In the prehistoric days of the caveman home heating was a fairly simple affair. You merely gathered wood, formed it into a pile, and ignited it. Then to keep warm you sat as close to the fire as possible, as no system of ductwork had been invented yet to propel the warmth to other parts of your cave. Thankfully, home heating has come a long way since then, and now there are several choices to keep you and your family warm and toasty at night.
I have lived in several different homes over the years, and each possessed its own unique form of heating. Currently, my East York home is heated throughout by a new high-efficiency furnace; one fuelled by natural gas. Whether buying a property resale or having your dream-home built from scratch, there are several considerations you should keep in mind when making or modifying your heating choice.
1) Hardware cost factor. How much will your choice be to initially install, and are any home modifications necessary to accommodate your decision? (example: gas furnaces need ductwork; electric baseboard heating does not).
2) Fuel cost. Furnaces run on fuel (oil, gas, electricity) and each has a distinctive cost. Can you afford to pay the monthly bill using your chosen fuel?
3) Maintenance and durability. What will be the cost that your selection for home heating requires, in order to keep the chosen unit running smoothly year after year? (example: furnace reliability)
4) Basement apartments. Heat rises, so if your entire home is heated by just one furnace, the upstairs will be much warmer than the basement – resulting in a cold tenant or irate in-law. Consider employing a different delivery system so that both units are adequately kept warm (or air-conditioned for that matter).
5) Indoor air quality. Most furnaces burn fossil fuels. This creates the potential – if proper combustion does not occur or there is inadequate venting – for the build-up of carbon monoxide in your home. Naturally, these types of systems should be cleaned and serviced yearly to detect any problems, but if this is a concern for you then another system should be used in your home such as electric baseboard heating, which does not emit life-threatening carbon monoxide.
Types Of Heating
There are three main types of heating that currently dominate the marketplace, and each comes with its own strengths as well as a few weaknesses.
Electric Baseboard: This type of heating is relatively inexpensive to initially install yet can be prohibitively expensive to run. My family and I once lived in a home with electric baseboard heating, and much to my chagrin my hydro bills were astronomical. Basically, this form of heating is like having a space heater in each and every room of your house. They are individually controlled so each room in your home can be set at a different temperature. This is a positive should different members of your family react to the cold differently.
Also, as there is no ductwork involved, air and dust which can cause allergies to flare, are not blown throughout the home. The units themselves rarely need maintenance, and can last for years. Other than its operating cost, this systems one major drawback is that because no ductwork runs throughout the home, one cannot easily put in central air conditioning. A ductless system must be employed; one that can typically cost about 30% more to install and operate. A less expensive way to cool select rooms (generally bedrooms) would be to install simple window cooling units. Also, this form of heating can oftentimes dry out a home leading to headaches, dry throats and skin. A separate humidifier would need to be bought to bring much-needed moisture into your home.
Forced Air: This common central heating system is one which utilizes heat that is generated at a single location (typically a furnace), then distributes the warmth throughout your home via a series of ducts. It can be initially expensive to install depending on the type of furnace you purchase. High efficiency furnaces are becoming the norm throughout the building industry. These units generally draw their combustible air from outside the home. They also require no chimney as they vent directly outside. Typically, a furnace can last upwards of 20 years with regular servicing and maintenance. Furnaces can run on gas, oil or electricity, and each fuel comes with its own market price.
It would be prudent to do a cost breakdown to see which fuel best suits your situation. Remember, if you choose oil you will need to purchase a storage tank for it, and this will add to your initial cost. A positive to having a forced air heating system in your home is that air conditioning can be easily installed, as you already have the ductwork in place to circulate the cool air. But, having that same ductwork brings a negative. Dust, pet dander and pollen are drawn into the furnace via the cold air return and then are blown back out into every room of your home, wreaking havoc for those with allergies or asthma. This is why it is imperative to clean or replace the furnace’s filter on a regular basis. An added bonus to this form of home heating is that a humidifier can be easily installed directly to the furnace, adding much-needed moisture to the home on extremely cold, winter days.
Radiators: This form of heating is probably the most noticeable in one’s home simply because radiators are generally large, accordion-shaped, heavy units that protrude out from the wall thereby eating up precious floor space. Many older apartment buildings employ this form of heating. Basically, there is a boiler in the basement which heats up water, which in turn travels about the home through a series of pipes to each room’s radiator. As with baseboard heating no ducts are used therefore dust and pollen are not blown about the home. But oftentimes these pipes are wrapped in asbestos to aid in keeping the water warm during its travels. If you suspect your pipes are wrapped by this material then it would be wise to call in a professional to discuss your options. Do not tamper with or remove any of the suspected material yourself.
As with electric baseboard heating, you would need to put in ductless air conditioning or window units as no ductwork lines the home, which will add to overall cost. As well, you will need a separate humidifier as the air will become dry. The current generation of boilers are extremely efficient though, and take up very little floor space themselves. Again, with this type of system you still need to utilize a source of fuel to heat the water, and this makes for an ongoing monthly cost; one that needs to be factored into your budget.
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