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Heating and cooling

There are essentially only five fuels used to warm today's homes: electricity, natural gas, propane, oil and wood. Each has its own set of advantages and potential issues.

  • Natural gas may not be available to your home.
  • Propane and oil require tanks.
  • Wood is widely available, but requires much more labor, including stacking, hauling, loading and so on than the other fuels.

Almost all fuels have experienced a price advantage over the others at some point over the last 20 years. As fuel prices are cyclic, you might want to focus on the attributes of one fuel over another.

  • If you want quick warm up on cold winter days, oil and wood produce more heat output than propane, natural gas or electricity.
  • Natural gas and propane produce fewer harmful pollutants than do oil or wood.

Zonal heating systems
These systems comprise individual heaters in each room in the house. Zonal heaters can use almost any heating fuel, but electricity is the most common. Zonal heating systems enable you to heat different rooms to different temperatures. Each room, or "zone," has its own thermostat, so you can keep your bedroom cool, while keeping the living room warmer.

Zonal systems tend to be slightly more efficient than central, whole-house heating systems. Keeping some rooms cooler also helps lower heating costs.
Central heating/cooling
These systems include a forced-air furnace or heat pump with a duct system to distribute heated air within your house. Some things to consider:

  • A single thermostat controls most residential central systems.
  • You can introduce fresh air or filter the air at a single location and then distribute it to the house.
  • Central heating systems do not "zone" well.
One common misconception is that to turn off the heat to a room, all you have to do is close the heating register. This can damage the furnace and shorten its service life. Never close more than 20 percent of a central forced-air heating system's registers.

Related Links

Heating comparison calculator - compare the cost of heating your home with different heat types.

Programmable thermostat calculator - see how you can use one to save on your heating bill.