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All of Your Home Heating Options, Explained


Your home heating system costs more money than any other system in your house, making up roughly 29 percent of your utility bill costs. Regardless of the type of heating system you’ve got in your home, maintaining and upgrading your equipment can help save you money in the long run.

Different Types of Home Heating Systems

There are many different heating options that work great for Brunswick County, North Carolina homes. The most common heat source for most homes in our area is a central heating system. Central heat sources are a primary source of heat that distributes heat to each room in the house. Today there are three primary central heat source systems: boilers, furnaces, and heat pumps.

Heat Pumps 

The most common type of heat pump: the air-source heat pump, works by collecting heat from outdoor air (even in below-freezing conditions) and pumping it into your house via your ductwork. If you currently use a mini-split to heat your home in the colder months, this is a type of air-source heat pump.

Geothermal heat pumps convey warmth from the ground or underground water source into your ductwork. Ductless and split system heat pumps are also available.

Heat pumps also double as air conditioners. When set in reverse, they remove heat and moisture from your home’s indoor air and release it into the outdoor air, or underground.

Pros of Heat Pumps

  • Highly energy efficient. Heat pumps transfer existing heat instead of generating it from scratch through combustion. This means they’re more efficient than furnaces and boilers, which leads to …
  • Low operation cost. Because heat pumps are so efficient, they’re about 1/3 the cost to operate compared to a propane furnace or boiler and will save a homeowner a few hundred dollars each winter compared to using natural gas or electric furnace. Also, natural gas prices are on the rise.
  • Hybrid capabilities. Though not necessary to do so, you can combine heat pumps with other backup heat sources for added peace of mind.
  • Heating AND cooling. In the warmer months, the pump serves as your air conditioner.
  • Vastly reduces your home’s carbon footprint. Heat pumps operate via electricity, which each year is composed of more and more renewable energy.
  • Ductless heat pumps offer easy installation. If your house already has an existing duct system from an old furnace, you can easily switch to a heat pump. Mini-split heat pump systems are also available and don’t require ductwork.
  • No carbon monoxide risk. Since heat pumps are electric, they pose no hazard of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Major federal incentives. Starting in 2023, homeowners can get free air-source heat pumps, heat pumps that are up to 50% off or receive a tax credit worth up to $2,0000 depending on their household income relative to the average in their community.

Cons of Heat Pumps

  • Heat pumps are more expensive than furnaces and boilers. But this is addressed by the new federal law that greatly incentivizes the purchase and installation of air-source heat pumps (see information in the bullet point above).
  • Geothermal heat pump installation is expensive. The price to install a ground-source heat pump involves excavation and can go into the tens of thousands of dollars, though 30% tax credits are available through the federal government. (Air-source heat pump installation costs are on par with any typical furnace, boiler, or air conditioner installation.)
  • Good, but not amazing service life. Since heat pumps double as air conditioners, they are used year-round and usually need replacement after 10 or 15 years of use, which is the same as a furnace and air conditioner but less than a boiler.

Boilers and Radiators

A lot of older homes and apartments in the U.S. are often heated with a traditional boiler or radiator system. There are two types of boiler systems: true steam boilers and modern radiator systems.

True steam boilers circulate steam through pipes to individual radiators. The steam gathers in the radiator and condenses back into water and flows back to the boiler for reheating.

Modern radiator systems use electric pumps to circulate hot water to radiators. The hot water releases its heat at the radiator and the cooled water returns to the boiler for more heating.

In both systems, heat is produced by steam or hot water being pushed through metal pipes to radiators, which are shaped to facilitate heat transfer. Boiler systems can be fueled by natural gas, liquid propane, fuel oil, or electricity.

Pros of Boiler Systems

  • Helps maintain humidity. Radiant heat doesn’t dry out the air like forced air heat.
  • Can be low profile. New radiators offer low-profile baseboard or wall-panel styles.
  • Energy-efficient. Upgrading old boilers can improve energy efficiency.
  • Long service life is possible with regular maintenance. A boiler can last 15-30 years.

