Heating Systems Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Home heating systems bring warmth and comfort to your home, whether you live in the warm areas of Phoenix or the snowy regions up North. They will help you keep cozy in winter and reduce your energy bills.

There are various ways to heat your home, from radiators, solar heaters, boilers, underfloor systems, and many more. You might be wondering, with all these options, which one is the best for you? Which heating system will reduce your bills, increase efficiency and be more convenient for you? How do you make the right choice?

If you want answers to these and more questions, read on. We have heating systems explained in detail below, and will help you choose the right one for you.

Heating Systems Explained

Heating systems are crucial as they help us keep warm in the winter, heat water for cleaning and washing, and protect property from frost damage. Heating is not cheap, as it accounts for up to 50% of annual energy bills.

A heating system replaces heat lost through the house’s shells. The amount of energy required to replace the lost heat depends on four factors. These include:

  • The location of the home- houses will lose more heat in colder places.
  • The size of the house- the bigger the house, the more energy it will take to heat it.
  • The heating system’s energy efficiency- here, you can install a new system that is more efficient or boost the efficiency of the current system.
  • The house’s energy efficiency- sealing air leaks, improving insulation, and repairing the ducts in the heat distribution system will help save energy.

Every heating system has a heat source at its core. This could be a boiler, open fire, ground source heat pump, or condensing boiler. It heats the water that passes through the pipes. Most heating systems consist of a boiler, radiators, room thermostat, pump, and hot water cylinder.

Central Heating: What Is It?

Central Heating

We all have a heating system in our homes, but not everyone knows how it works or the system they have. Knowing your heating system is crucial as it will come in handy in a crisis, as you will need to tell the professional what they will be dealing with.

In central heating, heat is usually produced from a single source and distributed throughout the house as hot air or hot water. It is the most common type of heating found in today’s homes.

What Are The Different Types Of Central Heating Systems?


Here, the boiler heats the water, which is then pumped to radiators throughout the house. Each radiator has valves that control the rate at which water flows through them, hence controlling the amount of heat given. Once the water leaves the radiator, it is then piped back to the boiler to be reheated.


Dry central heating systems have the air warmed by a heat source and blown through large ducts to heat the house. Here, each duct terminates in a floor or wall grille; hence you can close and open them to control the heat levels. You will have an electric storage heater in some systems to warm the air or fuel to achieve the same objective.


Underfloor heating is a form of heating where hot water pipes are laid under floors to produce heat. The heat then warms the air in the room without making it too uncomfortable to walk on. Storage room heaters also use electricity to heat firebricks that then give off heat during the day.

An Overview Of How Central Heating Works

The steps include:

1. Fuel from an external source enters the home.

2. The boiler burns the fuel, heating the copper pipe containing water. As the copper pipe gets heated, the water is then heated.

3. The electric pump will then push the hot water through the system, including the upper floors.

4. Water will then be distributed to each radiator entering from one side and leaving through the other. Once the water is passed through the radiators, it will be cooler than it was before; hence it will be returned to the boiler to be reheated.

5. A thermostat will monitor the temperature of the boiler. It will switch it on when the temperature is below the setting, and there is a demand for hot water. Also, once the temperatures are too high, then it will be switched off.

6. The waste gasses will be expelled through a flue.


There are three main types of boilers. These include:

Combi Boilers

Combi Boiler

Combi boilers, also known as combination boilers, are the most fitted in homes. They are modern boilers that deal with heating and hot water in the house. The boiler is usually contained in a single unit; hence they are great space savers. Also, the hot water is heated up, on-demand, and not stored, unlike in other boilers; thus, they are pretty efficient.

Here, water is heated at the source. Once you turn on your hot water tap or start the boiler, heat is created immediately. There is no hot water storage as all hot water is used.


Combi boilers have several advantages over other boilers.

  • They are efficient as you will only need to heat the water you need.
  • There is no need for a water tank as there is no need for storage. It is, therefore, great for small properties where having a hot water tank would be tricky. It is mainly a suitable option for small to medium homes, with one to two bathrooms.
  • The water runs at mains pressure as it flows cold through the boiler and is heated. Therefore, there will be good pressure throughout.
  • Installation is cheaper and easier than the other types of boilers.


  • High lifetime costs. Oil-fired combi boilers are complex and have rare components. Therefore, they are more expensive to maintain than conventional systems.
  • They are limited in producing hot water, as the water pressure is usually influenced by usage. Therefore, if, for example, you have two hot water taps running at once, there will be a poor flow rate.
  • They have complex inner workings; hence their potential to go wrong is higher than conventional systems.

