Perspective | A primer to help you choose the best heating system for your home

A wall mounted heating distribution manifold. Hot water enters the collector and is sent through a small tube to heat the floors of this house. Then go back to the boiler to warm up. (Tim Carter / TNS)

You may hear some pickup truck owners brag about how their Ford or Chevy truck is better than the others. He might own a Ram or even a Toyota. The chances of any of them convincing the other to switch brands are very remote.

The same debate has been going on for years with HVAC contractors about which heating system is the best. I don’t know if there is a definitive answer, but I have been fortunate enough to have enough experience with some systems that I can evaluate.

I grew up in Cincinnati. Almost all homes built in Queen City in the late 1800s were heated by hot water or steam radiators. These houses were built long before the invention of the air conditioner. Radiant heat is a luxury and I am currently enjoying it in my New Hampshire home. I will share more with you soon.

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Some old houses had monstrous gravity stoves. They heated the air inside a giant circular furnace, which swam home through the metal channels. As the cold air is heavier, the waste will return to the basement to be heated by the burner. Most modern houses are heated from the inside by hot air and the air escapes into the rooms. If you also have an air conditioning system, this same air duct will give you fresh air in the summer.

Forced air systems offer numerous benefits for cleaning the air in the home and adding moisture as needed. For these systems to function optimally, the flow and return piping must be carefully measured and installed to make all rooms comfortable.

I have a very good friend in New Hampshire who heats with charcoal. It has two charcoal stoves and uses the other only when the temperature drops below freezing for long periods of time. One of the benefits of using charcoal is knowing that when it is delivered in the fall it will never be cold in the winter. It has all the fuel you need. If you’ve ever lost your strength and had a cold, you know how well my friend slept at night.

You can’t say that about me because I depend on giving three propane in the winter to fill my tank. Many of you may be addicted to the natural gas that flows into your home every day. What if there is a shortage of gas? How do you keep the heat? The downside to my friend’s old collie is that it’s a bit dusty at home and needs to be fed twice a day.

What about the radiant heat of the floor? I have it in my house and it is probably the best form of heating I have ever experienced. My whole cellar is very hot. Getting out of the shower onto a warm tiled floor is magical. My system has six different zones, so when I’m not there I can save fuel by using the timer thermostats to cool the rooms in multiple zones.

If you don’t have the ability to place heating pipes on every floor of the house, you can also install radiant heat using flat panel radiators. I have both radiant underfloor heating and these underfloor heaters in my home. Plastic pipes that supply heat to radiators are laid in the same way as electrical cables. Within hours, two workers can easily move all the pipes into a modest radiator house.

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Modern forced air boilers and heaters are a modulation technology. This means that the burner works just like your gas or electric stove. While cooking, you can adjust the amount of heat so that the water boils over high heat, or you can put in enough heat to bring the delicious sauce to a boil. The same thing happens when part of your home requires heat. A boiler or stove will produce enough heat to meet this requirement, no matter what. This saves energy as less heat is sent along with the flue gases when the burner is on.

Probably the simplest heating system you can install is the one that uses electricity. Simple or portable heating radiators can be used for heating. Not to mention the moving parts, but the downside is that electricity costs can be quite high where you live.

Heat pumps are electric heating systems, but very complex machines. In the summer, they do double duty as air conditioners. Modern heat pumps are highly efficient, but electricity can still be expensive wherever you live. Also, electricity is the least reliable heating fuel of your choice. The news is filled with stories of hundreds of thousands of people without electricity at any time of the year when a major storm damaged power lines.

What will i do when i build my next home? I will install radiant floor heating and backup heating throughout the house. If the propane runs low, I will gather enough dry oak wood to provide a few months of heat.

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Source: Washington Post