Know Your HVAC: Forced Air Heating

Know Your HVAC: Forced Air Heating


When it comes to heating and cooling your home, there are a lot of products on the market that will get the job done. Each system has its own pros and cons, with the final decision of what to install coming down to which one will work best in your home. For heating in the southeastern U.S., most homeowners opt for a forced air system.


What Is Forced Air Heating?

Forced air heating is just what it sounds like – air is heated using either a furnace or heat pump, and then sent throughout the home using the same ductwork used by the central air conditioning system. Forced air heating is by far the most popular type of heating used in the U.S. It’s easy to install alongside air conditioning and does an efficient job of keeping most homes comfortable during winter months.


How Does It Work?

There are basically two different ways a forced heating system operates. The first, which is the more popular option here in Alabama, is using a heat pump. In essence, this is your air conditioner running in the opposite direction – warm air is pulled from outside via an outdoor portion of the system, cold and heat are exchanged through the coil system within the unit, passed through the lines into the indoor air handler where it is filtered, and then into the ductwork of your home.

The second way a forced heating system can operate is using a furnace, which typically runs on gas. In this system, cold air moves through the furnace and a burner is the source of warmth. The warmed air then moves through the ductwork throughout the home.


Heat Pump vs. Furnace

Which components are used to create a forced air heating system is dependent on location of the home and energy costs. Most heat pumps have a good track record of being energy efficient, and run solely on electricity. They cost less than a furnace and are easy to maintain. But heat pumps are only efficient in areas where winter temperatures stay above 40° F – any cooler than that and the system has trouble exchanging heat from outside air. In these instances, most heat pumps have additional electric-resistance coils (similar to what you would find in a space heater, but on a larger scale) that keep things warm, but the coils are not energy efficient. So, if the air outside dips below 40°F on a regular basis, a heat pump may end up being more expensive to run than anticipated.

Gas furnaces have been the standard across the country when it comes to keeping indoor air warm regardless of the outdoor temperature. In the South, however, homeowners should consider whether or not the additional cost of installation and gas is worth the investment. Electricity is generally less expensive than the cost of gas for a furnace, but this may not hold true in all locations. If your area routinely experiences temperatures below 40°F for extended periods of time, then the investment may be worth it.


Is It Right For Me?

Forced air heating is a fantastic choice for homes that have existing ductwork or plan on having central air as part of new construction. It’s so easy to incorporate this type of heat with air conditioning that it almost doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. Combine this with a good track record of energy efficiency and its propensity for maintaining great indoor air quality (as long as a high SEER filter is used), and you can see why many homeowners opt for forced air.

The drawbacks of forced air heating are few – some homeowners can be bothered by the noise of a heat pump or furnace turning on, and forced air does have a tendency to reduce humidity in the winter months. Most HVAC professionals will be able to help find ways to address these problems without a substantial increase in cost.