How to Select a Home Heating System

A home heating system.

Selecting the right heating system for your home can give you not only lower energy bills but a more comfortable living environment. Here are the main considerations regarding which heating system is right for your home.

Bigger Is Not Better

One of the most important facets to consider when purchasing a heating system is size. The largest heating system isn’t always the best. A heating system that is too large will frequently turn on and off, creating short heating cycles and causing it to use more energy than necessary. A heating system that continually fluctuates between on and off will never achieve maximum performance.

Additionally, such a heating system, installed in the wrong setting, will experience greater wear and tear on its parts. It won't last as long under these conditions, forcing you to spend more money by replacing it sooner.

To avoid this situation, hire a heating contractor to take a heat loss / heat gain calculation. This calculation takes into consideration the number and types of windows in your home; the size of your home; the orientation of your home to the sun; and the number of levels of insulation in your ceilings, walls, and floors. As a rule of thumb, your heating system should have a capacity of no more than 125% of your heating load.

Why Heat Your Whole House at Once?

Consider a system that allows zone heating, i.e. heating different areas of the house differently. This can be achieved through two methods.

The first method involves the placement of temperature sensors for each zone in the home. A motorized, mechanical damper then directs the flow of heated air to the different zones of the home, depending on each zone's individual needs rather than those of the house as whole.

The second method of zone heating is to have two separate heating systems, each regulating a different zone of the home. Each system would naturally have its own thermostat.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, system zoning can save homeowners up to 30% on a typical heating-and-cooling bill. Those savings can add up to quite a sum—the Department of Energy also estimates that heating and cooling account for 40% of the average household's utility costs.

Efficiency is King

When selecting a home-heating system, check the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, or AFUE. The higher the percentage listed, the more efficient the system is. Plus, systems that showcase the Energy Star have met the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for the efficient use of natural resources.

Fan blower motors are what pushes air through the ductwork and into the rooms in the home. Many newer models of furnaces use electronically commutated (ECM) blower motors. These are much more efficient. For example, say running a traditional furnace fan all year costs $250, doing the same thing with an ECM blower might only cost $50.

Don't Replace Your Furnace Prematurely

All of this probably has you excited to overhall your home-heating system right away, but replacing a currently working heating system is probably not a cost-efficient idea.

You can calculate how long it would take to pay back a new furnace like so: take the percentage increase in efficiency you would get from the new furnace, multiply it by however many dollars it took you to heat your house last winter, and then multiply the answer by 20 years.

Is the result larger than the cost of a new furnace? If not, you're better off sticking with your old unit. If your heating system is ineffective and on its last leg, however, replacing it can provide a home with a nice, warm environment and your savings with an added boost.