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Heating Systems 101: Which Is Right for Me?

Posted On: September 24, 2021

With so many heating options on the market, it’s understandable that choosing the right one for your Virginia home can feel overwhelming. Our mission at C.B. Lucas is to provide customers with a stress-free experience, so we put together a comparison guide to help break down each system’s pros and cons. Keep reading to learn more!

Types of Heating Systems

While there are several to choose from, this guide will focus on the four most common heating systems: furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits. Let’s start with a basic overview of each.

Furnaces: Found in most U.S. homes, a furnace blows hot air via ducts throughout the house. Generally referred to as a ducted warm-air or forced warm-air distribution system, it can be powered by electricity, fuel oil, or gas. 

Boilers: This system works similarly to a furnace, except it heats water instead of air. The hot water gives off heat as it passes through radiators or other distributors throughout the home’s rooms. Once it cools, the water returns to the boiler to be reheated and begins the process again. Residential boilers are fueled by natural gas or heating oil. 

Heat pumps: This is simply an air conditioner working in reverse. Rather than moving indoor heat to the outside (as the refrigerant system would in summer), it sources heat from the cold outdoors and sends it inside with the help of a forced warm-air delivery system. There are two types of heat pumps: air-source, which pulls heat from the outside air, and ground-source, which gets heat from underground. 

Ductless mini-splitsComprised of a small outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air handler, ductless mini-split systems avoid the ductwork required by other traditional heaters. The mini-split is installed to the wall in the room of your choice, and, in some cases, multiple head units are dispersed throughout the home for increased comfort and efficiency. Rather than water or air, this system distributes energy through refrigerant lines.

Features Comparison Guide 

Energy Efficiency 

Furnaces and boilers can be quite energy-efficient, but it depends on the model you have. Efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency, or AFUE, which measures how well the unit converts the energy in its fuel to heat over a year. The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the system. For example, an AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy becomes heat for your home, while the remaining 10% escapes. It’s important to note that AFUE does not include heat losses of the duct system or piping. 

While they are less common, a heat pump and ductless mini-split generally offer more energy efficiency and significant cost savings. Because a heat pump does not create heat but rather moves it from one place to another, it is very energy-efficient compared to other types of heating systems. In ideal conditions, a heat pump can transfer 300% more energy than it consumes, as compared to a high-efficiency gas furnace, which runs about 95% efficiently. 

Meanwhile, ductless mini-splits can use 60% less energy than standard electric resistance-based heating systems. Its big energy savings comes from the system’s flexibility since temperatures can be controlled by room, so you’re not heating unused areas of your home. 

Cost and Life Span

The overall installation cost of any heating system will depend primarily on your home’s current setup and compatibility with a new one. For example, if your home doesn’t have access to natural gas, a furnace installation would be more expensive than a heat pump. Likewise, your home’s existing ductwork or ability to have ductwork installed could affect the final price tag. It’s essential to consult with licensed professional technicians to determine the best fit for your home and finances. 

With proper maintenance, heating systems can run for a decade or longer. On the shorter end of that range is a boiler, which lasts about 10 to 12 years. Heat pumps have an average life span of 15 years, while furnaces and ductless mini-splits can last 20 years or more. Remember, getting regular professional maintenance will help your system run properly for longer.

Cold Weather Comfort

Furnaces are often chosen for the powerful heat they generate in the depth of winter, though some don’t enjoy the dry air that accompanies it. Heat pumps and boilers distribute more humid air that can be kinder to the skin but generally don’t get quite as hot as a gas-powered system. Ductless mini-splits are considered one of the most efficient heating systems in cold climates, providing a happy medium of energy-saving warmth when you need it most.

Make Your Choice With C.B. Lucas

No matter which system is suitable for your home, C.B. Lucas is your one-stop shop for all your heating needs. Our team of licensed professional technicians will discuss all your heating system options and set your home up with the best-performing products available today at prices you can afford. As a local heating company leader, we know how important reliable, quality heating is during cold Virginia winters, and we’re here to deliver it!

If you’re looking to installrepair, or scheduled maintenance for your heating system in Dumfries, Woodbridge, and Haymarket, VA, you can count on C.B. Lucas. 

Schedule service online or give us a call at (703) 590-3700 and prepare for cooler temperatures today!

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