System Boilers

System Boilers

They are also known as sealed system boilers. Here, you do not need a large water storage tank to store the hot water. Therefore, you will save space in the home. You will need a water cylinder, which is smaller than the storage tank. The difference between this and a combi boiler is that it does not have a hot water storage cylinder.

The boiler will heat the mains water, and the hot water cylinder will store it to ensure that you have instant hot water when you need it.

System boilers are ideal for homes with multiple bathrooms; they can deliver hot water to several taps or where a lot of water is needed.


  • They have a hot water cylinder that stores water for when you need it.
  • They can work with solar thermal systems; hence, they are energy efficient.
  • They are great if you want to save on storage as you will not need a cold water tank.
  • They are great for multiple bath roomed homes.
  • The boiler can be programmed to switch on at particular times to provide heat and hot water.


  • Water might be wasted when it is heated and not used immediately.
  • They are not the cheapest boilers as they have complex components and in different sizes.
  • Heat loss may occur in the hot water cylinder; hence they are not as efficient as combi boilers.
  • It is not recommended for tiny houses, as the hot water cylinder and boiler unit will need space.
  • You have to wait for hot water to heat up before using it.

Regular Or Conventional Boilers

Regular Or Conventional Boilers

These are found in older central heating systems. They are also known as regular, heat-only, and open-vent boilers. They require a hot water tank and a cold-water tank, known as a header tank, in the loft. Therefore, they have a tank and cylinder; hence, they take up more space as you need a loft to place the tank.

The header tank stores cold water, which is taken to the boiler when heating is turned on. The water is then heated and expands, so the expansion tank offers more space to facilitate that. The hot water cylinder then stores the hot water until when it is needed.


  • They are great for people with large homes, where there is a need for lots of hot water, such as multiple bathrooms.


  • If there are lots of people using it, you may run out of hot water.
  • Installation is expensive as it requires a water tank and cylinder.
  • You will need lots of room to house the water tank and hot water cylinder.
  • Heating water may be wasteful as all the water might not be used.
  • They do not offer heat on demand; hence you will have to wait for hot water to heat up.

Types Of Fuel To Heat The Home.

There are numerous types of fuel that you can use to heat the home.

Some of the most common include:

Natural Gas

This is the most common type of fuel used to heat homes. It is used in around 60% of American homes. The boiler burns methane gas from the gas mains.


This includes pellets, chippings, and wooden logs.


The boiler burns liquid Petroleum gas, such as propane and butane.

Oil Type C2

It is the cheapest form of heating oil. An example of this is kerosene.

Oil Type D

It is used in commercial properties. It includes gas oil.

Solid Mineral Fuel

This includes coal.


Refers to the use of electricity as a fuel.

What Kinds Of Heating Systems Are Available For My Home?

Gas Central Heating

Gas Central Heating

Most households have mains gas central heating; hence it is considered one of the cheapest options. Gas central heating is a wet system, as the gas-fired boiler heats the water. It then provides central heating to radiators and hot water in the home.

Homes that are not connected to the national gas network can use other forms of heating such as electrical, LPG, and others.

Advantages Of Gas Central Heating

  • You will get excellent returns for your money on every unit of energy you use, as gas is highly efficient.
  • Gas is piped directly into the property; hence you will not need to worry about storage costs, as in LPG or heating oil.
  • Replacing a standard gas boiler with a modern condensing boiler is straightforward and quite efficient.
  • If the boiler breaks or needs servicing, getting a professional to help you out is easy. This is because gas heating is in almost every household; hence getting an engineer well-versed with the subject will not be an issue.
  • It is cheaper than other forms of central heating such as oil and electricity. This is because of the modern condensing boiler’s efficiency, as it will lower your costs.
  • It offers instant heat, hence is effective, especially in the colder months, as you will not have to wait for the heaters to warm up.

Disadvantages Of Gas Central Heating.

  • Gas prices continue to rise daily; hence, they are not cheap even though they are cheaper than electricity.
  • It can only be used by homes that are connected to the gas grid. It can be quite costly to install it if you are not on the gas network.
  • It is not a clean source of energy as it produces carbon dioxide when burned.
  • These boilers need to be serviced regularly to ensure that they are working efficiently.

Electric Central Heating

Electric Central Heating

If your home is not connected to the national gas network, electricity can be used as a heating system. This is because almost every household has access to electricity. The major drawback to this heating system is that it can be pretty expensive.

What Types Of Electric Heating Are Available?

