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Heat pump, furnace or boiler — Which home heating options win on warmth and efficiency

home heating

Whether you’re building a new home or renovating, you’re going to have a lot of choices for your new home heating element. Given the mild winter temperatures in the DMV area (with some notable exceptions!) many homeowners in this region have three main home heating choice: heat pump, furnace or boiler.

With rising home fuel costs, efficiency is the name of the game in the heating industry. Learn the basics of each home heating system and consult a professional to see which is best for you.

Understanding Energy Efficiency Ratings

While seeing a number next to acronyms like SEER and AFUE can feel confusing when browsing heating system, it’s really quite simple. These rating systems are required by the Federal Trade Commission for all new heating and air conditioning units. They are mean to aid consumers in their purchasing by providing straightforward criteria on energy efficiency.

SEER, HSPF and COP

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) is used to evaluating the cooling efficiency of air conditioners and heat pumps. Because a heat pump both heats and cools your home, it also gets a second rating to evaluate heating efficiency. Depending on the type of heat pump, it will receive a Heating Season Performance Factor (HSPF) or a Coefficient Of Performance (COP) rating. An HSPF will range from 6.8-10 and a COP will range 2-4, with the high ends of those ranges being most energy efficient.

AFUE

The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating represents how efficient a furnace or boiler is in converting fuel to heat over the course of one year. AFUE does not include the heat lost through ductwork and piping, which can be up to 35% loss if the boiler or furnace is located in an unconditioned space like an attic, basement or garage or has uninsulated, leaky ducts traveling through those areas. Heat can also escape up a chimney for a natural gas-powered systems that vent to it.

Gas-powered boilers and furnaces have three ranges of AFUE ratings:

  • Old and Low-Efficiency: AFUE of 56-70%
  • Mid-Efficiency: AFUE of 80-83%
  • High-Efficiency: AFUE of 90-98.5%

Ratings are based on a 100 point system, with the leftover percentage representing fuel that was burned but not used to generate heat. All-electric furnaces and boilers have an AFUE rating of 95-100%. However due to the higher electricity costs in most areas, all electric furnaces and boilers are often an uneconomic choice.

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home heating

Furnace, Boiler and Heat Pump Basics

Tired of layering up blankets and sweaters instead of inching up your thermostat during cold weather? Which home heating system will keep you warmest? Which is most efficient? The answers to these questions depends a lot on your home and your family’s priorities when it comes to heat. For most homes, keeping your whole house toasty or consuming minimal energy is really up to a programmable thermostat and well-insulated ductwork (for furnaces and heat pumps).

Most homes use a furnace or boiler to heat their homes, the majority of which are powered by natural gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, natural gas is the most common home heating fuel in the country, used in 57% of homes. Most heat pumps rely on electricity as their power source.

Furnace

Furnaces heat your home using a forced air system and ductwork. Having a furnace that is correctly sized to your home’s square footage is important for energy efficiency and whole home comfort. Even if your AFUE rating is high, you’ll also need to ensure your ductwork is clean and well insulated to maximize the energy savings a high efficiency furnace can offer. Furnaces generally last about 15-20 years and are the most inexpensive home heating system. One of the inefficiencies of gas furnaces is how they cycle on and off, as compared to boilers and heat pumps, which can run continuously.

How much does a furnace inspection cost?

Boiler

A boiler will use water to heat to boiling or create steam heat can circulate it within a closed system throughout the home. Steam heat is piped up for distribution using steam radiators while a boiling water system will heat a space using baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems. The boiling water method can also heat the air using a coil technique.

Because a steam boiler operates at a higher temperature, it is always less efficient than a regular boiler. A boiler that is properly sizes to your home keeps water at a constant boil, which is one of its key points of efficiency; there is no cycling on and off to generate the heat. Boilers typically last about 15 years.

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Heat Pump

A heat pump is part of a central heating and cooling system, constantly using outside air to heater the home in the winter and cool it in the summer. It doesn’t generate heat, it transports it, making it the most energy efficient home heating option. Heat pumps generally only require a modest amount of power and usually run on electricity, meaning you can save slash your natural gas bill tremendously, and your electricity bill because this system removes your need for a central air conditioner. Heat pumps are best suited to mild climates and may need a supplemental heating source in lower temperatures.

Having a heat pump sized to match your home can increase its efficiency by allowing it to run continuously. A heat pump uses the same size and arrangement of ductwork that a conventional gas-powered forced air furnace requires. Heat pumps last about 15 years. For keeping energy costs low, heat pumps are often the best choice because they utilize geothermal energy and are powered by electricity.

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A Professional Assessment Can Help

No matter how much research you do while shopping for a new home heating system, it is always best to consult a professional before making a purchase and hiring a professional technician install it for you. Call the courteous experts at John C. Flood today to schedule your consultation, repairs or home heating system installation!