When it comes to heating your home, should you go with a forced air system?
While forced air heating is currently the most popular home heating choice in North America, it may not be the right choice for your home. Below, we’ll take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of this heating system to help you decide whether or not to install it in your home.
What is Forced Air Heating?
A forced air heating system uses air to transfer heat through a system of ducts and vents. When paired with a thermostat, you can control the ambient temperature in your home.
How Forced Air Heating Works
A forced air heating system quite literally forces heated air from your furnace throughout the rest of your home. It does so by distributing heated air via a fan through a series of interconnected tubes, or ducts.
The amount of air that’s pushed through the system depends on the temperature that you set on your thermostat.
Contrary to popular belief, setting the thermostat on a higher temperature does not increase the temperature of the heated air. Instead, it signals to the furnace to stay on for a longer amount of time, and it also causes the fan to continue pushing the air through the ductwork for longer. Once the thermostat reaches the desired temperature, the forced air heating system will temporarily stop circulating the heated air. When the temperature drops, the entire system will begin again with the furnace restarting and the fan switched back on to circulate more heated air.
While heated air is pushed into the room through the vents, the cooler air that’s still present in the room is pushed through vents into a second set of air ducts known as the cold air return system. This air is then re-heated as it passes through a heat exchanger plate inside of the furnace and then recycled back through the home as heated air.
Types of Forced Air Heating Systems
There are several types of forced air heating systems available on the market, but they all run on a similar premise: Heated air is pushed through the home by a fan or blower of some type. The main difference between the forced air heating systems is the equipment used to heat the air. You can use a natural gas or an electric furnace, a heat pump, or a hydronic coil as the central heating source for your forced air system.
What are the Benefits of Using a Forced Air Heating System?
Here are the reasons why forced air heating systems are an ever-popular choice.
Forced air heating systems rely on a single furnace for warming an entire home. With this type of system, there is no need to install multiple fireplaces or stoves. Simply pair a furnace with a fan or blower and then connect to ductwork and you can evenly distribute heated air from one source. The amount of energy saved depends on the type of furnace you use. A natural gas furnace is a more energy-efficient choice than one that uses electricity.
Affordable to Install and Operate
When compared to other types of heating systems, forced air is an affordable choice. While you will need to invest in the initial materials and labor, you can look forward to lower utility bills with this type of system. This is especially true if you go with a natural gas furnace over an electric one.
Can Improve the Quality of Air Inside Your Home
Forced air heating systems can be paired with humidifiers and filtration units that will not only condition the air in your home, but will also purify it. Also, we should note that forced air heating systems do not exacerbate asthma, according to this study.
Easy to Upgrade to Central Cooling
Once you install a forced air heating system in your home, you can then use the same ducts for cooling your home. This is known as central heating and cooling. By piggybacking off of the same ductwork system and thermostat, you’ll enjoy the convenience of controlling the temperature in your home year-round from the same system.
Lasts a Long Time
Forced air heating systems enjoy a 15-30 year lifespan. This is because the heart of the forced air system is usually a furnace. Furnaces, especially the natural gas variety, last longer than boilers and heat pumps.
Heats Up Quickly
With a forced air heating system, you’ll start feeling the heat within minutes of fine-tuning the thermostat. The heated air quickly pushes through the system and delivers near-immediate comfort.
What are the Drawbacks of Using a Forced Air Heating System?
Now, let’s even the score and take a look at the potential drawbacks of installing and operating a forced air heating system in your home.
Can be Noisy
One of the most common complaints with a forced air heating system is noise. You can usually hear when it turns on and off, which can be a source of distraction. For light sleepers, the constant off and on cycle can be torturous.
Generates a Lot of Dust
Forced air heating systems will introduce a lot of dust into your home. Dirt from the outside can be pulled into the furnace and then distributed through the ductwork and the vents. Also, the cool air return system can pick up microscopic dirt that you and your pets generate (such as dead skin cells and pet hair) and then recycle that back into the room.
This is why it’s essential that you invest in a quality dust filter.
Must Buy Dust Filters
To keep the air that you breathe as clean as possible, you must buy dust filters for the lifespan of your forced air heating system. This is an added cost that you’ll pay monthly for operating your forced air heating system, but it’s not negotiable. However, there is an alternative to the disposable filters. You can purchase a permanent filter for your forced air heating system, but this type of filter will require manually cleaning (and self-discipline to remember to clean it regularly).
Not only will a dirty filter reduce the quality and breathability of your air, it can also make your heating system less energy-efficient. The system will be forced to work harder to pull the air through the system.
Must be Cleaned Regularly
The amount of dirt, dust, and dander that can build up in your ductwork is scary. To keep your system (and your lungs) operating at peak efficiency, you need to clean the system regularly, not just change the filter for the cold air return.
Can be Difficult to Regulate the Temperature
Most forced air heating systems rely on a single thermostat to gauge and control the ambient temperature in a home. The problem is that some rooms are naturally colder than others.
For example, the rooms that don’t receive direct sunlight (such as basements and interior bathrooms) will need more heated air from your forced air system. This will require you to run the system longer to reach your desired temperature in these rooms. However, doing so can cause other, naturally warmer rooms in your home to feel overheated and uncomfortable. Getting the right temperature can be a balancing act.
Forced Air Rises
Another huge drawback to this type of system is that heated air rises. No matter how forcibly the heated air is pushed through the vent, it still manages to stay up near the ceiling. This causes the lower half of your body to feel cold while the upper half is warm.
Forced Air Heating Vs. Radiant Floor Heating
While forced air heating is the standard in most homes, it’s not necessarily the best or only way to heat your home. It may surprise you to know that a radiant floor heating system can actually increase the efficiency of a forced air heating system.
As we just discussed, one of the disadvantages of a forced air heating system is the uneven distribution of heat. Heated air rises to the top, and there’s not much you can do about it. However, if you pair a forced air system with a radiant floor system, magic happens: Both your head and your feet can stay warm.If you pair forced air with a radiant floor system, magic happens: Your feet & your head stay warm! Click To Tweet
Radiant floor heating systems hold heat better than forced air systems. Radiant floors warm the room from the floor up using conduction. The heat is transferred directly from the heated coils underneath the floor. You’ll experience even, continuous warmth instead of heated air that starts cooling immediately once the furnace switches off.
While you may not choose to use radiant floors to heat your home exclusively, we think you’ll benefit from the one-two punch of installing and operating both systems. These two complement each other well, and each one compensates from the other’s weaknesses.
If you choose to go with a forced air heating system (and there are a lot of great reasons to consider it), be sure to pair it with a radiant floor system for maximum coverage. Doing so will increase your home’s comfort and energy efficiency. Don’t suffer with a hot head and cold feet.