Various kinds of electric central heating are available for your home. These include:

Night Time Storage Heaters

These storage heaters come out at night and use electricity to warm up heat-retaining bricks. They use electricity supplied at cheaper night-time rates, hence cheaper for you. The heated bricks provide warmth to the home during the day, giving out heat slowly and keep the house warm. Once the heat runs out, you will then have to wait until the next night to reheat them.

Electric Towel Rails

These are for bathroom heating and can help dry your damp towels.

Check out full guide on how to find the Best HVAC Dampers.

Infrared Panels

In the other electric heating systems, the surrounding air is usually warmed to heat the room. However, with infrared panels, people and objects are warmed directly from the heater. The infrared transfers heat in straight lines from the heater to the object.

Electric Panel Heaters

They are designed for occasional use, unlike electric radiators that are designed for all-day use. These heaters are designed for spare rooms, guest rooms, and home offices. They provide heat when you need it most and can be portable.

Electric Radiators

They work by heating water or oil and radiating heat into the room. They are suitable for all-day use throughout the house and are efficient and quite reliable.

Modern Storage Heaters

These come with programmable timers, thermostats, remote wifi controls, open window detectors, and fans. High heat retention storage heaters can retain more heat than their traditional counterparts and last up to 24 hours after being charged.

Advantages Of Electric Central Heating

  • Unlike gas, mains electricity is available almost everywhere.
  • Electric night storage heaters are cheaper to install than gas central heating systems. This is because they do not require a flue or pipework.
  • They require little maintenance and do not need to be serviced annually.
  • It is future-proofed. Gas is a fossil fuel and is finite; hence it will one day run out, unlike electricity.
  • It has zero waste. Unlike gas central heating systems, where around 10% of the heat is lost through the flue and pipes, electric heating has zero waste. All of the electricity drawn by the electric heater will be converted to heat, hence no wastage.
  • When combined with solar panels, electric heating systems can be eco-friendly.

Disadvantages Of Electric Central Heating

  • It is expensive compared to other heating options. For example, electric costs are three to four times more costly than that of gas per kWh.

LPG Central Heating

LPG Central Heating

If you are not using mains gas, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) can heat your home. The main difference between the two is that LPG is delivered by road and stored in a tank, while gas is piped in.

LPG is a wet heating system, as the LPG fired boiler heats water and provides central heating and hot water to the home. Using an LPG conversion kit, you can convert the mains gas boilers to use LPG with the help of a certified gas professional.

Advantages Of LPG Central Heating

  • LPG is highly efficient; hence you will get an excellent return on every unit of energy. Modern condensing boilers use hot flue gases, which are usually wasted in a standard boiler, giving it a 90% efficiency.
  • If a spill occurs, LPG won’t contaminate water or the environment.
  • It produces low Sulphur emissions.
  • LPG is a clean-burning fuel. However, it is not green but produces fewer carbon emissions than other heating options.

Disadvantages Of LPG Central Heating

  • It is pretty expensive.
  • It produces carbon dioxide when burned; hence it is not a clean source of energy.
  • LPG tank and its appliances have to be serviced annually.
  • You will have to buy or rent from a supplier, which will also be costly.
  • Since LPG is delivered by road, you may run out while still awaiting your delivery. If you run out and need a top-up done off your regular schedule, you might have to pay more money.

Oil Central Heating

Oil Tank

Oil-fired boilers are a great alternative if you are not connected to the mains gas grid system. Just like LPG, oil is delivered by road. The heating oil is stored in a tank that you might have to buy or rent from your supplier. The heating oil is used in a wet heating system, as the oil-fired boiler heats water and provides hot water and heating for the home.

There are heat-only and combination oil-fired boilers in the market. Most of the oil-fired combination boilers have an internal hot water store to provide hot water instead of instant hot water that you get when using a gas central heating system.

Advantages Of Oil Central Heating

  • Oil is highly efficient; hence you will get good returns per unit of energy.
  • Oil is a flammable fluid, but it will not explode and produce carbon monoxide in the environment, unlike other fossil fuels.
  • The condensing versions of oil-fired boilers are more efficient due to the way they recycle waste flue gases.
  • Heating oil burns faster than natural gas hence delivers more heat than other options.

Disadvantages Of Oil Central Heating

  • Oil has higher fuel costs than the other heating options.
  • Regular maintenance is needed.
  • Oil boilers regulate the flow rate; hence they may be slower than gas heating systems.

Renewable Heating Systems

Renewable Heating Systems

Renewable energy refers to the power generated from replenished sources, such as water, the sun, and wind. Relying on renewable sources of energy reduces the over-reliance on fossil fuels, which increases the carbon footprint. Therefore, this is why renewable heating systems have become quite popular over recent years.

