How to Find the Best Cooling and Heating System for Your Home

Choose the best heating and cooling system for your home with these helpful tips

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Rachel Polant

Jan 9

Being Cool Is More Than Attitude. It’s also About Finding the Correct Cooling System for Your House!

As members of modern society, we probably don’t give much of a thought to the complexities of that go into the climate control in our homes. We know we don’t want to sweat or shiver with the weather outside, so we put our faith in the mighty HVAC system running in our homes, trusting it will perform without letting us down. Our HVAC system is there, tucked always somewhere in our homes doing its job. But heating and cooling systems are as varied as the homes they’re situated in.

What heating and cooling system you need depends on where you’re located. If it’s like the swamps of Dagobah during the summer then you’ll mostly likely need a single or multi-stage air conditioner. But if live in an area as dry as Tatooine, a swamp cooler might fit your needs just fine.

Not all HVAC systems are created equally.

Heating is given a rating called the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). This is a measure of a gas furnace’s efficiency in converting fuel to energy. A higher AFUE rating means greater energy efficiency. So, if your furnace has an AFUE of 90, then 90 percent of the fuel is converted to heat and 10 percent is lost. This efficiency is affected by several factors, not only single versus multi-stage, but also fuel type and size.

Natural gas is typically less expensive than oil, and both are generally less expensive than electricity. The federal government allows for an efficiency rating as low as 78 percent, except in mobile homes, where the minimum is 75 percent. Units that are classified as high efficiency have an AFUE of 85 percent or greater. Electric furnaces are actually highly efficient; however, electricity is a more expensive heating method than gas or oil.

Heat output is measured in British thermal units (BTUs). Common BTUs include 40,000, 60,000, 80,000, 100,000 and 120,000. The appropriate heat output is directly related to the size of your home. A furnace that is too large will not be energy efficient, and one that is too small won’t provide enough heat. A qualified HVAC Professional will know what will work best for your home.

Types of Heat Systems

Forced Air

The single-stage is the most common type of heating and cooling system across the U.S. Chances are your home is already fitted with one of these. A single stage HVAC system consists of a heating system and an air conditioning system, and it uses a single thermostat which controls both the A/C and the heat. The heat or air is either on or off. There is no variable power going to it. It blasts out heat or cold air until it reaches your desired temperature and then shuts off. Old single-stage thermostats use a mercury switch or metal coil to measure and set temperature. These are noticeable by their old school beige box and lever or dial. Modern single-stage thermostats are digital and use a thermistor to measure temperature changes, which will turn your HVAC system on and off. Most thermostats are programmable, and many are touch screen. Not only does it make it easier to automatically set up your thermostat to your desired temp, it’s cost effective too.

A multi-stage system uses fluctuating levels of energy to heat or cool a home. Sometimes you’ll hear the term two-stage system. They are virtually identical. These require a multi-stage thermostat to manage your system as well. Think of its operation more along the lines of a light on a dimmer switch. With a single-stage, it’s all or nothing. With a multi-stage, there are degrees.

To warm up a house in the morning to 72 degrees, the furnace has to kick on and then continuously blow out heat at one level until it reaches that temp, then it turns off until the temp drops again, and then the cycle repeats. With a multi-stage HVAC system, a furnace may only need to work at 70 percent capacity to bring the house’s temperature to 72 degrees, and then from there on out at 50 percent, saving the homeowner in energy costs. Another upside to a multi-stage system is comfort. It keeps the environment at a consistent temperature without all of the fluctuations. You won’t have to keep reaching for your snuggie in the winter — unless you want to. However, a multi-stage furnace might not be ideal for a very large home unless it has zoned heating.

Average, mid-efficiency, two-stage furnaces cost about $2,500–$4,000, including installation. The furnace itself usually costs around $1,500–$2,000, while labor adds an additional $1,000–$2,000, depending on different factors. High-efficiency models cost about $4,000–$5,000 to buy and install.

Generally, multi-stage furnaces cost about $500 more than comparable single-stage models. Opting for a variable-speed blower adds about another $200. For example, a brand that sells a high-efficiency, single-stage furnace for $3,700 would likely sell a high-efficiency, double-stage furnace for $4,200 and a high-efficiency, double-stage furnace with variable speeds for $4,400.

