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Newsletter #253

Heating Systems For New Construction

January 2007 Home Page


Heating Systems and Options for
Your New Home



  1. Introduction
  2. Radiant Floor Heating
  3. Baseboard Hot Water Heating
  4. Baseboard Electrical Heating
  5. Fireplaces
  6. Geo Thermal Heating
  7. Force Air Systems
  8. Summary
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1. Introduction to Heating Systems

It is the time of year that brings to mind thoughts about heating systems for our homes with the northern hemisphere bathed in winters grip. Not that many years ago there were not that many choices for heating, however to day home builders and new home owners can chose from a number of different solutions. Alternatives include forced air (gas, oil, and electric), baseboard (electric and hot water), floor radiant heating, fireplaces (gas as well as natural wood) and geothermal which can include heat pumps. With so many choices it can be difficult to decide which is best for your family and your new home.

This month’s newsletter will provide some guidelines as well as reference information that will assist you in making decisions that are right for you home and the climate that you live in. As usual we provide a number of useful links to sites that provide more detailed information for those people that would like to dig further.

The main criteria considered by many people are initial cost, yearly operating cost, maintenance issues and comfort, however there are other criteria such as esthetic values and even entertainment in the case of fireplaces. Every person will have various requirements so it is important to evaluate all of the systems and apply your own criteria to your situation before making a decision. Comfort may be more important to them than initial cost or ongoing maintenance costs, etc.

Depending on the climate of were you intend to build your home, you may decide on a heating system for your home that delivers heat to the entire house and then several auxiliary systems for additional heating or esthetic value. For example many homeowners will install forced air systems to ensure an even distribution of heat throughout the home, and then install a fireplace or two for the esthetic value, while other owners will rely on their gas insert fireplace to heat their homes.

There is a huge amount of information available and we get started by providing you several links to provide basic levels of information to you about each heating system. Later in our newsletter we have additional links that provide more detailed information for those people who are looking for more.

Regarding the cost to operate these various heating systems, your local energy supplier may be able to provide comparison tools to assist in calculating the cost of heating in your area. We have included one example from Tulsa, Oklahoma for consideration.

Some Useful Links:

Heating System General Information

Radiant Floor Heating Basics

Baseboard Hot Water Heating Basics

Baseboard Electrical Heating Basics

Geo Thermal Heating Basics

Forced Air Systems Basics

Energy Cost Calculator

2. Radiant Floor Heating

Radiant floor heating is becoming more and more popular as homeowners hear about the benefits and especially the comfort of being able to walk across a warm floor in your bare feet! One of the major benefits of radiant floor heating is that the heat emanates from the floor and rises by convection to the rest of the room. Forced air systems generally have cold floors with the majority of the heat residing near the ceiling since heat rises.

Radiant floor heating basically consists of tubing just below the main floor covering, embedded in the sub floor. Tubing with heated water or antifreeze mixtures are placed though out the sub floor and transfer the heat from the fluid in the tubing to the surrounding floor area.

Radiant floor systems can be found embedded in concrete floors as well as part of a wooden sub floor below tile or even carpeted floors. Everyone has had the experience of walking across a cold tile floor with bare feet and experienced the chill from these tiles. No longer with radiant floor heating under the tiles! The tiles will be warm to the touch and will radiate heat to the rest of the room until the desired temperature is reached.

Once installed, radiant heating systems are virtually maintenance free. Annual checks are required of your heating systems as with all types of heating. Operating costs are generally lower than traditional heating since you heat from the bottom up instead of top down.

Some Useful Links:

Radiant Floor Heating Basics

More Information on Radiant Floor Heating


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3. Baseboard Hot Water Heating

Hot water heating utilizing a central boiler and pumping hot water through pipes into every section of the home can be very attractive to many people. Hot water pipes can be placed in attractive slim line baseboard radiators in every room, they can be placed in the floor to provide radiant floor heating, they can provide towel warming kits and much more depending on your needs.

From a comfort perspective, these systems spread heat more evenly throughout your home, avoids cold floors, are very quiet with no blowers or fans, and since the water is mixed with antifreeze, the pipes will not freeze in winter if your turn your system off at the cottage or go away for the winter. Homeowners using hot water systems can control each room individually, cutting down on the cost heating unused rooms as needed.

These systems are also typically used for radiant floor heating systems as well. Regular annual maintenance is required of your heating systems boiler and heat source (gas, oil or electric) and initial costs have become quite competitive in recent years.

Some Useful Links:

Baseboard Hot Water Heating Basics

Baseboard Heating

4. Baseboard Electrical Heating

Baseboard electric heating is a popular method used by many homeowners to heat areas in their homes that are habitually cold where forced air systems cannot seemed to warm up. They generally use a central core that generates heat as electricity passes through and the heated air rises as a result of natural convection until the room has reached the desired temperature.

These systems work well, however care must be taken to ensure that heaters are not blocked by curtains or furniture. Dust collecting on the fins of the electric heater will decrease the efficiency of these units as well. Electric baseboard heating is maintenance free, controllable by thermostats and is relatively inexpensive to install.

