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The Big 3: What to Know About Home Heating Systems

Feb 8 2022

Is it just us or are home heating system pretty intimidating?

It’s typically a hulking hunk of metal, it sometimes gets hot, and it may have a jungle of wires and pipes surrounding it. Plus, it’s most likely covered in cobwebs and dust.

Like most things as a homeowner, however, a little bit of knowledge can clear up a lot of confusion.

In the United States, 80% of all home heating systems are one of these three:

  • Furnaces: The most common around the country.
  • Boilers: The most common in the Northeast.
  • Heat pumps: The most common in the Southeast.

The differences between furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps are significant, however. Below, we explore their common features and provide some details about their efficiency, lifespan, and replacement costs.

1. Furnaces

Furnaces heat air using gas, oil, or electricity. The hot air is delivered through your home using ductwork and vents. Though heat rises naturally, most furnaces use a blower motor to help force the air to different parts of your home.

  • Efficiency: 59-98%
  • Lifespan: 15-30 years
  • Replacement cost: $2,000-$10,000

2. Boilers

Boilers heat water using gas, oil, or electricity. They pump the hot water through pipes to radiators in different parts of your home. Your radiators may be baseboard heaters, old-style steam radiators, or radiant heaters buried in your floors or walls. Boilers don’t typically heat water for sinks or showers, though sometimes they are paired with a hot water heater.

  • Efficiency: 50-90%
  • Lifespan: 15-30 years
  • Replacement cost: $3,600-$8,000

3. Heat pumps

Heat pumps collect heat from one location and move it to another. They do this using refrigerants, compressors, coils, and fans. They have two units connected by copper lines. One goes outside, and the other goes inside. Fans blow heat off the coils and move it through ductwork to different parts of your home.

  • Efficiency: At least 100%
  • Lifespan: 14-16 years
  • Replacement cost: $4,500-$8,000

‘Fuel’ for thought 

Home heating systems are usually fueled with heating oil, natural gas, or electricity. There is no one fuel source used for any particular heating system, meaning your furnace may run on electricity or natural gas, or your boiler might run on heating oil or electricity. It depends on the system and your home’s arrangement.

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For more tips to get through winter as a homeowner, check out these posts:

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