Heating Your Home: Central Heating and Other Methods

When it comes to heating your home, you have many options to choose from. The two primary kinds are central heating and direct heating. Many heating solutions fall under each category, each providing their own advantages. Let’s take a closer look at your choices.

Central Heating

Central heating is defined by the principle of having a single heating element in a central location that distributes the heat through your home. The three major types of central heating units are:


Furnaces are by far the most common heating option used in modern homes. They are fueled by electricity, gas, or oil. They heat air that is then forced through ductwork throughout the home, typically by fans. If your home already has ducts in place, a furnace is a great option as the ductwork can carry warm air in the colder months and cool air from an air conditioner in the summer. A single thermostat provides a single point to control the temperature of your home. Great leaps have been made in recent years to improve the efficiency of furnaces by capturing exhaust heat rather than venting it wastefully into the atmosphere.


Boilers heat water or steam by heating water in a tank and distributing it through a series of pipes to radiators located in rooms throughout your house. The water cools in radiators as it transfers heat to the air in a room, returning to the water heater for reheating. Though not as common as furnaces in most modern homes, boilers still exist in many older homes throughout North America. Boilers offer the advantage of more easily implementing multiple thermostats to control the temperature in individual rooms.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps extract the heat from the ground or the air outside your home and transfer that heat inside to be distributed by forced-air fans located in each room or by pre-existing ductwork. They work via the same principle as an air conditioner but in reverse. The most inexpensive implementations extract the heat from the air, but more efficient systems use geothermal energy from the ground to heat your home. These are by far the most efficient and sustainable options for heating your home.

Direct Heat

Direct heat does not incorporate a method of distributing heat throughout a home. Instead, the heating unit heats the air in a single room.

Space Heater

A space heater is a gas or electric-powered unit that heats air within the unit and blows the warmed air into the room with a fan. These small devices can be handy to heat a confined area but are typically highly inefficient. In cases where the convenience outweighs the economics of a space heater, ensure adequate ventilation for gas-powered units and look for built-in safety cut-offs for all types.


A stove is often cast-iron and fueled by wood. The flame heats the stove which radiates heat throughout a room. This could be a good option to heat small spaces in regions where firewood is plentiful. Once again, be sure to adequately ventilate exhaust fumes.


A fireplace is a mainstay in most homes. Older fireplaces are more of a decor option than a suitable heating source because much of the warm air is vented out of the home and replaced by cooler outside air. However, some modern glass-fronted fireplaces can provide ample heat and a cozy ambiance to a room. If you would like more information on any of the above types of heating methods for your home, call Northern's One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning® today at (763) 284-8639.