Common Heating Systems: Explained

A majority of American homes rely on central heating systems to warm them during cold weather. Even here in Charlotte, homeowners use their heat between 4-5 months of the year! At MTB Mechanical, we’re experts on your home heating system, no matter the type.Here’s a quick explainer on the most common types of heating systems.
Furnaces
Central furnaces are, by far, the most common automatic heating system in the U.S. You may hear furnace heat called “forced warm air” or “duct-forced air.” A furnace works by blowing heated air through ducts and vents into your home. They can be powered by gas, electricity, or even fuel oil in older cases.
In gas- or fuel-powered furnaces, the fuel is burned to create heat. The resulting flames heat a metal exchanger which then pushes the heated air through the heat exchanger. The furnace’s fan forces the air through the ductwork then into your home. Because the heat is created through combustion, “unsafe” products are vented out of the building. Within this tier of furnaces, there are differing types: Atmospheric, Condensing, Inducers. To follow current regulations, most new furnace systems use induction methods to most efficiently heat and move the hot air.
Boilers
Boilers, most common in older properties, use circulating hot water to heat specific rooms. They’re also sometimes called “Hydronic” systems, and most use natural gas or oil to heat themselves, although rarely it’s possible to still find steam boilers, which circulate steam and condensation to heat and cool.
The heating element of a boiler works similarly to a furnace; water is heated through oil or gas then the resulting hot water is – instead of creating heat to be vented – actually pushed through tubes. The tubes run to radiators or underneath floorboards (“radiant floor heating”) which causes the room itself to become warmer. Boilers are generally not very heat efficient.
Heat Pump
Heat pumps are becoming more and more common, particularly here in the Southeast. Because they are essentially two-way air conditioners, many new HVAC systems are air and heat pumps all-in-one. Heat pumps work by gathering heat using electricity from the outside air, then discharging that heat into the house. There are two main types of heat pumps: Air-source and Ground-source.
Air-source heat pumps gather heat from the outside air while Ground-source pumps absorb heat through a loop buried in the subsoil of your yard. Because electricity is used only to push the heated air through the house – not to heat the air itself – heat pumps are generally more energy efficient than alternatives. In fact, heat pumps can generate more energy than they consume.
There are, of course, other ways to heat your home! Direct heat methods like gas-fired space heaters and wood-burning stoves still exist, although safety and cost concerns make central heat the clear winner in the new construction and replacement market today.
MTB Mechanical is Charlotte’s heating expert. We’re ready to answer all your HVAC questions and set up an in-house evaluation today.