This article was updated on 12/13/19. Happy National Day of the Horse!
Many elements dovetail together in order to create the interior climate and the comfort of your home.
Does your home have the recommended volume of both exterior wall and attic insulation? The volume and
R-value of residential insulation is the jumping off point for the energy efficiency of your home.
Have you sprayed radiant barrier paint or installed foil in your attic? Have you checked your windows and
doors for efficient weather stripping? These are just a few things that affect how hard your home heating
system has to labor to stay at the desired thermostat setting.
Components of your Home Heating System
The different components of devices that comprise your heater generally depend on the homes
location. In areas where winters are mild and the neighborhoods arent too old, a natural gas or electric
furnace is what you might expect to find.
In areas where harder freezes are common, boilers, radiators, and baseboard heaters are more likely to
Regardless of where you live, the classification of components of your heater system are the same.
The Heat Production Unit: A burner fueled by natural gas, electricity,
or oil. This is the primary component of the system.
The Heat Exchanger: Either a furnace that heats air, or a boiler that heats
The Heat Distributor: If you have a furnace, youll recognize this as the
system of ducts that directs heated air throughout your home. Also included are the registers
(also known as diffusers or vents). These are attached to your floors or your ceilings.
If you have a boiler, pipes and radiators make up the physical system that circulates hot water,
generating radiant heat.
The Temperature Controller: Youll recognize this as your heating and
cooling systems interface. Its almost always a thermostat, analog or digital.
In many cases,
a humidistat is included to regulate moisture in the air. When problems raise their ugly heads,
always troubleshoot the thermostat first.
Are You Experiencing a Heating Problem?
Its usually easy to spot any time theres is a heater malfunction. Is your blower starting
quitting too frequently? Do you hear unusual sounds emanating from the vents or any of your other basic
units? Is your utility bill way out of the expected range for an average winter?
As I wrote above,
troubleshoot your thermostat if your equipment short-cycles, or if the set
temperature isnt reached, or if zero heat is perceived even although the air or water is circulating,
or if your heater doesnt shut down when it should. A lot of these issues are owner-doable fixes.
Its an energy-saving idea to install a 7-day programmable thermostat. If you have already installed an AC misting system to lower your bills during the summer, this is a great strategy to do the same during the frigid months.
Of course, there comes a time when it makes more sense to replace and upgrade your system than to put yet another band aid on it. If this is the case, pick your contractor carefully and make sure he correctly determines the size of the HVAC system that you need.
How Your Air Distribution Heater Works
With an air distribution-type system, an electric heating element or a gas or an oil-fueled burner
is installed to warm up the air inside your furnace when your thermostat signals that a lower
threshold temperature has been achieved.
Next, your blower starts to circulate the heated air throughout your ductwork. Smaller branch ducts
(usually insulated flex) diverge from your central duct trunk. They lead to the registers in individual
rooms throughout your home. In order to complete the circuit, your return air duct returns cooler air
back to the furnace again to be reheated and redistributed.
Its critical to maintain a clean filter at the return air interface to avoid contamination and
overworking of the heater.
Your blower and furnace return to the off mode once your thermostat determines that the high threshold
temperature setting has been attained.
How Your Water Distribution Heater Works
A water distribution system is like the air system, with these differences. Instead of using a blower,
a water circulating pump pushes heated water through plumbing pipes throughout the rooms of your house.
Every room has one or more radiators, depending on the rooms size and use. As heated water makes its
way through the connected radiators, it gives off radiant heat. A return main water pipe brings cooler
water back to the furnace again for reheating.
Whether you are using an air or water distribution system, a yearly heating system check-up needs to
be performed for preventative maintenance. If youre not comfortable doing the work, find a licensed
professional in your area.
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