How To Heat and Cool Your Home

Building a custom home isn’t all about picking out beautiful tile. There are some nitty gritty details you’ll need to iron out! During the design process, you’ll be making a lot of decisions to make sure your home fits your needs. One of the big decisions you’ll make is how you’ll choose to heat and cool your HUT. 

There are several types of systems used to provide heat in a home, and within each broad type there are many variations. Some heating systems share components with the home’s cooling equipment, and some systems provide both heating and cooling. Heating systems can use a variety of fuel sources, including natural gas, propane, fuel oil, biofuel (like wood!), and electricity. 

Here’s a comprehensive list of ways you can heat and cool your HUT:

1. Forced-Air Heating/Cooling Systems

The forced-air system is the most common HVAC system in modern homes. It uses a furnace with a blower fan that delivers warmed air to different rooms through a network of ducts. Forced-air systems are quick at adjusting the temperature because air conditioning systems can share the same blower and ductwork. 

Fuel Source: Furnaces that power forced-air systems can be fueled by natural gas, liquid propane, fuel oil, or electricity.

Warmed air, heated by the furnace’s burner or heating element, is distributed through a network of ducts to heating registers in individual rooms. Another system of ducts brings air back to the furnace through cold-air returns.

Forced air systems can be filtered to remove dust and allergens. Plus, they’re also relatively inexpensive option, and these systems can combine cooling with heating capability, as we mentioned before!

Disadvantages: These forced-air systems require ductwork, which takes up space in walls, and furnace fans can tend to be on the noisy side. Forced-air systems are also best when paired with a humidifier because they can make the air warm. And lastly, these systems may distribute allergens if they’re not filtered.

2. Furnace System

A precursor to forced air systems, furnaces also distribute air through a system of metal ducts, but rather than forcing the air through a blower, furnaces operate by warm air rising and cool air sinking. A furnace in a basement heats air, which then rises to various rooms through ducts. Cool air returns to the furnace via a system of cold-air return ducts.

Fuel Source: Forced air furnaces can be fueled by natural gas, liquid propane, fuel oil, or electricity. 

Distribution: Conditioned air is circulated through a network of metal ducts. 

Advantages: Gravity systems have no moving parts. Because the system equipment is very dependable and requires little maintenance, it can last for many years, making it extremely dependable.

Disadvantages: With true furnace systems, air cannot be filtered effectively and unfortunately, energy efficiency is lower than with newer furnaces. Because the systems operate by simple convection currents, temperature adjustments are slow. 

3. Radiant Heating

Radiant heating is different from forced-air heat because iit heats objects and materials, such as furniture and flooring, rather than just the air. Most whole-home radiant systems distribute heat via hot water heated in a boiler or hot water heater. Radiant heating includes In-floor heating, which. It’s quiet and generally energy efficient. It tends to heat more slowly and takes longer to adjust than forced air heat, but its heat is more consistent.

Fuel Source: Hot water tubing systems are usually heated by a central boiler, which can be fueled by natural gas, liquid propane, or electricity. Hot water also can be provided by solar hot water systems.

Distribution: Radiant heat systems typically require plastic tubing, which is used to heat objects around it. For example, in-floor heating involves plastic water tubing installed inside concrete slab floors or attached to the top or bottom of wood floors.

Advantages: Radiant systems provide comfortable, even heat. And when heated by boilers, radiant systems can be very energy efficient.

Disadvantages: Radiant systems are relatively slow to heat up or adjust to temperature changes and these boiler-based systems cannot be combined with air conditioning. Plus, the installation of in-floor systems can be expensive.

4. Radiator Systems

Older homes and apartment buildings in North America often are heated with traditional boiler and radiator systems. These include a central boiler that circulates steam or hot water through pipes to radiator units positioned strategically around the house. The classic radiator—a cast-iron upright unit usually positioned near windows—is often called a steam radiator.

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

Fuel Source: Boiler/radiator systems can be fueled by natural gas, liquid propane, fuel oil, or electricity. 

