A Guide to Understanding Central Heating
We all know it well, the winter huddle. Around the fireplace or space heater, you, your toes and the kiddies are bundled in blankets and swarmed together to access the heat. That is, before you discovered the wonder of central heating. A central heating system provides warmth to the whole interior of a building, sourcing from one location and reaching several. Particularly for families in large homes, central heating can be a real blessing when those cold winter days begin.
Types of Central Heating
- HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning): Available both in homes and automobiles, HVAC is a system designed to accommodate indoor environmental comfort. These all-in-one systems, so to speak, are often operated on a thermostat and can be rather pricey.
- Boiler/central furnace: Boilers and furnaces are closed units in which a fluid, typically water, is heated. The vaporized fluid exits the boiler and is used in a central heating process. Usually made of steel, boilers often come installed on a property before new owners move in. Due to the heavy materials they are made of, boilers are extremely expensive and not very popular.
- Radiator: Also known as heat exchangers, radiators transfer energy from one medium to another in order to cool or heat compartments. They are very common in cars, buildings and electronics. For heating a building, radiators are commonly paired with a central boiler, which uses pumps to circulate air through the radiators. There are two types of radiators: single-pipe and double-pipe. The former works with steam, the latter with steam or hot water.
- Electric and gas-fired heaters: Electric heaters are usually part of a fan coil that is part of a central air conditioner. They blow air across the heating unit, which circulates the heat through the air ducts. Gas-fired electronics use natural gas, propane and oil to produce heat, which is then circulated throughout a building. Electric heaters typically cost more than gas-fired heaters do.
Important Central Heating Features
- Efficiency: Standard high-efficiency central heating is around 80 percent efficient. This is ideal for standard or mild climate areas where building owners would like to save energy on heating. However, for areas with harsh winters, a 90-percent efficient central heater would be a wise investment. Chances are that the $1,000 more paid upfront will be repaid in future fuel or gas savings.
- Repair or replace? When something goes wrong in central heating systems with furnaces, the question is typically whether to repair it or replace it. When shopping for furnaces, find ones with strong heat exchangers and control modules. While most features on a furnace can be repaired when they malfunction, these two cannot. The investment will likely be worth it.
- Noise: If noise will bother you, then ask your contractor ahead of time for decibel ratings of whichever units you're considering. For some perspective, the decibel reading is 15 at a whisper, 60 at normal conversation, 90 at a lawnmower and 110 at a car horn. Most homeowners prefer decibel readings below 30 in their homes.
Central Heating Cost
Prices vary extensively from model to model, depending on features, size, efficiency and operation requirements. A mid-efficiency gas unit, for example, is 73- to 83-percent efficient and starts at anywhere from $1,700 to $4,000. However, the prices can increase to $5,000 or $7,500+ if the installation location is difficult to access or has tricky duct systems. A low-end high-efficiency unit (90 to 97 percent) will cost $2,500 to $6,000, and advanced systems can reach upwards of $10,000. For a new construction installation, where a remodeling project is involved to add ductwork and other system necessities, a standard project can range anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
Aside from units and installation, certain service and building charges may apply, as well. Due to local codes, many buildings have to get fire inspections before a central heating unit is installed. Any old fuel tanks that need removal will add $500 to $3,000 to the tab, and older ductwork could require asbestos removal, which also costs money. Any air cleaner added to your system will cost between $700 and $900, a programmable thermostat costs $200 to $300, and zoning preferences (different heating settings in different rooms of a building at the same time) could cost $1,000 to $2,000.
Central Heating Environmental Aspects
Central heating, while it has its benefits, can be wasteful from an energy-efficiency standpoint. This is particularly true in buildings where only a single room needs heating, or when some rooms that receive heat are unoccupied. These buildings could probably benefit from isolated heating, either from room heaters, fireplaces, space heaters or other devices.
To save energy on central heating, you can alter the thermostat to make the degree setting closer to room temperature. Because the degree change is so slight, occupants will likely not even notice the difference, and the stress on your heater (and fuel/electricity bill) will be less cumbersome.