Cost of operation of electric heating systems is tied very closely to the cost of your electricity in the area in which you live. Some jurisdictions are more competitive than others depending on the source of electrical generation. Systems that are based on hydro electric and subsidized by local government can be very competitive compared to traditional oil or gas systems. Additionally, you only need to heat the rooms that you live in, turning off baseboard systems until they are needed.

Some Useful Links:

Baseboard Electrical Heating Basics

Baseboard Heaters

5. Fireplaces

Many people love to have a fireplace in their homes for a variety of reasons. Generally speaking traditional fireplaces are very inefficient, however with new alternatives available, they can actually be used to heat your home or portions of your home.

There are several different types of fireplaces to consider. Traditional open hearth wood burning fireplaces are probably the most common, however, more and more people are purchasing gas fireplaces which at the flick of a switch generates a nice yellow flame and will heat the room it is in rather quickly. There are also electric fireplaces for those people who do not have a chimney or those who just want the charm of a fireplace in their home.

Wood burning open hearth fireplaces are very inefficient. They require fresh air to enter the home through another area (a door or window) and the majority of the heat goes up the chimney. In addition they will cool off the rest of the home due to the flow of air required for burning and for exhaust.

Sealed fireplaces and also sealed wood stoves may have their own fresh air intake, which will increase the efficiency significantly. Gas fireplaces are very convenient, have their own fresh air intake and can provide heat to a cold basement or small home or room quite easily.

It is usually easier to install a gas fireplace in new construction, however if you decide to install a regular fireplace initially, then convert later, there are many gas fireplace inserts available. Care must be taken to ensure that your chimney flue is sized properly for gas burning fireplaces.

Obviously the cost to operate your fireplace will depend on how much you use it, whether you use your fireplace to heat your home or just occasional use. Flipping a switch to turn on a gas fireplace is viewed by many people as a preferred option, compared to splitting wood, drying it and lighting a fire in your homes fireplace.

Some Useful Links:

Fireplace Basics

Burning Wood Better

Gas Fireplaces

Electric Fireplaces

6. Geo Thermal Heating

Geo thermal heating and cooling is considered to be one of the most efficient methods of heating homes. Initial cost of installing a heat pump, piping inside your home as well as outside buried in the ground can be high. However once operational the annual cost is considered quite low compared to more traditional heating methods.

Cost of heating and efficiency depends on a number of factors. The size of your home, ambient winter temperatures, cost of electricity and whether you use a closed loop system or an open loop system are some of the factors that influence the overall cost. One of the major advantages of geo thermal heating is that there are limited pollution impacts. Direct pollution is virtually zero, while indirect pollution really depends on the source of your electricity (coal generated vs. hydro electric generated).

Ongoing maintenance requirements are relatively limited, since the system only requires electricity to run the heat pump and circulation systems.

Some Useful Links:

Geo Thermal Heating Basics

Geo Thermal Exchange

Geo Thermal Education
Geo Thermal Energy Facts

7. Force Air Systems

Forced air systems are by far the most common type of heating system in use in North America today. Air heated by a central furnace (oil, gas or wood) is circulated through ducts by a fan to every room in the home. Combined with an electronic thermostat and your entire house can be warmed to the desired temperature at any time of the day.

Furnace systems must be sized to provide sufficient heat for the home that you are heating and the hot air ducts must also be balanced with the cold air return to ensure balanced heating throughout your home. For example if one room does not have a cold air return, you may find that this room does not warm up to the same level as other rooms with cold air returns.

Furnace systems should have an annual maintenance check for efficiency and all malfunctioning parts should be replaced. Recent forced air furnaces now come in mid and high efficiency variations with DC motors, which also save electrical charges as well. Older furnaces installed in the 70’s had an efficiency rating in the 60% range, while mid efficiency furnaces are above 80% and high efficiency furnaces are now above 90% efficient. High efficiency furnaces are generally more expensive than mid efficiency systems. Payback periods will depend on the cost of electricity and fuel in your area.

Ducts should be vacuumed every couple of years to remove any dust that has collected. This is important for those people who suffer from dust allergies.

Another major advantage of forced air heating systems is that they can be combined with forced air conditioning systems for summer time cooling. Heating systems such as radiant floor heating, baseboard systems and fireplaces will require a separate cooling system installation for air conditioning in the summer.

Some Useful Links:

Forced Air Systems Basics

8. Summary

Will all of the different possibilities for heating your home, new home owners may wonder just what the right choice is for them. One approach is to decide on a basic heating and cooling system that matches your home and the climate you live in, i.e. Alaska vs. Southern California.

Next once you have made this decision, auxiliary systems can be added to provide the added comfort or even esthetic value. Wood or gas fireplaces in strategic locations throughout the home can add a great deal of comfort as well as increase the net value of your home.

Heating only systems such as radiant floor heating, fireplaces, wood stoves etc may require separate air conditioning installation if you will need this capability in the climate that you live in.

Finally the cost to install, maintain and operate is an important element for many people. Additionally the impact on resale of your home should be considered. Your local supplier can often provide cost comparison charts which take into account the cost of various fuels in the region in which you live. The cost of electricity, gas, oil and wood are increasing every year, sometimes quite dramatically so it is important to consider these potential increases when you are comparing the heating system that you will install.

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