Distribution: Heat is produced by steam or hot water circulating through metal pipes to radiators shaped to facilitate the transfer of thermal energy. 

Advantages: Radiant heat doesn’t dry out the air as forced-air heat does and radiators can be updated to low-profile baseboard or wall-panel radiators. When old boilers are replaced, modern boilers can offer very good energy efficiency.

Disadvantages: Older radiators can be a bit of an eyesore and all radiator locations may limit furniture placement and window coverings. Also, boiler-based systems cannot be combined with air conditioning. 

5. Heat Pump Systems

The newest home heating (and cooling) technology is the heat pump. Using a system that is similar to an air conditioner, heat pumps extract heat from the air and delivers it to the home via an indoor air handler. Standard home systems air is sourced from heat pumps that draw heat from the outdoor air. 

A popular type of air-source heat pump is the mini-split system. This has a relatively small outdoor compressor unit and one or more indoor air handlers that are easy to add to remote areas of the home. Many heat pump systems are reversible and can be switched to air conditioning mode in the summer. Heat pumps can be energy efficient, but they are suitable only for relatively mild climates; they are less effective in very hot and very cold weather. 

Fuel Source: Heat pumps are usually powered by electricity, although natural gas models are also available.

Distribution: Heat (and cooling) are provided by wall-mounted units that blow air across evaporator coils linked to an outdoor pump that extracts or absorbs heat from the outdoors. 

Advantages: These systems offer both heating and cooling, and heat pumps can be very energy efficient. Plus, individual wall units (no ductwork required!) allow for precise control of each room. And these fans are quieter than central forced-air systems.

Disadvantages: Heat pumps are best suited for relatively mild climates, and distribution of heated or cooled air can be limited because it comes from a single unit (in each room or area).

6. Electric Heating Systems

Electric baseboard heaters and other types of electric heaters are not commonly used for primary home heating systems, mostly due to the high cost of electricity. However, they remain a popular option for supplemental heating in finished basements, home offices, and seasonal rooms (such as three-season porches and sunrooms). Electric heaters are easy and inexpensive to install, and they require no ductwork, pumps, air handlers, or other distribution equipment. The units are inexpensive and have no moving parts and require virtually no maintenance.  

Fuel Source: Electric baseboard heaters are powered by (you guessed it) electricity.

Distribution: Baseboard heaters use natural convection to circulate heat throughout the room.

Advantages: Heater units are versatile and can be installed almost anywhere. Plus, electric heating systems only need only an electrical circuit for power. The units without fans work silently and no units require ductwork or an expensive installation. Radiant electric heaters heat room objects, similar to in-floor radiant heat. 

Disadvantages: Electric heaters are very expensive to operate, and they use a lot of electricity, which therefore contributes disproportionately to over-use of the electric utility grid. Most electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants, so electric heaters, while clean to operate, contribute significantly to air pollution and atmospheric carbon. 

7. Geothermal Heating

Geothermal heating and cooling uses a technology that harnesses heat from below the earth to heat the home. This method is similar to the air-source heat pump described above, however, it utilizes soil and/or well water to control the temperature of the home by exchanging heat with the ground. 

Fuel Source: This method of heating and cooling uses soil and well water.

Distribution: Geothermal systems are installed in homes with ductwork for central AC and/or forced air heating. 

Advantages: Geothermal has a long lifespan and requires little maintenance, which saves money in the long term. Plus, geothermal heating and cooling adds to your home’s equity because it’s renewable and environmentally friendly. This method is effective in almost all regions, weather conditions, and climates.

Disadvantages: There is a higher upfront cost for geothermal than most other systems because it requires skilled installers and designers. Also, geothermal heat pumps still use electricity and are site-dependent. The geothermal ground loop installation may disturb your landscaping, too.

We know that was a lot of info! And now you’re probably asking yourself if building a home is for you, but don’t go anywhere just yet. The HUTS team knows how overwhelming this process can be, and we’ll give you our personal recommendations (aka the geothermal heating and cooling method for its sustainability and positive impact on the environment!) to make this part of the design process smoother. If you’re ready to get started on your new home, get in touch at