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What are the Different Types of Heating Systems?

Central Heat Sources


Furnaces are the most common type of heating system in the United States, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. Furnaces heat air, which travels through ducts from the central furnace location to the different rooms in the house. 

Furnaces are generally powered by gas or oil. In the United States, natural gas is the most common fuel used to power furnaces. This gas- or oil-powered-type of furnace system is one of the most popular because the ducts used to heat the home can also be used to air condition the home in the summer months. 

For oil- and gas-powered furnaces, when fuel burns it heats a metal piece called the heat exchanger, which then turns the burnt fuel into heat in the form of warm air. Depending on how old the furnace is, the vent to rid the furnace of its exhaust will work differently. Newer models are the most effective and energy-efficient in this process. While old furnaces rely on flue pipes, newer furnaces use a fan, called a draft inducer, to push air out through the flue. The newest and most efficient furnaces condense the exhaust into water and vent through a pipe.

While most furnaces use natural gas or oil, there are also electric furnaces. Electric furnaces are more expensive as they use more energy to do the job of getting warm air to the targeted rooms. With electric furnaces, fans push air over “elements,” wires tightly wound into coils, and produce heat with electrical resistance. 


Boilers are water heaters that warm homes by sending hot water throughout the house through radiators, baseboard heaters, or radiant hydronic heaters below the flooring. Boilers are typically run with gas, which boils the water in the boiler. 

While less common nowadays, radiators heat rooms through convection, a process where the hot water in the radiator warms the room when the pipes give off heat. Baseboard heaters are pipes along the baseboards of rooms that give off heat as the hot water runs through the pipes. Radiant heaters in the floor are pipes with hot water in the flooring of rooms, allowing heat to emanate from the floor into the room. 

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are not as common as furnaces or boilers but are a great option for energy-efficient heating and cooling. There are air-source or ground-source heat pumps that use the air or ground outside to heat and cool the air inside. 

In simplest terms, a heat pump works by using a little electricity to draw in the heat into a heat exchanger or evaporator, where the refrigerant inside evaporates into a hotter gas and heats the home as it is compressed. Then as the gas cools off and condenses in a second heat exchanger, giving off more heat, it goes through an expansion valve where pressure is reduced. From the gas heads back to the original heat exchanger or evaporator. While this may sound like a complicated process, the takeaway is that a heat pump uses energy in the air or ground to heat or cool your home.

Heat pumps are energy-efficient, green heating systems. However, when the temperature is below 40 degrees, heat pumps can become less efficient. For areas like the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, heat pump owners often back up their home heating with another heating option. 

Non-central heat sources

Central heat sources are typically the most energy-efficient and least expensive to manage full-home heating. But non-central heat sources are good options for geographical areas where it gets extremely cold, for large homes with specific cold rooms or areas, or for differentiating heat sources depending on day-to-day heating needs. 

Electric baseboard heaters

Electric baseboard heaters are not necessarily something one would install in addition to a central heating source as these are not highly efficient or cost-effective. They do offer good room-to-room heating and require no ductwork. Using electric resistance, heat emanates from hot wires or coils within the electric baseboard units.

Gas or electric space heaters

Like electric baseboard heaters, space heaters warm specific rooms well. 

For gas-powered space heaters, as fuel burns the ventilation system pushes the heated air throughout the room using vented, unvented, or vent-free systems. Unvented gas-powered space heaters can be dangerous because there is no method to eliminate the dangerous fume byproducts when the heater is in use. To reduce the risk of dangerous fumes, vented heaters with a flue to the outside can be installed. 

Electric space heaters plug into the wall directly. These use convection to heat the air in the room. While expensive to run, an electric space heater does heat a small area very effectively. 

Wood and pellet stoves

Wood and pellet stoves or traditional fireplaces can be a wonderful way to heat rooms in your home. Installing a heat fan that takes the warmed air and circulates it throughout the room can increase the heating ability of your fireplace or other traditional combustion heating source. 

Due to the gases given off by wood-burning stoves, be sure to check the local building codes or the local environmental agency about any restrictions concerning these types of heating systems.


If you have a new build or are upgrading your heating system, efficiency and environmental impact might be at the top of your mind. The United States Department of Energy provides helpful information on the efficiency of different home heating systems on its website, which you can find here.

Efficiency is dependent on not only the system itself and how modernized it is, but also on how well your home is insulated and even the type of thermostat you use. 

Call us 

Exxel Mechanical, based in Mount Airy, MD serves a wide area encompassing Westminster, Owings Mills, Ellicott City, and Frederick. Our reputation in this area precedes us, as we pride ourselves on placing our customers as our highest priority. 

We know what systems are best for the unique needs of our clients. Whether it’s the size of your home or your specific priorities for a heating system, we can make recommendations so that you have the best heating system possible. Call (443) 821-1040 or send an email to and it’ll be our pleasure to assist you!