The most common modern heating system in North America is forced-air heat. As its name implies, heated air is forced through the home using ductwork to distribute it to rooms. The source of the heat may be from a furnace or heat pump. A furnace typically uses natural gas, oil, propane or, occasionally, electric elements to produce heat. Rarer still are ground-source, water-source, solar and renewable energy technologies. Heat pumps use electricity to extract heat from outside air which is similar to an air conditioner in reverse. Even in winter, outside air contains heat. In these systems, a fan circulates the heated air.
A properly sized and maintained forced-air system can be a comfortable method of heating a home. Some advantages include low installation cost, reliability, ease of maintenance and the availability of numerous service companies. Also, central air conditioning can be installed using the same ductwork.
However, if the system is not maintained, comfort will be sacrificed. Probably the most common deficiency is a dirty air filter. Filters generally are easy to install and inexpensive to replace. It is important to ensure the filter is the correct size and pointed in the right direction.
The next likely deficiency is obstructed or dirty duct work. Duct work often is overlooked as a source of problems. Dirt can accumulate around the vents when foreign objects fall into them. Pet hair and food commonly are found in duct work during inspections. Removing the vent cover and vacuuming out the debris is easy to do. However, a professional duct cleaning service is a good investment if you're first moving into a home or if maintenance has been neglected.
An alternative to forced-air heating is hydronic heat. Hot water is circulated through the system to heat the home. In older homes, steam may be used. Typically, a boiler or water heater is used to produce the heat using the same energy sources as forced-air systems. An advantage of hydronic heat is it is much quieter than forced air and there are no drafts because the radiant heat produced does not rely on air movement. Baseboards or radiators may be used in each room. Or tubing on the floors, walls or ceilings may be used to heat the room. Hydronic systems may be designed to allow rooms to be individually heated. One disadvantage of hydronic heating is that central air conditioning must be installed separately because ducts are not in place.
Electric Baseboard Heating
Electric baseboard heating is common in room additions or basements when central heating is not installed. Keeping the baseboards clean of dust and debris is necessary. An advantage to baseboard heating is that every room can have its own thermostat. As the name implies, electricity is used for the heat source. Circuit breakers in the distribution panel control the power to the baseboards. If a heater stops working, the breaker may be off. If the breaker trips when turned on or if it trips at any time, call an electrician to determine the cause.
Another source of heat for those areas that is becoming more popular are mini-split air-conditioning/heat pump units.
Both forced-air heat and hydronic systems should be serviced annually by a qualified HVAC contractor to ensure peak performance. Even with proper maintenance, heating systems do wear out and eventually need to be replaced. Periodic inspections of a home's heating system by an ASHI inspector is important to ensure a home is heated safely and efficiently.
Schedule a Home Inspection
Periodic inspection of the entire home is recommended every few years. Find an ASHI home inspector in your area to schedule a home inspection and improve your home maintenance.