There is no surprise that many people get confused when looking at central heat and air units. They are complex pieces of machinery that require some background knowledge. This guide will go into the specifics of what a central heating system is along with different kinds available and how they can benefit your home.

A central heating system is designed to warm the temperature in a home. They are often paired together with a central cooling system to use a shared duct system to distribute heated or cooled air throughout a home. When working correctly, homes with central air regulating systems are able to regulate the temperature throughout the house evenly and efficiently. Collectively, central heat and air are referred to as the HVAC system or the HVAC unit, and they make your home more comfortable to live in. 

Should you be in the process of building a home or looking to upgrade your current central HVAC system, then you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each system. They will need to be properly sized using a load calculation to ensure they can keep the whole house warm. Most central heating units can last 16-20 years before they need replacement, but regular maintenance is crucial to keep your system working. 

Types of Central Heating

Central heating consists of a heat source, distribution system, and thermostat to select the level of heating you want. There are several styles, each with distinct advantages and disadvantages.


The vast majority of homes within the US use a furnace. The furnace works by heating air using gas, electricity, or oil inside a heat exchanger. This air is forced through the duct system via the air handler to warm the house. Furnaces are used widely because they are easy to install, have a long lifespan and are cost efficient. However, not all are created equally. 

Older style furnaces do not prioritize energy efficiency when venting excess heat. New styles utilize an inducer fan to help move this heat out of your home. Modulating furnaces are able to operate more efficiently by controlling the amount of fuel they use to create a precise air temperature. 


Boilers work by sending heating water and distributing it through radiators throughout your home. As the water travels, it releases heat. Boilers tend to be more complicated to install and are more expensive than furnaces. However, they can provide improved indoor air quality because they don’t blow air, and they are more energy efficient compared to furnaces. They require less maintenance, but there is a risk of leaks because of their use of water. They also might freeze during extended power outages. 

Heat Pump Systems

Like a central air conditioner, a heat pump uses an indoor air handler and an outdoor unit. The outdoor unit uses an air compressor to circulate a refrigerant that absorbs and releases heat as it travels between the two units. This enables the unit to move heat from place to place, allowing it to take thermal energy from the outside of your home and bring it in. This process can be reversed in the summer and used as a central air conditioner. 

Due to the heat pump relying on warm air, they work best in areas where the winters are mild. However, they can supplement your existing HVAC system in colder climates, so your central heating will only ever have to kick on when the temperature is around 25 degrees or lower. While heat pumps have a considerable initial cost, they can provide significant energy savings and require less maintenance than a furnace or boiler.

Alternatives to Central Heating

There are ways to keep your home warm throughout the winter without a central heating system, and you won’t have to rely on space heaters. 

Radiant floor heat

Somewhat resembling a boiler, radiant floor heating systems heat your home by circulating warm water through lines in the floor. However, these systems are installed below your feet, and since heat naturally rises, it provides a consistent stream of warmth, keeping your feet from freezing as you walk through the house. Unfortunately, these systems require expertise to install. Additionally, the labor costs can be expensive, and things like carpet can make it less effective. However, they operate very quietly, and the continuous warmth will keep you from feeling too hot or cold like you would with other systems that turn on and off. 

Ductless mini split 

A ductless mini split system is a heat pump unit that distributes heated or cooled air through refrigerator lines rather than air ducts, which is typical of a central air conditioning system. The ductless mini split system reduces the amount of energy wasted by leaks in your ductwork, and permits you to deliver zoned heating or cooling right where you need it. Multiple indoor units attach to a single outdoor unit, and you can set the thermostat on each unit differently to maximize your energy efficiency.

Keeping warm with Simpson Sheet Metal

Simpson Sheet Metal is a full service HVAC installation and repair company. We’ve offered HVAC consultations and services in the Santa Rosa area for over 30 years. As a familyowned business, we are committed to providing a tailored approach to every job, working with every customer’s budgets and needs to keep their homes warm all winter and cool all summer. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.