However, installing renewable energy systems is not cheap, as they are more expensive to install than the others. To encourage people to take on renewable heating systems, the Renewable Heat Incentive was launched. You will receive payments for using a renewable heating system, which will be a plus for you.

Biomass Heating

Biomass Heating

The world is going green to help conserve the environment. Therefore, unlike electric, gas, and oil heating systems, biomass is a renewable heat source.

Biomass fuel refers to the burning of substances that were grown as plants before. This includes wood pellets, logs, wood chips, straws, and rapeseed pellets. When people talk about biomass fuels, they mean wood. These heating systems burn organic material in a wood-burning boiler to provide heat and hot water.

Biomass is carbon neutral. However, since carbon monoxide is emitted by vehicles that transport it, it is not considered very clean.

Advantages Of Biomass Heating Systems

  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • They are easy to use as most boilers have a self-cleaning system that needs minimum user input.
  • It is a renewable source of energy as the pellets are sourced locally.

Disadvantages Of Biomass Heating Systems

  • You will require lots of storage space for fuel.
  • Your flue must meet the building regulations of the locality.
  • You will need to empty the ash bin regularly as you burn the wood.
  • Even though most boilers have a self-cleaning function, you will still need to clean the heat exchanger to function efficiently.
  • The initial start-up cost can be pretty expensive.

Solar Power

Solar Power

Solar power has become quite a popular source of renewable energy. A solar water heating system can give you up to 70% of your hot water for free if you have a hot water cylinder. The solar thermal panels absorb solar energy and use the heat to heat water in a cylinder. This is done through an immersion heater.

Advantages Of Solar Power

  • It can be installed together with other heating systems. However, it cannot be easily combined with a combi boiler.
  • They can also be used to generate electricity, hence power your appliances and reduce your costs.
  • They are cheaper to install than other renewable systems.
  • They are eco-friendly, as they use heat from the sun.
  • They can provide up to 70% of your hot water needs.
  • They are low-maintenance.

Disadvantages Of Solar Power

  • Installation can be quite expensive.
  • They are dependent on the weather.
  • They are perfect as a secondary heating system, as they cannot meet the heating demand of the entire house.
  • It is difficult to predict how much energy will be generated.

Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps

Air source and ground source heat pumps are pretty popular renewable heating systems. They work by using air or heat from the ground to heat the home. For homes close to rivers or lakes, you can use water source heat pumps. The water sources absorb heat from the sun and use it to heat the house.

Advantages Of Heat Pumps

  • They are cheaper to run than electric and oil heating.
  • They can be fully automated.
  • They are ideal for homes with solar panels.
  • If correctly designed, they are pretty efficient, with a CoP of 3.5+
  • They have no gases or emissions involved; hence it is a clean source of heating.

Disadvantages Of Heat Pumps

  • You will need to install a ground heat exchanger, which is not cheap.
  • Installing the heat pump needs someone who is certified and has a thorough understanding of the complex system functionalities. They will know the geology of the area, the cooling requirements of the building, and how the various components work. You will therefore need to employ an expert installer to help you out.


Question: Can I Install A Central Heating System Myself?

Answer: No, as much as there are many DIYs on YouTube, it is not recommended to do it yourself. Installation of a central heating system requires a certified professional that is well versed with these appliances. It is also quite dangerous, hence why you need someone highly trained and certified to do the job.

Question: Should I Buy A House With No Central Heating System?

Answer: You may be in search of a new home and happen to find one without central heating. So, is it worth it to buy a house with no central heating? Yes, it is okay to purchase a property that does not have central heating as it can add approximately 5% to the price of the house. You could therefore earn a profit.

Question: What Should I Do If I Notice Problems In My Heating System?

Answer: Life is unpredictable, and even the best appliances get issues. However, most people are confused about what to do once they spot problems in their heating systems. They try solving the problems themselves, which is not recommended. Therefore, as soon as you notice a problem with your heating system, contact a certified professional immediately. They will help diagnose the problem as quickly as possible to prevent future problems.


Heating systems can be quite daunting at first, but you will understand them easily once you learn the system’s ins and outs. Knowing the basics will be beneficial as you will figure out what you need, the costs incurred when installing them, and the pros and cons of each system.

If you want a new heating system, the best thing to do is call expert heating engineers. They will help you know the best heating system based on your needs and ensure it is professionally installed. We hope that the detailed guide will give you a thorough understanding of heating systems and which one you should go for.

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