What Makes Forced-Air Heating the Most Popular Heating System

So, what is forced-air heating? It's a great HVAC system that many U.S. homeowners choose to install because it's a dependable heating solution for their homes.

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Rachel Polant

Dec 26

May the Forced-Air Be With You: What’s the Lowdown on Forced-air Heating?

There are several common residential heating systems on the HVAC market. HVAC is an acronym for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. Heat refers to your furnace or other types of heating units. The ventilation is the ductwork, vents, and registers from which the heated air is distributed.

Air conditioning can also be a central system run during the cooling season, or it can be an entirely separate air conditioner unit that cools a single room or is ductless.

Maybe it’s been a while since you needed a new heating system for your home. Your old system is reaching its limits of use, and you don’t want to take the chance your heating unit won’t switch on when the weather turns cold and you and your family need to stay cozy and warm.

In the U.S., the most popular type of system for heating is the forced-air furnace. There’s got to be a good reason most North American homeowners choose to heat their homes with forced-air heating. So, what is forced-air heating, and why is the forced-air furnace such a popular HVAC option?

What Is Forced-air Heating and How the System Works

Before you hire an HVAC contractor to install any heating and cooling system, it’s a good idea to first understand its basic workings. A forced-air system uses a furnace or heat pump to heat the air. The warmed air is then dispersed throughout the home via the ductwork and enters each room through vents.

The desired temperature is set at the thermostat, signaling the furnace to pull cold air from inside the home and into the system. Here, it passes through the air filter.

The air filter removes debris from the air, like pollen, dust, and other impurities. After passing through the air filter, the air blows through the air handler. It is then warmed by the furnace’s heat source and sent throughout the home via the ducts using the blowing motor to disperse the warm air.

If your home has a heat pump as its central source of heat, it will pull heat out of the air from the outdoor unit, passing it through the refrigerant lines going into your home. It then passes through the air handler and into your home’s ducts. Heat pumps transfer heat rather than generate it.

This entire process in heating will repeat itself until the desired temp you set for the thermostat is reached.

What Are the Benefits of a Forced-air heating System?

A forced-air heating system has quite a few functions that make it a great choice in HVAC system for your home.

  1. Energy-efficient: Due to federal guidelines, new forced-air heating systems must operate at higher efficiency levels than they had in the past. Look for a high AFUE rating. The higher the number, the more fuel is converted to energy. You’ll not only be helping the environment by contributing less waste, but you’ll also be saving money on your energy bills every month.
  2. Air quality: It’s important to perform regular maintenance on your furnace. Not only does it extend the life of your system, regularly changing the furnace’s filters in a forced-air system improves the air quality in your home. A furnace filter traps airborne particles and allergens, helping to keep you and your family healthy.
  3. Double duty cooling and heating: A forced-air system can combine heating and cooling because they share the same ductwork. It’s the only HVAC system that can do this.

What Are the Downsides of Owning and Operating a Forced-air Heating System?

Nothing’s perfect, right? Even a great HVAC system has its disadvantages. There aren’t many with a forced-air heating system, but it’s good to know what the cons might be and how they’ll affect you.

  1. Uneven air distribution: This is probably the biggest gripe amongst homeowners with a forced-air heating system. Because the system relies on ductwork with vents to distribute warm air throughout the home, flow can be uneven if these vents are blocked with furniture, drapery, books, etc., or if the vents are poorly placed and don’t produce adequate, even output.
  2. Can be a bit noisy: Some system brands are quieter than others, and it also depends on what types of sounds and their associated noise levels get under your skin. A forced-air system, heating and cooling, create some noise every time the system kicks on. When the heat or A/C cycle on, you can hear the fans and air rushing through the vents. But, like with any sustained contact with a noise, (think living near train tracks) it usually just becomes part of the integrated background sounds of everyday life.
  3. Needs regular and scheduled maintenance: A furnace’s filter needs to be replaced every six months or as often as every three months if the home has any smokers or several shedding pets about because it will get dirtier faster. If your forced-air HVAC system includes both heating and central air conditioning, you will need a tune-up twice a year that is scheduled to roughly coincide with daylight savings. If you only have a forced-air heating system, a scheduled maintenance before the heating season will be sufficient. Maintenance and regular filter changes are important in keeping your forced-air heating system working for decades.

So, what is forced-air heating? It’s a great HVAC system that many U.S. homeowners choose to install because it’s a dependable heating solution for their homes. Your HVAC contractor can tell you more about the differences between the brands and the systems themselves, like single-stage, multi-stage, and furnaces with variable fan speeds.