usually powered by natural gas, fuel oil, or electricity. The furnace heats up air and pushes it through ducts that distribute the warm air throughout the home. A thermostat controls when the furnace turns on and will keep the house at a desired temperature. Furnaces are rated using an annual fuel utilization efficiency number (AFUE). Select a furnace with a high AFUE number for better energy efficiency.


In contrast to furnaces, which use a fuel source to heat air, boilers use water to generate heat. The system pumps water throughout the home, which is then heated via radiators or other devices. The leftover, cool water is returned to the boiler and used again. There are a variety of water-based systems on the market including gas-fired boilers, electric boilers, and oil condensing boilers.

Radiant Heating

A radiant heating system being installed in a floor

Radiant heating finely controls the temperature by pumping warm water through tubes in the floor. The downside to radiant heating is cost. Not only does it require professional installation, but it also reduces the floor types at your disposal. This system, however, is very controllable and more efficient than most heating systems on the market.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps use the same technology as air conditioners, except in reverse. Heat pumps take in the cold air from the outside, extract the warm air, and pump it throughout the house. These systems are usually forced-air and come in two varieties: air and ground. A ground source heat pump takes heat from the ground instead of the open air. Heat pumps are typically more expensive than furnaces or boilers but are highly efficient. If you're looking for a more energy efficient way to heat your home, then heat pumps are the way to go.

Space Heaters

Electric space heaters, floor furnaces, and any other kind of direct heating sources are ideal for warming defined spaces. This method of heating should only be used if you need to heat a single room, as moving the air to adjacent spaces is often difficult. Another downside to using electrical space heaters is that they consume a lot of energy and will increase your electricity bill.


A wood stove with flames in the background with pellets in the foreground

Wood burners and pellet stoves are a great alternative for those living in rural areas who do not mind the extra work. Wood and pellets are generally less expensive than electricity or gas, which also makes this an affordable option for anyone on a budget. The only downside is that you will need to constantly provide fuel to the fire and/or chop your own wood.


While fireplaces add a lot of charm to a room, they are not good at heating entire homes. In fact, most fireplaces lose more heat than they offer. The only exception to the rule is if the fireplace is equipped with a glass door, a constant outside air source, and an efficient damper.