Cons of Boiler Systems 

  • Ugly to look at. Old radiators can be an eyesore.
  • Limited options for furniture placement. Radiator placement can limit your options for where you can place your furniture and window coverings.
  • Pollution and CO. Boilers powered by natural gas, propane, or heating oil emit greenhouse gases and pose a carbon monoxide risk.


Most homes in the U.S. (and North Carolina ) are heated with a furnace system. A furnace uses forced air to distribute heat to each room in the house via an air duct system. Furnaces use a range of fuel sources including heating oil, electricity, propane, and natural gas.

The air is warmed within the furnace and a fan or blower pushes that warm air through a duct system and into various rooms of a house. The cooled air then returns to the furnace through a separate series of air vents, known as the return.

Pros of Furnaces 

  • Less expensive. Typically, furnaces are less expensive compared to other heating systems.
  • Good lifespan. Furnaces have a decent lifespan, lasting between 15 and 20 years when properly maintained.
  • Newer models are more energy-efficient. Newer furnace models are required to meet an 80 to 99 percent efficiency rating.

Cons of Furnaces 

  • Noisy. Some may not care for how much noise a furnace puts out. When the blower activates it can be loud. However, newer models are much quieter than their older counterparts.
  • Pollution and CO. Boilers powered by natural gas, propane, or heating oil emit greenhouse gases and pose a carbon monoxide risk.
  • Requires an air duct system. Forced air heating requires air ducts to distribute the home.
  • Dry air. Cold air is dry air. A humidifier may need to be used to maintain a healthy humidity level.

Alternative Home Heating Options

In addition to traditional heating systems, there are alternative ways to heat your home, such as woodstoves, solar heating, and underfloor heating.


Woodstoves used to be the go-to heating source for homes. Today they’re fueled by cleaner-burning wood pellets. These are usually made with wood by-products and combined with corn husks or even nut shells. Some pellet stoves can heat an entire house. You just need to be sure to pick out a stove that is the right size for your house.

Solar Heating Options

Solar heating options come in two forms: active and passive. Depending on your home, you may use one, or both options.

Passive solar heating relies on solar heat passing through windows and skylights to provide warmth. This heat is then contained by an “absorber” such as your flooring. For the best results with passive solar heating, your home needs quality insulation, windows, and energy-efficient doors.

Active solar heating is not as common as passive but can be added as an alternative or aid to your current heating system. These heating systems are designed to take the heat from the sun’s rays to warm water, or air that’s stored or transported directly to the living area via a blower or radiant heat system.

Active solar heating systems typically have a straightforward design but can require a specialized installation, which may make the upfront cost higher than a passive solar heating system.

Under-floor Heating

Under-floor heating is a modern radiant heating system that can use water and plastic tubing encased in a cement floor base or a simple electrical system that attaches to the bottom of a wood floor. This heating system can take longer to reach temperature than a forced-air system

What’s the Most Efficient Heating System for a Home?

For any furnace or boiler system, you’ll want to look at the annual fuel utilization (AFUE). The AFUE compares that model’s efficiency at turning fuel into heat and the amount of fuel the system uses on an annual basis. Any boiler or furnace system with an AFUE of 90 percent or higher is considered very efficient.

Heat pumps use a different metric to measure their effectiveness: the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). The HSPF is the ratio between the amount of heat needed and the total energy used during each season. Heat pumps with an 8.5 HSPF are considered highly efficient.

Installing a New Heating and Cooling System in Ocean Isle, North Carolina

If you think it’s time to replace or upgrade your heating system, A+ Heating, Cooling & Electrical can help. With so many different types of home heating and cooling systems, there is a lot to consider. Our team will work with you to determine the best heating solution for your situation. Get in touch with us today at (910) 600-6025 or request service online.

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