Home heating systems consist of a heating unit (furnace or boiler), a distribution system (ducts and registers or pipes and radiators), and thermostats that control the system. In some cases space heaters are used as a main source or for supplemental heating and do not have distribution systems, such as baseboard heaters.
If you are thinking of upgrading or replacing your home heating system, your choice of heating system may be limited to the type of system that you currently have as well as your energy options (whether or not you have access to natural gas in your area).
Some heating systems can be more costly upfront but can payback the investment quickly with lower operating costs. For example, an electric space heating system may cost less up front, but a natural gas heating system will pay for itself and save an average of $12,000 over its 25-year life.
Energy efficient heating systems use less energy and are therefore less harmful for the environment. In addition to choosing an energy efficient system to lessen negative environmental impacts, Manitobans can reduce their electricity use, which allows Manitoba Hydro to export surplus hydro electricity to provinces and states that would otherwise burn fossil fuels (such as coal). This helps reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Types of home heating systems
Home heating accounts for more than 60% of your energy bill, the largest portion. Understand the costs that are involved and make an informed decision when you replace your old heating equipment.
There are many types of home heating systems. The main sources in Manitoba are:
The type of energy used by your heating system affects how much it costs to heat your home. There is a basic monthly charge to have natural gas service to your home, which is included in the cost to heat your home with natural gas. Based on today’s energy rates, it costs approximately $550 less to heat an average Manitoba home using natural gas than electricity.
Natural gas heating systems are rated by their Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), which describes how efficient a heating system is over the entire heating season. For example, a high efficient furnace with an AFUE of 92% will provide 92% of the natural gas energy to the home over the heating season.
High efficiency furnaces
A high efficiency natural gas furnace uses a secondary heat exchanger to extract energy from water vapour, which is a bi-product of burning natural gas. High efficiency natural gas furnaces have AFUE ratings of 92% and above. It is estimated that you can reduce your home’s annual heating bill by up to 35% compared to using a conventional furnace.
High efficiency natural gas furnaces cannot use a conventional metal chimney to vent flue gases from the home. Instead, they use an approved plastic venting system to vent the lower temperature flue gases outside through the side wall or roof.
If you switch to a high efficiency natural gas furnace, you may be able to leave your existing natural gas water heater on your metal chimney as long as it vents properly and the chimney meets provincial requirements. Your contractor is responsible for informing you if the chimney meets the requirements. If it doesn’t, you may need to modify your venting system. Another option is to install a natural gas water heater that vents out the side wall, or an electric water heater. Talk to your heating contractor about all of your options.
Mid efficiency furnaces
Mid efficiency natural gas furnaces use an electronic ignition system that eliminates the need for a standing pilot light, and an induced draft fan that replaces the conventional furnace’s natural draft venting system. Mid efficiency furnaces have an AFUE rating between 78 and 84%, and have not been available for sale since 2009.
A conventional natural gas furnace has a standing pilot light that operates continuously, and a natural draft venting system which allows heated air to exit out the chimney, even when the furnace is off. These furnaces have an estimated AFUE rating of 60%, and have not been available for sale since 1995.
High efficiency boilers
A high efficiency natural gas boiler uses a secondary heat exchanger to extract energy from water vapour, which is a bi-product of burning natural gas. High efficiency natural gas boilers cannot use a conventional metal chimney to vent flue gases from the home. Instead, they use an approved plastic venting system to vent the lower temperature flue gases outside through the side wall or roof. The AFUE rating for a high efficiency boiler is approximately 90%. It is estimated that you can reduce your home’s annual heating bill by up to 35% by using a high efficiency boiler rather than a conventional model.
Mid efficiency boilers
Mid efficiency boilers have an electronic ignition and use an induced draft fan or vent damper to prevent heated air from escaping up and out of the chimney when the boiler is off. These types of boilers have an estimated AFUE rating of 80 to 85%.
Conventional boilers have a standing pilot light that is always on and a natural draft venting system that allows heated house air to escape up and out through the chimney. The estimated AFUE rating for these types of boilers is 60%. These units have not been available for sale since 1999.
Electric furnaces or baseboard heaters use electric resistance heating elements to generate heat. As long as the electric heating system is located within the home, almost 100% of the electricity consumed by the heating system contributes to heating the house.
If you’re considering an electric furnace or baseboard heaters, you may need to upgrade your electrical service. Depending on the capacity of the electrical appliances and equipment currently installed in your home, and the size of your home, the Manitoba Electrical Code will allow a maximum of 8 to 10 kilowatts of electric heating load on a standard 100-amp service. Most homes will need more than this, so you would have to increase the size of your electrical service. This may involve changing your electrical panel or installing a new 200-amp service. A licensed electrician can tell you if any of these changes are needed.
Geothermal systems are an energy efficient alternative to electric furnaces. They use the earth’s renewable energy to heat or cool your home. Geothermal technology can lower annual heating costs by up to 70%.
Propane or oil
Propane and oil systems have historically been more expensive to heat with than natural gas and electric systems. Fuel oil and propane need to be delivered to your home and stored in an external tank. They are usually used in areas where natural gas is unavailable.
Wood heating seasonal efficiencies can range between 45 and 80%, however the actual efficiency of the system can vary depending on the wood fuel that is being consumed. Moisture content in the wood will have the largest impact on the efficiency of the wood burning heating system. A wood heating system that burns wood that has low moisture content will operate more efficiently than the same heating system burning wood that has high moisture content.
Wood burning heating systems energy source typically comes in 2 forms, solid wood pieces such as logs and wood pellets. Wood pellets are made from wood waste materials using heat and pressure. Wood pellets typically have lower moisture content than solid wood. Both solid wood and wood pellets come with their own advantages and disadvantages and the decision to use one form of wood fuel over the other is really dependent on the specific homeowner’s needs and circumstances.
There are 2 main types of wood-heating systems.
- Central systems (furnaces and boilers)
A central heating system uses a network of ducts and water pipes to distribute heat to the entire house.
- Space heaters (stoves and fireplaces)
A space heater is defined as an appliance intended to heat a general area and is more commonly sold as a supplementary heating system.
Certain renovations can change the way air leaks into and out of your home, and may have an impact on your home’s humidity levels. Read more about managing humidity.