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An Overview of Common Home Heating Systems

Homeowners want the best type of home heating system to keep their families and themselves warm through the cold winter months, because here in Pennsylvania, we know just how brutal the weather can be this time of year. With a wide variety of heating systems available on the market, you may wonder how yours compares to the rest and whether you’re getting the most effective and efficient whole-home heating possible. 

At WM Buffington, we have extensive experience in all types of heating systems, from electric and natural gas to propane and oil. We are experts in all things heating and we’re eager to share what we’ve found during our 70 years of working in the Central Pennsylvania community. The following is an overview of the most common home heating systems and what you should know about choosing the right one for your needs. 

Why the Right Heating System Matters

This may be an obvious one, but having a well-heated home is important for your health and safety. It keeps you safe from frigid temperatures, and it provides a level of comfort that is all too often taken for granted. A good home heating system will also optimize the amount of money you spend on energy and heating bills, reducing the strain on your wallet without having to compromise on what keeps your home happy. 

Additionally, the right heating system for your home also means using a heating system that is up-to-date. Older heating systems, while effective, can be incredibly inefficient, leading to higher energy costs, larger carbon footprints, and potential safety hazards. It has never been smarter to upgrade to a modern home heating system, one that is both right for your home and your budget. 

Common Heating Systems - Pros and Cons 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when researching all the various types of heating systems on the market. There are different energy sources, different means of transmitting the heat energy throughout your home, and differences in the costs incurred (upfront and operating). Here is a breakdown of the most common home heating systems. 


Being one of the oldest and most popular types of heating systems, furnaces are used throughout the United States. Furnaces are permanently-installed heating appliances that can heat a whole home or building, or even individual portions. The most common fuel source for a furnace is natural gas, but they can also use oil, electricity, petroleum gas, wood, and even coal! They work very similarly to an oven (hence the name ‘furnace’ deriving from the Latin word fornax, meaning oven); using combustion of the fuel source, heat energy is created and transferred by draft or mechanical distribution throughout the building. 


  • Reliable, even in freezing temperatures
  • Less maintenance than other heating systems
  • Low operating costs (when using gas)
  • Long lifespan (20-30 years)
  • Easy and inexpensive installation
  • Modern furnaces can be up to 98.5% efficient 


  • Can have expensive operating costs if using electricity (gas is usually less expensive)
  • Shorter lifespan than electric heaters
  • Very low health risks, such as potential for fire and carbon monoxide exposure 
  • Older furnaces may only be 56-70% efficient 

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are a heating and cooling system that works by transferring heat from one location to another. Heat pumps absorb warmth from outside of your home, such as from the ground, water, and air. They usually come in different types, specialized by which medium they extract heat from (ground, water, or air), and this method of transferring thermal heat has grown in popularity due to the fact that it does not burn any fuel and thus emits no carbon dioxide that can be harmful to the environment. 


  • Sustainable and environmentally-friendly
  • High-efficiency 
  • Low maintenance when properly installed
  • Safe and easy to use


  • Increased electric energy usage (bad for areas where electric energy is expensive)
  • Requires more extensive planning and preparation for installation
  • Requires an experienced technician for installation
  • Lower lifespan than furnaces (15 years)


Boilers are another heating appliance that operate in a similar way to furnaces. Using an energy source such as gas or electricity, water is heated to a set temperature within a boiler and distributed throughout the home via piping. This hot water circulates through pipes and radiators located throughout the home, and the radiant heat from the water and its piping in turn heats the surrounding environment. The water will pass through the entire home in a closed loop, then return to the boiler in order to be heated again. Like furnaces, they can achieve up to 98.5% efficiency in newer models, while older models can be as low as 56% efficient. 


  • Energy-efficient (newer models)
  • Can be versatile in heating water for at-home use 
  • Consistent and even heat
  • Low operating costs


  • Higher installation costs
  • May require extra space and heating infrastructure (pipes)
  • Older models are inefficient 
  • Very low health risks, such as potential for fire and carbon monoxide exposure

Radiant Heating

Radiant heating is an efficient and innovative home heating system that provides comfort by distributing warmth directly from the hot surfaces to the people and objects in a room. As opposed to conventional heating systems that circulate heated air, radiant heating operates through infrared radiation, effectively eliminating disturbing drafts and noise. Often embedded in floors, radiant heating enables evenly distributed and consistent heat throughout your living space. This method of heating not only provides enhanced comfort but also contributes to significant energy savings due to its efficient operation, making it an environmentally friendly and cost-effective choice for homeowners.


  • Work well for large buildings and homes
  • Compatible with heat pumps and hot water systems
  • Energy efficient 
  • Requires no airflow or circulation and therefore reduces the spread of airborne particles 
  • More efficient than baseboard and forced air heating


  • Ineffective at immediate heat access
  • Affects acoustics within a space it is implemented in
  • Requires specialists to design, install, and maintain
  • Only uses electricity or water sources of energy and transmission

Electric Baseboards

The term ‘baseboard’ refers to a heating appliance being located along the bottom of walls in a room. Electric baseboards are a heating system that houses a metal heating element - this internal device is heated by electricity, and the metal fins that form the structure of the baseboard spread the heat throughout the room. This type of heater is often used to heat certain zones within a home and can be used as a supplemental heating system alongside your main heating system, such as for areas with heat loss or in places where cold air enters the home. 


  • Uses electric energy 
  • Often self-controlled with internal thermostats
  • Nearly silent
  • Can target specific zones within a home
  • Simple installation


  • Increases electric energy bills
  • Not as effective for whole-home heating
  • Slower than forced air systems 
  • Creates dry air in homes
  • Can get dangerously hot and are thus a safety hazard for pets and children
  • Requires regular cleaning and maintenance

Furnace Installation to Get You Through The Winter

Deciding on the right home heating system can be difficult. Many factors will influence this choice, such as the decision between electric and gas heating, but this is why we recommend relying on someone who can provide you with professional expertise and advice. 

If a furnace installation is in your near future or if you have questions regarding any type of home heating system, don’t hesitate and contact WM Buffington today! 

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