There are any number of ways to heat and cool your home. However, here we’re going to talk about central heating and cooling systems, where heat is generated in one location and used throughout the house, not fireplaces, space heaters, or the heat from big, south-facing windows on a sunny day.
Central home heating systems may seem complicated, but at heart they’re simple. There are just a few basic types and all are fundamentally about the same thing–moving BTU’s–British Thermal Units. A BTU is the basic measure of quantity of heat, the amount of heat needed to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Every home heating system uses either air or water (and occasionally steam, which is water in vapor form) to move BTU’s.
If your heating system uses water to move those BTU’s in a closed piping system throughout your house, you’ve got a hydronic heating system. If instead, you have ductwork, vents and blowers to move warm or cool air around, then you have a forced air system.
You can further classify residential heating/cooling systems by how heat is generated. The system may have a furnace or boiler, electric heating elements, or a wood stove, for example. In addition, more systems today use solar energy or geothermal energy as their primary heat source or as a supplement.
Systems also differ by the fuel they use. Most typically that means fuel oil, natural gas, propane, electricity from the local utility company, wood or wood products. Again, more systems today dispense with fuel and utilize energy from the sun or heat energy stored beneath the earth’s surface.