The facts about forced air, hot water & steam heat

July 27, 2015

There's plenty of options when it comes to heating options for your home. Here's how forced air, hot water and steam systems work, and whether they'd be good for your home.

The facts about forced air, hot water & steam heat

Forced air furnace basics

A furnace heats air that is then blown through large sheet-metal supply ducts into individual rooms through warm-air registers. At cold-air registers, return ducts draw cool air from the rooms and carry it back to the furnace. There, the air passes through a filter before getting heated and blown back into the rooms.

  • Basic care: Clean or replace the filter monthly. Clean the blower annually and check the fan belt and lubricate the motor on older systems.
  • Improvements: Insulate and repair leaks in the ducts and balance the heat distribution. Add a humidifier or central air conditioner to the system.

Getting into hot water

A boiler heats water and a pump circulates it through pipes to radiators or convectors and back to the boiler. Under the cover, you'll find a straight copper pipe surrounded by copper fins. An expansion tank provides an air cushion that lets the hot water expand safely.

  • Basic care: Clean and bleed radiators or convectors and lubricate the pump. Drain the expansion tank or the entire system if necessary.Closed systems need to be vented every year.
  • Improvements: Insulate pipes running through unheated areas, replace radiators with convectors and divide the system into heating zones.

Steam your way to warmer living

A boiler heats water until it vaporizes and rises through pipes into radiators. After the steam hits the metal walls of the radiators, it condenses and runs back to the boiler. A steam system is not closed, like a hot water system, so water needs to be added to the boiler from time to time.

  • Basic care: Check the water and pressure levels in the boiler regularly, flush the boiler monthly and clean the radiatorsA steam boiler builds up a tremendous amount of pressure, so it has a safety valve to let off steam if necessary.
  • Improvements: Install adjustable vents on radiators, top radiators up to stop knocking and replace the boiler safety valve.

Getting the right heating system for your house can be tricky. Each of the systems have disctinct advantages and improvements that can be made. Depending on your schedule and budget, one of these systems may be the perfect fit for you and your home.

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