Most homes in the United States have a furnace and a centralized forced-air system that distributes warmed air throughout the residence using registers, ducts, and vents. Even in warmer climates, such as the one found in Foothill Ranch and the surrounding areas, furnaces are prevalent, but other heating solutions are common too. Heat pumps are a familiar example, and there is, in fact, a wide array of different heating systems used throughout California and all over the country.
As mentioned, most American homes are heated with a central furnace. An exact number is difficult to pin down, but the estimate as of 2021 is still about 80%. The majority of furnaces use either natural gas or electric, and this is where the biggest change is occurring when it comes to home heating in America. As technology has improved, more people have opted for electric. The current split nationwide is about 50% electric and 50% natural gas or, in the case of some older homes, oil.
The reason central furnaces are so popular comes down to how practical they are. The upfront costs are relatively inexpensive, and their long lives ensure a low total cost of ownership. They are also very affordable on a monthly basis, and modern furnaces have an efficiency of at least 80% and as high as 99%. Such systems are very easy to integrate with an air conditioner, and since most homes in the U.S. need both heating and cooling, this approach to heating your home just makes a lot of sense.
Boilers are the second most common heating equipment in the U.S. and actually share a lot in common with furnaces. Like a furnace, a boiler can use many different fuel sources, such as electric, natural gas, heating oil, and propane, and modern boilers are also very energy efficient. The fundamental difference between a furnace and a boiler is how each one heats a home. A furnace heats air and then distributes that air throughout the dwelling via ducts. A boiler, on the other hand, heats water or creates steam, which is then distributed throughout the residence via pipes. The heat created may be distributed via an air handler but often just seeps into the home through radiators or convectors.
Heat pumps are used throughout the U.S. and are particularly prevalent in moderate climates where you need heating and cooling during various parts of the year. The term “heat pump” refers to how this equipment operates. It can move — or pump — heat from either inside or outside the home. That means that a heat pump can warm a home during winter and cool it during summer. There are two primary types of heat pumps: air source and ground source. Air-source heat pumps are currently the most prevalent and transfer warmth from the air. Ground-source — or geothermal — heat pumps transfer warmth from the earth. GHPs are becoming increasingly popular because they are much more efficient and can be used in colder climates. The upfront costs, however, are still significantly higher.
Mini-splits are heating and/or cooling systems that control the temperature in a particular zone. They typically have two core components: an outdoor compressor or condenser and an indoor air-handling unit, which is also known as an evaporator. It is also possible to have multiple air-handling units. What is interesting about mini-splits as a technology is that they are actually the result of the Japanese market adapting the traditional post-war American air conditioner to their particular home style. While they are generally not used in new residential construction in the U.S., they have become popular for older homes that lack ductwork and for home additions, basements, attics, garages, and so forth.
When it comes to heating a home, the term “hybrid” can refer to any solution that involves integrating two or more distinct technologies. In the U.S., the term is often used to refer specifically to pairing a heat pump with a furnace. As alluded to earlier, heat pumps are not an ideal choice in the northern U.S. because an air-source heat pump simply cannot provide enough warm air during the night. A hybrid system compensates for this with a furnace that can kick on as needed to provide supplemental heat.
Radiant heat involves dissipating heat into a home. You will often hear it referred to as radiant floor heating because it is common to install the heating panels directly beneath the flooring. However, the panels can be installed behind walls and above ceilings as well. This approach to heating a home is very energy efficient and, while this is subjective, is widely considered one of the more comfortable home heating options. The downsides are that it can be expensive to install and repairs can be quite expensive as well if it becomes necessary to take up the floor, which would be required to replace a panel.
Baseboard heating refers to heaters that are installed along the baseboards at the bottom of walls. These can be electric or connected to a boiler system. While once prevalent, they are no longer common in the U.S. as a primary form of home heating. However, they are still used as a secondary form of heating because they are convenient for zoning and provide great control over a particular space.
Hydronic heating is a broad term that can refer to any system that uses water or steam to provide heat. A traditional boiler is technically hydronic heating. That said, the term “hydronic heating” is often used in the U.S. to refer specifically to combined hydronic systems. What sets this approach apart from other systems is that it provides hot water in addition to heated air and potentially cooled air.
Active Solar Heating
Many of the heating solutions discussed thus far can be operated using different fuel sources. Furnace technologies, for example, can be adapted to electric, natural gas, and heating oil. In contrast, solar heating is intrinsically tied to its fuel source, the sun. Solar heating can be either passive or active. Sunlight passing through a window and heating a room is an example of passive solar heating. Active solar heating involves using photovoltaic panels that can collect heat and generate electricity. Most setups combine active and passive and often involve a heat pump or furnace.
Your Foothill Ranch Heating Experts
White Mechanical, Inc. has been serving Foothill Ranch and the neighboring communities for nearly two decades now. Our leadership team has more than 70 years of combined HVAC industry experience, and we install, maintain, and repair all manner of heating systems for residential and commercial clientele. We also install, maintain, and repair air conditioners and other cooling equipment, and our company offers maintenance agreements that provide upkeep and tune-ups at a discount. Call us today, or contact us online to schedule an appointment or to learn more about how we can serve you.