How Does My Home Heating System Work

Feb 5, 2020

Central heating and cooling systems are separate things, but they are matched to work together. 

Central Heating For the Home

Central heating systems have a primary heating appliance, such as a furnace, typically located in the basement or garage. Furnaces have four main components: 


  1. Burners that deliver and burn fuel
  2. Heat exchangers
  3. A blower
  4. A flue that acts as an exhaust for gaseous by-products 

How Central Heating Works

Combustion gases are produced by the burners in the furnace and are sent through a heat exchanger. Air from your home blows across the heat exchanger and is then warmed. It is then blown through a system of ducts to distribute around your home. 


During the warmer seasons your heating system works with your central air conditioning. Air is actually cooled as it is blown over your air conditioning unit’s cooling coil, typically attached to the air circulating fan of the furnace.  Then it is sent through the same air ducts throughout your home. 


Depending on where you live in the country, you might opt for different types of heating systems, as not every region in the U.S. favors the same type of heating equipment. For example, natural gas or propane heat is preferred for much of the Midwest while many Northern cities still retain boilers and radiators. 


What Does A Heat Pump Do?

Heat pumps are ideal for an energy efficient HVAC solution no matter where you live.  A heat pump can be matched with a furnace or other electric heating device that will only kick in when temperatures drop below freezing. As a result, your home will continue to stay warm on the coldest days and run more efficiently for the majority of the season. 


Difference Between a Heat Pump and Central Air System

Both of these pieces of HVAC equipment rely on the same basic technology, but they distribute it in different ways, which has a big impact on the ambient air in your home. 


Central air conditioning systems employ a closed loop system that circulates refrigerant to cool the air.  This refrigerant travels through a compressor coil that bleeds off the heat into the outside air. This reverts the refrigerant to a liquid state, although it is still under a lot of pressure. Then, it circulates through an expansion valve and into a series of evaporator coils. As it evaporates, it pulls heat from the surrounding air, cooling it. The cool air is then blown with a fan through a system of ducts that distribute it throughout your entire house. 


The heat pump relies on the same general system, with two essential differences.  First is the closed loop in a heat pump that is established so that it can blow hot air into the home instead of outside.  This enables it to operate as a heater in the winter and an air conditioner in the summer. 


Secondly, most heat pumps depend on a ductless mini-split system — distributing many units throughout the home instead of distributing the air through ducts.  Heat pumps are more efficient than central AC, though they somewhat struggle when the weather is very cold. Heat pumps also cost more to install. 


Heat Pump Versus Electric Heat

Electric heat can be installed either through baseboard heaters or through a central furnace.  An electric furnace will be 100 percent efficient but will be more expensive than a heat pump. … The advantage over a heat pump is the air is typically warmer than air blown from a heat pump system.



Heat Pump System

Heat pumps employ electricity but not in the traditional form of electrically-heated coils that warm a room. A heat pump works like a refrigerator, using electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm space — making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. An advantage of a heat pump system is that heat pump efficiency factor is quite high, and heat pumps are often less expensive than other types of heat. 


When it comes to energy savings, a heat pump is preferable to an electric furnace.  However, if you have a heat pump that uses electric backup heat, it likely uses electric heat strips, which do use a lot of electricity. The primary advantage of a heat pump is that it gives you the air conditioner in the same unit. 


An electric furnace will be 100 percent efficient but will be more expensive than a heat pump. In essence, an electric furnace operates like a big hair dryer, generating heat with electric heating elements. The furnaces then uses forced air to blow the heated air through the house.  The advantage that an electric furnace has over a heat pump is the air is typically warmer than air blown from a heat pump. 


As for room electric heaters, they are easy to install and they are the cheapest form of heat to install. Electric baseboard or wall heaters are typically used to supplement central heating systems or serve as the main heat source for small homes in cold climates. 


As for expense, the rate of heat may be more expensive, but that is usually offset by cheaper installation costs.  What’s more, electric heaters and furnaces tend to need minimal maintenance and often last longer than other types of heaters.

It is our goal at Apollo Heating & Air Conditioning to provide you with all the tools necessary to keep your home heating system running optimally. If you have any questions or concerns please give us a call @ 509-987-1500.