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Home Heating

Consider replacing your existing heating system if any of the following are true:

  • Your heating system is more than 15 years old.
  • The system is broken and repairs would cost more than half the cost of replacing it.
  • The heating system is very inefficient.


Furnaces are the most common way to heat a home in the United States. Central forced-air furnaces distribute heated air through the house via ducts. Most are fueled by natural gas; others use electricity, oil, or propane.


Boilers use natural gas, oil, electricity, or propane to heat water (for steam or hot water) that is distributed via pipes to upright radiators, baseboard convectors, or radiant floor tubing. Combination units can provide space and water heating.

For both furnaces and boilers, tell your contractor you are interested in models with a high annual fuel utilization efficiency, also known as AFUE, which is a measure of heating equipment efficiency.

Electric Heating

Electric heating includes central forced-air electric furnaces, as well as wall-mounted or baseboard heating. Electric heat can be more expensive than other fuel options. If electricity is the only choice, heat pumps are preferable in most climates.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are an efficient option for all-electric houses or houses with central propane or oil. Heat pumps are generally air-source or ground-source and can be used for both heating and cooling. See the section on Heat Pumps for more information.

Wood Stoves

Wood and pellet-fuel stoves heat homes using biomass or waste sources. Look for EPA-certified wood stoves and replace inserts for cleaner, more efficient burning. Visit for options.

Solar Heating

Active solar heating uses the sun to heat air or liquids. The heat is then ducted or blown into living space or stored for later use. Solar water heaters can preheat water for radiators or radiant floor heat. Both liquid and air systems can supplement forced air systems (i.e., furnaces or heat pumps).

Passive solar home design can also improve the comfort of the home and reduce heating and cooling costs; see the section on Passive Solar for more information.

Visit for more detailed information on each technology.

Heating Quick Tips

  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as recommended.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; contact a professional if you’re unsure how to perform this task.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Open draperies and shades on your south-facing windows during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home. Close them at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.