When the outdoor temperatures drop in the winter months, homes and workplaces rely on a heating solution to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature for the occupants.

There are a number of different types of heating methods for homes and business premises and in this article I will cover the main or most popularly used types.

Types of Heating Systems

heatingThere are two main types of heating solutions available to homes and other occupied buildings, which are centrally produced or direct source. Let's take a look at these two main groups and the main sub-types of each:

Central Heat

This type of heating derives its core heat source from a central location. This is generally an air heating furnace or water boiler, or in some cases a heat pump that are connected to a central heat distribution system.


The traditional furnace is a common heat source in North American homes and other buildings and in many cases uses a locally sourced fuel to burn in order to produce heat that is distributed throughout the building. Fuel sources are commonly either:

Solid Fuel:

This type of fuel is either locally sourced wood, depending on the abundance of woodland in the area, or coal and coal substitutes (coke, pellets etc). This type of fuel can be very cost effective when locally sourced and in abundant supply.

In some cases, such as with homesteads located in wooded areas, the fuel can even be free as long as the homeowner is able to collect and chop the wood themselves.

Gas or Oil

The other main fuel source for furnaces is oil or gas (natural or propane, depending upon supply). In cities, it is relatively common to have a natural gas supply and this can provide a cost-effective fuel source where it would otherwise prove more expensive to use solid fuels that have to be transported in.

Heat Pump

Another type of heat source comes in the form of a heat pump, which can double as air conditioning in summer. This method works by using either the outside air or the ground itself as the heat source.

Outside air sourced heat pumps make use of the outdoor temperature of the air to provide a heat exchange with the air temperature inside. This type of heat pump is more popular because it is cheaper and easier to install.

Ground source heat pumps use heat from the ground as their source and are also known as "Geothermal" or "GeoExchange (GX)" heat pumps. This type of heater takes the naturally warmer soil below ground and uses it as the source of heat that is then radiated throughout the building.

This type of heating solution is very efficient and ecologically friendly in that it doesn't use electricity or burn fossil fuels to produce heat. Looped pipes are buried in the soil outside the house and connect to a distribution pump inside.

Heat Distribution

The two main forms of heat distribution in a home from a central heater are forced air or pumped hot water to radiators or baseboards.

Direct Heat

There are several forms of direct heat source that can be used to keep a home warm in winter. They range from built-in fireplaces and stoves to smaller electric heaters, fan heaters and stand-alone gas appliances.

Let's look at some of the more popular direct heat solutions:

Space Heaters (Gas Fired)

Gas fired space heaters are popular in some areas especially where there is a natural gas hookup as this can be a relatively inexpensive way to stay warm I winter.

These units are generally sited in otherwise unused fireplaces and make use of the chimney to remove exhaust gases out of the building. Where there are no fireplaces, gas heaters can be fitted to any external wall and use a flue to send exhaust gases to the outside through a specially installed port in the wall.

Space Heaters (Gas Unvented)

Ventless heaters that use gas as their fuel source are common because they are inexpensive and run on propane gas that can be bought in handy gas containers. These containers can be refilled at the local hardware store.

They are portable and can be wheeled from room to room as needed. Their main drawback is they do not vent unburned gas and other exhaust gases produce by the combustion process (most notably the poisonous carbon monoxide) to the outside.

As long as the space being heated by one of these units is adequately ventilated, they can be used in short bursts for spot heat. However, they are not recommended for prolonged use and definitely not for use in enclosed spaces or rooms with all the windows and doors close.

Space Heaters Electric

Electric space heaters are very popular for their convenience, small size, portability and ease of use as well as relative safety.

The main drawback of using electricity to produce heat is the cost. It can work out to be expensive to run several electric heaters in a home in electricity costs alone.

Stoves (wood or Pellet Burning)

Wood or pellet burning stoves are more popular in locations away from cities and especially in remote homesteads and farms. They double as a heat source as well as a unit to cook meals on.

A large wood-fired range in a kitchen can keep a whole house warm in winter while providing all the cooking power needed to feed a family, make hot drinks and bake nice things to eat.


A traditional fireplace with burning logs or coal is a welcoming sight and provides a very homely feel to a house. As long as the chimney is regularly cleaned and a clean-burning fuel source is used, there is not as much mess as many believe.

However, a good proportion of noxious gases produced by solid fuel-burning fireplaces do not make it up the chimney with some being distributed throughout the house. A number of recent studies have confirmed that many respiratory conditions can be exacerbated when a person is in regular contact with these gases and smoke inhalation.

Radiant Floor Heating

In addition to the above direct heating methods, there is also a more modern form of radiant floor heating available. This utilizes circulated hot water in pipes laid beneath the floor and connected to a central heating system and pump.

Advocates of this form of heating cite the efficiency of such a method where heat rises, providing the maximum effect by having the heat source at the lowest point in the room.

More Information

There is a lot more to learn about the various types of heating that are available for homes. Additional information is provided in separate published articles on this website that are listed below: