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Heating Systems

A variety of technologies are available for heating your home. Listed below are the most common heating technologies used.

  • FURNACES – Furnaces are the most common way to heat a home; 65% of single-family homes in the United States have a central forced-air furnace that distributes heated air throughout the house via ducts. More than two-thirds of these are fueled by natural gas; other heat sources are electricity, oil, and propane.
  • ELECTRIC HEATING – Not including heat pumps, 14% of single- family homes are heated with electric resistance heat; most are central forced-air electric furnaces, but many homes use electric space heating, either wall-mounted or baseboard, as their main heat source.
  • HEAT PUMPS – 10% of U.S. homes use heat pumps. These systems can be air-source or ground-source, and are ducted or ductless.
  • BOILERS – Boilers are used for heating in 8% of U.S. homes. Boilers use natural gas, oil, electricity, or propane to heat water for steam or hot water that is distributed via pipes to upright radiators, baseboard convectors, or radiant floor tubing. Combination units can provide space and water heating.
  • WOOD AND PELLET-FUEL STOVES – These provide a way to heat your home using biomass or waste sources and are a primary heat source for 3.5% of single-family homes.
  • SOLAR – Active solar heating uses the sun to heat air that is then ducted or blown into living space. Less than 0.4% of homes have active solar heating. Solar water heaters can preheat water for radiators or radiant floor heat.

Common Heating System Options

Fuel Type Installed Cost* Ducts or No Ducts Central or Room Heating Best Climates Minimum Federal Efficiency Requirement Expected Efficiency of High- Performing Models ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 Minimum Efficiency** CEE Minimum Efficiency
Furnace Natural Gas, Fuel Oil, Propane Medium- High Ducts Central Moderate- Cold 78% AFUE 90% – 98% AFUE Gas:

80% AFUE CZ 1-3;

90% AFUE CZ 4-8


80% AFUE CZ 1-3;

85% AFUE CZ 4-8
Tier 1: 90% AFUE

Tier 2: 92% AFUE

Tier 3: 94% AFUE
Electric Resistance Electricity Low Either Either Warm- Hot 100% NA
Air-Source Heat Pump Electricity Medium- High Ducts Central Moderate- Warm 7.7 HSPF 10-12 HSPF, 200+% 8.2 HSPF CZ 1-3; 8.5 HSPF CZ 4; 9.25 HSPF CZ 5; 9.5 HSPF CZ 6*** Tier 1: 8.5 HSPF Tier 2:_> 8.5 HSPF
Ground- Source Heat Pump Electricity Very High Ducts Central All 7.7 HSPF 2.3-5 COP, 300+% ENERGY STAR Qualified Models Closed-loop 3.3 COP; Open-loop 3.6 COP; Direct Expansion
3.5 COP;
With Desuperheater
Ductless Mini-split Heat Pump Electricity Medium- High No Ducts Room Heating All 7.7 HSPF 10-12 HSPF 8.2 HSPF CZ 1-3; 8.5 HSPF CZ 4; 9.25 HSPF CZ 5; 9.5 HSPF CZ 6*** Tier 1: 8.5 HSPF Tier 2: 9.0 HSPF
Boiler Natural Gas, Fuel Oil, Propane High No Ducts Central Cold 75% AFUE steam,
80% AFUE hot water
90%-95% AFUE 80% AFUE CZ 1-3; 85% AFUE CZ 4-8 Tier 1: 85% AFUE
Wood, Pellet Wood, Pellet Low- High No ducts Room Heating All Varies 72% to 90% 75%

* Estimated typical installed cost ranges for retrofits. These estimates do not include adding or repairing distribution systems. Low: $2,000 or less, Medium: $2,000 – $4,500, High: $4,500 – $10,000, Very High: $10,000 or more (

**ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 criteria, which became effective 4/1/2011, are climate specific and are based on the U.S. climate zones (CZ) identified in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2009 as defined by the U.S. DOE Building Energy Codes Program (

***An 8.2 HSPF air-source heat pump will qualify for ENERGY STAR in Climate Zones 4 – 8 if it is combined with an ENERGY STAR-qualified dual- fuel backup furnace.