Heating System Efficiency

Given just how cold New England winters can get, it should come as no surprise that we constantly hear from homeowners who want to heat their homes more efficiently. With the broad array of heating systems available, it can be hard to find the most effective option for your home. Knowing a bit about different heating systems can make that choice easier.

Regardless of the system you choose or have already installed, you can improve the heating efficiency of your home by sealing air leaks and properly insulating, especially in the attic. Taking those steps before you upgrade to a new system can actually reduce your home’s heating load, letting you save money up front by buying a smaller system.

One term you’ll need to understand is AFUE, or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. This is the percentage of fuel a furnace, boiler or similar system converts into usable heat. (For instance, a furnace with an AFUE rating of 90 converts 90 percent of the fuel it burns into usable heat, with the remaining 10 percent lost in the exhaust.) Another important term is HSPF, or Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, which measures the efficiency of an air-source heat pump; the higher the HSPF, the better the efficiency. In either case, actual performance may vary depending on the conditions in your home, such as insulation, layout, and quality of ductwork.

Types of Heating Systems

  • Furnaces, or forced-air systems, are some of the most popular heating systems around; they work by heating air directly with an oil- or gas-lit flame and distributing the hot air throughout the house using a duct system. Furnaces are an affordable way to heat your home, and the same ducts can also be used for central air conditioning.
  • Hot water baseboard heat uses a boiler to heat water, then distributes it to radiators throughout the home. Boilers have the highest heating capacity available, making them great for cold New England winters. They also eliminate the need for a duct system, which can help reduce air leakage throughout a home, although it provides no means to incorporate a central air system.
  • Hydro-air is a hybrid system setup that uses a boiler to heat water, then pumps air through a heat exchanger to pick up that heat and distribute it through the duct system. Most hydro-air systems have the boiler pull double duty and work as a water heater as well.
  • Air-source heat pumps are essentially reversible air conditioners. During the summer, they collect heat inside the house and pump it outside; during the winter, they collect heat from the outdoor air and bring it into the house. This sort of system includes an electric heating element as a backup system in case temperatures drop too low.
  • Ground-source or geothermal heat pumps use the same reversible cooling cycle, but instead of pulling from the outside air, they use the stable temperatures found deep underground. The heat pump uses the ground as a heat source in the winter and a heat sink in the summer, providing highly efficient climate control no matter how hot or cold the air gets.

With so many heating systems available, it can be difficult to make the right choice, accounting for both up-front cost and long-term efficiency. We’ll help with a calculation called a payback analysis, which estimates how long a given system will take to pay for itself in energy savings. Call us today to learn more.