Mid-efficiency, single-stage furnaces costs about $2,000–$3,500, including installation. The furnace itself usually costs about $1,000–$1,500, while labor adds an additional $1,000–$2,000, depending on different factors. High-efficiency models can cost $4,000 or more to buy and install.

Heat Pumps

In moderate climates, heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm space. So, it works as a heater when it’s cold outside and reverses course and becomes your air conditioner when it’s hot in the summer. You can pair a heat pump with your furnace and create a cost-effective hybrid system, using less gas or propane.

There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source, and geothermal. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. The most common type of heat pump is the air-source heat pump, which transfers heat between your house and the outside air.

The initial investment in a heat pump is more expensive than a tradition forced air system. For a mid-quality system, a homeowner can expect to pay around $9,000 total for parts and labor.

Radiant Floors

Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor (or even to panels in the wall or ceiling of a house). The systems depend largely on radiant heat transfer — the delivery of heat directly from a hot surface to people and objects in the room via infrared radiation.

Radiant heating can be superior in a number of ways. Because it eliminates duct loss from air leaks, it’s more efficient than baseboard heating and is normally more efficient than forced-air heating. It’s also allergy-friendly because it doesn’t stir up allergens as a forced-air system can. Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity. This is especially beneficial for homes in areas with high electricity prices or that are off the grid entirely.

Hydronic systems can use a wide variety of energy sources to heat the liquid, including gas or oil boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or a combination of these sources. Hydronic systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems. Hydronic radiant floors pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor.

Cost is dependent on the size of the project, the type of radiant heat, etc. But most people paid a minimum of $6.00 a square foot for hydronic flooring, and a minimum of $8.00 for electric radiant flooring. 

Boilers

Boilers aren’t the heating system de jour installed in new homes these days, but many older homes and multi-residence properties still have boiler systems. Also, there are people who love to pay homage to their historical homes and strive to be true to its internal architecture. There are modern, safe boilers on the market.

Radiator Heat

Radiators make your home warm and cozy on two principles: radiation and convection. A radiator uses radiant energy to transfer heat to the air through electromagnetic waves, similar to the heat from an open fire. But convection is the main means through which a radiator generates heat. When the radiant energy heats the air next to a radiator, the heated air rises, which pulls cooler air through the radiator and starts the air moving. This movement forms vertical currents that travel across a room, carrying the heated air with them.

Steam radiator heating dates back to the mid-1800s. It uses a boiler to heat water until it produces steam. Boilers can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or fuel oil. Steam rises on its own, so there’s no need for a pump or blower to distribute warm air through the piping system to the radiators. It takes a bit of time to heat the water until it boils and produces steam, meaning a radiator system may not produce consistent heat when warming and cooling rooms.

Baseboard Heating

Baseboard heating, unlike freestanding radiators, is installed inside vented baseboards. Some baseboard radiators are recessed into the base of the wall and vented at openings along the floor. At the vent openings, metal fins create an expanded surface area that absorbs and radiates the heat from hot water-filled pipes.

Baseboard radiators are fairly high maintenance due to the fact that they must be kept clean. Dust and dirt that build up on the fins act as insulation, thus impeding heat transmission, and blocking air from circulating freely.

A new boiler system averages between $2,500–$10,000. Hydronic baseboard radiators come in standard sizes such as 3, 5, 6 and 8 foot. Depending on the unit’s size and output, you can spend expect to pay $100–$500 or more apiece.

How to choose the right heating and cooling system for your home

It seems like a lot to take in, but depending on where you live and the type of home you have, and of course, your budget — it helps narrow down some of the choices for you.A qualified heating and cooling contractor will help you make the correct HVAC decision for your home. It seems complicated and overwhelming, but that’s why there are professionals to deal with it for us. Get a few quotes, do your research, and if the quote seems too low and too good to be true, it probably is and should be seen as a red flag. Always get a written contract that is detailed and updated with any changes. HVAC might not be the most expensive home improvement undertaking, but it still costs a significant amount of money. And, most of us feel having a well-functioning HVAC system in our home is essential to our comfort. If you’re in the market for a new heating or cooling system, check out service.com’s HVAC pros.

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