Types of Heating Systems

The world of central residential heating is a vast one. Nowadays there are more choices than ever, to the point where most people don’t really know just how many options there are out there when it comes to how you heat your home. All of them have their own pros and cons and all them can be good options in the right circumstances and depending on your own preferences.

There are a lot of new and exciting energy-efficient and environmentally friendly options becoming more available to the everyday public like geothermal heating, but today we’re going to talk about the most common and most widely used types of heating systems. These are the type of heating systems you’re most likely to find in your own home today and they are the most likely types you’ll find in any new home being built. It’s important to know what the different types are and what type of heater you have so that you’re aware of the sort of issues that can arise with each. That way if you ever need heater repair in Austin you know at least what you might be dealing with.


Furnaces are the most common type of heating system in North America and as such the most common Austin heating system is going to be a furnace. The average person’s home is probably going to have one of these three types of heating systems, furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps, and of the three, you’re going to see furnaces the most often. The reason furnaces are the most common is probably because they conveniently use the same ductwork structure that your air conditioner uses. They are most often controlled via the same thermostat. Since they use the same air distribution infrastructure and the same control scheme, a lot of people don’t even realize that their air conditioner and their furnace are two separate items.

A furnace works by blowing heated air through ducts that deliver the warm air to rooms throughout the house via air registers or grills. This type of heating system is called a ducted warm-air or forced warm-air distribution system. It can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or fuel oil. For oil and gas-powered furnaces, the fuel is mixed with air in the furnace and burned. The flames of the fire reach a metal-air handler which heats up the air. The air is then forced throughout the ducts in the house via the blower. The combustion side effects, the smoke in other words, is vented out of the house and into the outside air through something called a flue pipe.

When it comes to venting out combustion products, you’ve got three types of systems which are generally based on how old or how new and energy-efficient the system is. In older systems the smoke is just naturally vented outside through the chimney and you lost about 30% of your energy efficiency just keeping the gas hot enough for it to assuredly rise and escape and not enter the home. Newer furnaces use something called an inducer fan which pull the combustion product through the heat exchanger and use the draft to expel the smoke more efficiently. And then you have even more energy-efficient systems called condensing furnaces which cool the extra gas-producing water out of the water vapor in the gas, reclaiming much of the heat. This kind of system can be found in both newer furnaces and boilers.

Furnaces are more energy efficient now than ever but the US regulated standards on furnaces haven’t been updated since the 80s so there’s no guarantee that the furnace in your house now, if that is the type of heater you have, is as energy-efficient as possible. However, if you don’t need to replace your furnace due to age or malfunction, you can call a professional to have your existing unit retrofitted to be more energy efficient.


Boilers and other hot water systems are sometimes referred to as hydronic systems. While furnaces operate on basis of heating air and then distributing that hot air throughout the house through vents, boilers operate by heating water. This hot water then goes through the house in things such as radiators. The hot water heats the air around the pipes transfers its heat to that air. Then the cooled water returns to the boiler to be heated again. Most boilers in North America run on gas or oil as fuel, just like furnaces.

Steam boilers work on the principle of actually boiling the water and then delivering the hot steam throughout the house through radiators where the cooling effect of the heat transfer turns the vapor back into liquid water. Steam boilers are much less common today than they were in the past.

Just like a furnace uses a fan to move the air, a boiler uses a pump to move the hot water. In more advanced and new systems of central heating, this hot water is pumped underneath the floor through tubes and this is often referred to as radiant floor heating. Today we’re just focusing on the most basic types of heating systems though. These typically include the use of radiators. The major components of a boiler are:

  • Burner – The burner is the component of boiler that provides the heat that heats the water of system. The most common fuel sources are natural gas and oil.
  • Heat exchanger – The heat exchanger in the boiler allows the heat from the burner to heat the water in the system. The job of the heat exchanger is to carry the heat from the burner to the water without having direct contact with the water. It’s a similar idea to boiling water in a pot.
  • Supply lines – Hydronic heating systems like boilers use piping to deliver the heated water or steam to the distribution points, and the supply lines are the pipes that distribute the hot water or steam to distributor.
  • Return lines – When the water cools, or the steam cools and changes states back to water, the return lines bring this water back to the boiler for re-heating.
  • Firebox – The firebox is where the fuel of system meets the air, creating a flame.
  • Refractory – This refers to the refractory materials that are used for filling any gaps or openings that may be around the fire box. This helps ensure the fire stays in the fire box.
  • Circulator pumps – These pumps push the hot water or steam from system to the heat distributors in our homes.
  • Deaerators or Condenser – Deaerator and condenser tanks are only used in steam boiler systems and not in hot water and hot oil boil because here the fluid always is on liquid form. The construction of these two types of tanks is almost identical, but as their names suggest, they are used for different purposes. It’s through this design that water is heated and then distributed into the home. The water transfers its heat to the air around the radiators and then the cooled water is taken back to be heated again.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are efficient systems because they do both the cooling and the heating for your home all in one. In the warmer months, heat pumps take heat out of the air in the house and vent it outside. In the cooler months heat pumps take warmth from the outside and pump it into the house. Almost all heat pumps distribute warm or cool air through forced-air delivery systems, aka ductwork in the house.

There are two common types of heat pumps, air sourced and ground sourced. Air sourced heat pumps operate as their name suggests and they draw their heat from the air outside during the cool months and move it inside. Ground sourced heat pumps use the heat from the earth below your home and as this is more stable temperature wise ground sourced heat pumps are more efficient. They’re less common however due to the fact that they are more expensive and taxing to install.

Heat pumps have two main components, an indoor unit that acts as an air handler and an outdoor unit that looks a lot like your standard air conditioner but is referred to as the heat pump. Think of a heat pump as a heat transporter constantly moving warm air from one place to another, to where it’s needed or not needed, depending on the season. Even in air that's seems too cold, heat energy is present. When it's cold outside a heat pump extracts this outside heat and transfers it inside. When it’s warm outside, it reverses directions and acts like an air conditioner, removing heat from your home.

Your standard heat pump doesn’t require a lot of parts. In fact, it’s typically made up of the following components: refrigerator coils, a compressor, a reversing valve and two fans. The key to the heat pump is the refrigerant. Like an air conditioner, the refrigerant absorbs heat and then releases it. The main difference is that the reversing valve can change the direction of the refrigerant depending on whether the machine is trying to take heat outside from in or take heat inside from out.

Heating Systems and Heating Repair in Austin

In conclusion, there are three main types of home heating systems found in most houses throughout the US. These types are furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps. Furnaces are going to be most commonly found. They use the same ductwork in your home as your air conditioner and work by heating air with a burner and then blowing that air throughout your home using an air handler. Boilers do as their name suggests and heat water. This water is then distributed through pipes into some delivery system, most commonly radiators in the rooms of your home. The water transfers heat to the air around the radiator and then the cooled water moves back to be heated again. Heat pumps work both as a house’s cooling and heating system and can either take heat from the home and move it outside or reverse based on the weather.

Regardless of the type of heater you have, eventually, you may need repairs. Many homes these days have old or outdated heaters that are prone to disrepair. If you ever find yourself in need of Austin heater repair, consider AC Express. Our professional technicians are experienced in all types of heating systems and heater repair. AC Express is an air conditioning and heating in Austin business capable of same-day heater repair that can’t be beat. Call today!