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Forced-air heating is one of the most common types of heating in modern homes. It pumps heated air throughout your home to keep it warm. If you’re looking to invest in a forced-air heating system, or are simply curious, this guide will help you understand its working principle, and factors such as expenses, installation, efficiency, heating time, and so on.

What is forced-air heating?

Simply put, forced-air heating refers to a heating system that carries heated air throughout your home so that the temperature you set on the thermostat is reached and maintained.

This type of heating system draws the air inside a room, directs it to a heating source, and then circulates it through a series of air ducts to finally release it back into the room through air vents. 

How does it work?

Working Principle

We already know that a forced-air heating system is a form of heating based on the circulation of air throughout a space. 

Components

A forced-air heating system usually includes heating equipment, a series of air ducts, an air handler, and vents.

Mechanism

Usually, a fan or an air handling unit draws the inside air within a room and directs it straight to the heating source. The heating equipment can differ from case to case but the most common choice among consumers tends to be either a furnace or a heat pump. 

Once the air has been heated, it will travel through the ductwork to finally reach the vents. The air vents, typically installed in different areas of your house, have the role of releasing the warm air inside your home. 

Of course, the air will be extracted again by the air handler for reheating purposes and the recirculating process will continue until the desired temperature is reached.

Syncing with Central Air Systems

Another important aspect to consider is that forced-air heating systems can be easily coupled with central air systems, which provide air conditioning. When working together, you can benefit from having the perfect temperature all year round based on your needs and preferences.

What is an air handler?

An air handler, also known as an air handling unit, is one of the main components of an HVAC system and it is responsible for circulating the air through the ductwork installed in your house. There are several types of air handlers so they usually come in a variety of forms and sizes – some are designed for indoor use, some for outdoor use, for local or industrial purposes, and so on. 

Air handlers are used in many types of applications – not only for heating purposes but also for air conditioning and ventilation purposes.

Components

The main components of an air handler consist of a fan/blower, air filters, coil, as well as other HVAC elements. The air handler is then connected to the air duct system which has the role of distributing the air throughout your house and returning it back to the unit.

When coupled with a heat pump or a furnace, the air handler is able to efficiently operate both heating and cooling so that you reach and maintain the desired temperature within your home.

Types

Gas

A gas furnace plays an important role within a forced-air heating system, as it produces heat and warms the air to be circulated inside your house. The gas furnace is activated by a thermostat – when the room temperature falls below the value set on the thermostat, a signal is sent to the furnace.

Gas furnaces produce powerful heat very fast, as they use natural gas as fuel. Even though the initial purchasing cost can be a bit higher compared to electric furnaces, you can actually save money in the long run by reducing your monthly bills. 

However, the installation process requires taking serious safety precautions so reaching out to professional HVAC technicians is highly recommended.

Electric

Similar to gas furnaces, electric furnaces follow the same working principle except that they use electricity instead of gas to operate properly. Many homeowners choose electric furnaces over gas ones mostly because the installation process is less tedious. 

Electrical furnaces need less maintenance, usually have a long lifespan, and don’t present risks like gas leaks. 

On the other hand, the operational costs of electrical furnaces get higher over time as electricity is much more expensive than natural gas.  

Gas vs Electric

Both gas and electric furnaces that are part of a forced-air heating system produce heat, but they use different means to accomplish that.

Installation & Maintenance

When it comes to installation, electric furnaces are definitely easier to install and maintain over time compared to gas furnaces. Even if the initial investment may be cheaper, they run on electricity so your monthly bill can be significantly higher. Electric furnaces don’t present any risks and don’t require regular inspections and check-ups. On the other hand, gas furnaces provide faster heating at lower operational costs. However, the installation can get complicated and regular maintenance is mandatory. 

Pros

Cost

Forced air heating systems are cheaper to operate and install, compared with individual systems for each room. If combined with an air conditioning system, you can significantly reduce the installation costs as you will use the same ductwork for both heating and cooling your home. 

Also, if your ducts are efficient and don’t generate any air leaks, your energy expenses will be much lower. 

Heating Time

Compared to other heating systems, forced-air systems are well known for delivering faster heating since all system components are connected. Warm air is directly being pushed into your house through the ductwork, so any waiting time is eliminated.

Installation

Installing a forced-air heating system is quick and easy. Once air ducts are installed, it is even easier to install and connect the rest of the HVAC components. 

If you already have a system of air ducts in place – for instance, you may already have an air conditioning system up and running – the installation process gets very simple. You can save time and money by using the existing ductwork for both heating and cooling your home.

Aesthetics

Keeping your home nicely decorated with a beautiful design and aesthetic appeal definitely adds to the comfort of everyday life. So if you don’t want to see large HVAC components inside your home, then forced-air heating systems are a good choice for you. 

No need to move furniture and mount large radiators in your rooms, or break down your floor to install floor heating systems. So you not only keep your home aesthetically appealing but you also save space.

Cons

Noise

Unlike hydronic heating systems which operate silently, forced-air heating systems always make noise. You can expect a constant background noise due to the air being moved through the ducts. 

However, the noise level can also be caused by other factors such as accumulated dirt or dust in the air filters, high static pressure in the ductwork, or just an old, noisy fan/blower. 

Dust/mold

One of the biggest drawbacks of forced-air heating systems is the circulation of dust through the air, which can lead to potential health issues. 

In addition to dust being transported through the house, humidity causes mold to form in the ducts if not cleaned and maintained properly – which contributes to creating a harmful environment as well. 

To avoid getting these allergens in the air, make sure the air filters are regularly cleaned or replaced when needed.

Cold and Hot spots

Forced air heating systems rely on a thermostat to control the temperature across your home. Homes usually have air pressure differentials, which not only have a negative impact on your thermostat but can also lead to cold and hot spots. Other influencing factors can be poor duct insulation, blocked vents, or air leakages. 

The Verdict

By now, you should have a clearer understanding of how forced-air heating systems work and the benefits and drawbacks that come along. Regardless of your choice, make sure you set your priorities in terms of costs, efficiency, or installation procedures. Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment in the section below for any questions you might have.

Sources

Trane

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