Whether you need to replace your existing heating system or are building a new home, you have a wide variety of options to choose from. Choosing the right type of heating system is important both for your comfort and energy bills. The size of heating system you need to effectively keep your home warm is something you’ll need to have an HVAC technician calculate. However, you first need to determine what type of heating system you want to install.
Determine What Type of System Will Work Best
Both forced-air heating and radiant heating are great options for keeping your home warm. If you just need to replace the heating in an existing home, you’ll want to stick with whatever type of system you currently have. Switching from ducted forced-air heating to radiant heating or vice versa really never makes sense unless you’re performing a full renovation. Switching from one to the other would require extensive work and be far more expensive than simply replacing whatever you currently have. The one exception is if you currently have radiant heating but also a ducted central air conditioning system. In this case, you could easily switch to a forced-air system with either a furnace or heat pump since you already have all of the ductwork you need.
If you’re building a new home, then you can obviously choose either type of heating. Radiant heating will usually be a bit more efficient and cost you less to operate than a forced-air system with a furnace. However, a forced-air system with a heat pump will generally be the most efficient option. Another thing to consider in this situation is if you also want central air conditioning. If so, opting for a forced-air system will likely be less expensive. This is especially true if you choose to install a heat pump since it will provide air conditioning in addition to heating.
Although heat pumps are more efficient, they don’t produce nearly as much heat as furnaces. As such, this is another thing to consider when deciding which type of forced-air heating unit to install. Heat pumps are great at maintaining the temperature once the building is already heated. However, they can take a long time to heat if the building is more than a few degrees colder than your desired temperature. This is especially the case when the outside air temperature is much colder.
Focus on Energy Efficiency Ratings
Once you know what type of system you want to install, the next step is to compare different makes and models of heating units to find the best option that’s within your budget. This is where energy efficiency ratings are important since how efficient the unit is will be a major determining factor in how much it costs upfront and how much you pay for heating.
The energy efficiency of gas and oil furnaces as well as boilers is measured in AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). AFUE ratings are fairly easy to understand, as they merely express what percentage of energy is directly used for heating. You can also think of AFUE as a measure of how much energy a unit wastes.
Furnaces and boilers are either conventional or condensing units. Conventional units have a single heat exchanger whereas condensing units have two heat exchangers, which makes them much more energy efficient. Conventional non-condensing furnaces and boilers typically range from 80% to around 88% or 89% AFUE. Condensing units, on the other hand, range anywhere from 90% to around 98% AFUE.
With a system that has an 80% AFUE rating, only 80% of the energy actually goes to heating. The remaining 20% is wasted due to latent heat remaining in the exhaust fumes when they exit the unit and get vented outside. With a 98% AFUE system, only 2% of the energy is wasted. This means that a 98% AFUE unit would use 18% less energy than an 80% AFUE unit.
The energy efficiency of a heat pump when it’s heating is expressed in its HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) rating. HSPF is essentially a ratio of how much heat the unit produces to how much total energy it consumes over a single heating season. The energy efficiency of furnaces and boilers never changes as long as they are working properly. However, the energy efficiency of heat pumps varies quite a bit based on outdoor temperature, which is why you need to look at the average efficiency over a cooling season from late fall to early spring.
Comparing HSPF ratings is more difficult. Luckily, there are numerous resources online that will calculate for you the estimated energy usage and heating costs for different units based on size and HSPF ratings. The minimum rating required for any new heat pump is 8.8 HSPF. A 10 HSPF heat pump will use just over 10% less energy than an 8.8 HSPF unit, and an 11 HSPF unit would use just under 20% less energy. If you chose an 11 HSPF unit, your heating costs would be approximately 25% lower than with a basic 8.8 HSPF unit.
Understand How Different Types of Units Will Affect Your Comfort and Heating Costs
If you plan on installing a forced-air heating system, you’ll also want to think carefully about the type of furnace or heat pump you want. Single-stage furnaces and heat pumps are the least expensive options, but they also cost the most to operate. Single-stage systems can only operate at full power and will typically perform two to three full heating cycles every hour. This means that they will usually run for around 15 minutes and then turn on again 10 to 20 minutes after shutting down. The problem with this is that it often leads to the temperature fluctuating between warmer and cooler. With a single-stage system, you’re also more likely to experience problems with cold spots in certain parts of the home.
A two-stage or variable-speed furnace or heat pump will keep your home more comfortable by maintaining a more consistent, even temperature. These units also use much less energy and will make your heating costs lower. A two-stage unit will operate at approximately 60%-65% capacity the majority of the time and only run at full power when lots of additional heat is required. When running at this lower capacity, the unit will heat more slowly and stay on for much longer each time it runs. This helps to ensure that every part of the home gets fully heated and also prevents the temperature from fluctuating as much.
A variable-speed unit will usually run constantly without ever shutting off. These units can run as low as 25% of their total capacity and will continuously and automatically adjust how much heat they currently produce based on the building’s temperature. By running constantly, a variable-speed unit will make your home more comfortable since the temperature will always be almost exactly where it should be and never fluctuate by more than a degree or two.
No matter what type of heating system you want to install, you can trust At Your Service Heating & Cooling LLC for help. We install furnaces, heat pumps and boilers, and we also offer professional heating maintenance and repairs for customers throughout the Baltimore area. We also install and service central air conditioning systems and ductless mini-splits as well as water heaters, sump pumps and water filtration systems. For more information on our heating installation services, contact us today.