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How to Buy a New Heating System for Your San Diego Home- Part 1

Oct 14, 2012

When shopping for a new San Diego heating system, what size, brand, type and efficiency should you choose? There are a lot of options and it may seem overwhelming, especially since a person may only make this decision once or twice in a lifetime. Because there are so many considerations when purchasing a new furnace or heating system, we’ve broken this blog into 3 parts:

Part 1: Types of Heating Systems

Part 2: Choosing the Right Size & Efficiency Heating System

Part 3: Heating Comfort Features and Brands

Fuel and Energy Supply for Home Heating Systems

First, you’ll need to determine which fuel or energy source you’ll use. Furnaces create heat using different types of energy or fuel: electricity, oil, natural gas or propane gas. If you are installing a heater in a new home or home that has no heating system installed, call SDG&E at 1-800-411-7343(or your city’s utility company) to find out which fuel source costs the least in your area and which are available in your particular neighborhood. In some neighborhoods, often newer developments, natural gas is not available. San Diego heating professionals like Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air, have a lot of experience in local neighborhoods and can also be an excellent source for this information. If you have the option and one fuel source is significantly lower cost per BTU (British Thermal Unit – a unit of heat measurement), then you’ll likely use that one. Besides the cost per BTU, you should also keep in mind how the fuel is delivered to the home. Natural gas and electricity are supplied as needed and automatically. A service truck will have to visit your home periodically to fill a tank for propane or oil. If you are replacing an existing heater you’ll most likely use the same fuel or energy type for the new unit.

Types of Heating Systems

After determining fuel type, you’ll decide what type of heating system you need/want. There are seven common types of heating systems…

1) Standard Forced Air Furnaces

Standard forced air heaters are the most common heaters. They are installed inside the home and are connected to ductwork that distributes the heat to rooms. A big benefit of forced air furnaces is that central air conditioning can be added to it to create a complete heating and air conditioning system. Forced air furnaces have 3 basic variations, depending on where you want to install it and the direction of airflow you desire.

  • Up-flow: usually installed in a basement or closet and blows the air up
  • Down-flow: usually installed in a closet and blows the air downward
  • Horizontal flow: installed horizontally, usually in attics and crawl-spaces and blow the air out the side

Any of these variations may work for you if you are building a new home. When replacing an existing forced air furnace, you’ll want a new furnace with the same orientation as the old furnace. Due to the popularity of gas and propane forced air furnaces, manufacturers have added high-efficiency and enhanced comfort options. We will discuss these in more depth in parts 2 and 3 of this blog series.

2) Boilers

Boilers use a system of pipes to distribute heated water to radiators throughout the home. Boilers are for heating only. There is no ductwork and they cannot be manipulated to provide cooling. Some people like boiler systems because gentle rays of heat come from the room radiators instead of warm air being blown into the room like with a forced air heater (the heat from a boiler system is “radiant”). Boilers can also be used for in-floor heating. Hot water circulates through tubing that is installed under the floor, making the entire floor warm. This is nice for tile flooring that is cold in the winter. Either way, pipes or tubing are required throughout the home to distribute the hot water or steam. If the boiler piping already exists, your best heating option is to replace it with another boiler (assuming there are no major issues with the existing piping).

3) Split-System Heat Pumps

A heat pump operates entirely on electricity and is usually a low-cost way to heat a home. It is a central air conditioner that provides cooling in the summer, then runs backward in the winter to provide heating. The split-system heating pump has a heat pump that sits outside in the yard, and an air handler inside the home that connects to ductwork to distribute the air. Heat pumps work well in warmer parts of the country. A split system heat pump is a good choice if:

  • You live in Southern California
  • You also want air conditioning
  • Your electricity source is affordable (compared to gas or propane)
  • You already have or plan to install ductwork
  • You are replacing an existing split-system heating pump

4) Package Heating Units

With packaged heating units all of the equipment is outside the home (except the ductwork which exits the home and connects to the packaged unit). These units typically combine heating and cooling and there are two types:

  • Packaged Heat Pumps: provide heating and cooling and run entirely on 220v electricity
  • Gas Packs: run on 220v electricity for air conditioning and natural gas or propane for heat

Packaged heating systems units are good if:

  • There is no room for heating equipment inside
  • You live in a mobile or modular home—these homes have special ducting to support this type of heating system

You are replacing an existing packaged unit

5) Hanging Furnaces

Hanging furnaces (or “garage furnaces”)use natural gas or propane. They are suspended from the ceiling and are used in warehouses, garages, workshops and other similar spaces. Hanging furnaces blow warm air directly into the space, so ductwork is needed. High-efficiency models aren’t typically available and hanging furnaces can’t be connected to a central air conditioning, but they are affordable and convenient if you need to heat a warehouse, garage or workshops.

6) Electric Baseboard Heaters

Baseboard electric heaters attach to the wall of a room along the baseboard and radiate heat. There are typically one or more installed in each room. There are no moving parts and they run on electricity (110v or 220v). If running high voltage wiring through the walls is feasible, electric baseboard heaters are inexpensive and easy to install in new or renovated homes. Although they are inexpensive to buy, electric baseboard heaters cost more to run because they are not energy-efficient compared to heating options like heat pumps. Because of the amount of wiring needed, it’s not really a practical solution for homes that are already built. This heating system is not recommended as a primary heat source for a home. These would be better used for something like a room addition, where inexpensive heating is needed for the single space.

7) Mini-Split Heating Systems

Mini-split systems have been rapidly gaining popularity in the US, but they have been popular in Europe and Asia for many years. They have two parts, and outdoor condenser and an indoor air handler that mounts to a wall inside. They don’t require any ductwork. A mini-split system provides cooling and can be a heat pump type so that it also heats. Temperature is set by remote control. Mini-split systems are a good choice if:

  • You want to heat and cool a room addition like a sunroom
  • You want to heat and cool a small apartment or small home that doesn’t have ductwork

Selecting Your San Diego Heating System: What’s Next?

Now that you are familiar with the different types of furnaces and heaters available, you’ll need to determine what size you need for your space, consider efficiency ratings and identify what additional comfort features appeal to you. Subscribe to our blog or come back next week for more on these additional considerations.

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