what’s the most efficient home heating system?
  • Category:
    Home Energy Savings
  • Published:
    January 11, 2022
  • Updated:
    February 1, 2022

What’s the Most Efficient Home Heating System?

If you’re looking for the most efficient home heating system, here’s an update on the choices available. When looking for the most efficient way to heat a home, consider the main types below. While you’re at it, you might also consider an HVAC protection plan.

Types of home heating systems

Home heating systems have three main components. The heat source provides warmth; commonly a furnace, boiler or heat pump. The second part moves that warm air around your home, usually through ducts or radiators. Last is the control system that lets you set a temperature. Before we talk about how to heat your home more efficiently and the best heating system for a house, here are the most common types of home heating systems:

types of home heating systems


Boilers burn fuel to heat water or create steam that is then circulated through radiators or radiant heat floor pipes. If you suffer from allergies, they offer the benefit of being cleaner because they do not blow allergens and dust through your home.

Types of boilers

The idea of a boiler is simple, but you have many choices in terms of the type of fuel used and the way the boiler works.

  • Natural gas boiler. This option burns natural gas to heat the water or create steam for the system.
  • Oil boiler. These units burn home heating oil or biodiesel to heat water.
  • Electric boiler. Electric elements are a third option, though less efficient, for boiling water.
  • Steam boiler. Common in older homes, boilers that fill radiators with forced steam are less efficient. It takes more fuel to produce steam than it does to produce hot water.
  • Condensing boiler. This innovation heats water by burning fuel, then also captures hot vapor and converts it back to water, extracting residual heat to get the most from the energy used.

Are boilers energy-efficient?

Many homeowners find that boilers are extremely efficient. You will want to evaluate the size you need, as an undersized unit will be less efficient. The US Department of Energy has good advice on selecting a boiler. Though they may not be the most efficient home heating system, innovations are making boilers more competitive. In terms of comfort, they can be the best heating system for a house.

Heat pumps

Instead of burning fossil fuels, heat pumps use electricity to pull heat out of cold outside air and transfer it into your home. In summer, the process is reversed.

Types of heat pumps

Heat pumps are one of the newer home heating options. first commercially used in the 1950s. They have been gaining in popularity ever since.

  • Air-source heat pumps. These devices pull in heat from the outside air. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to install.
  • Water-source heat pumps. Much less common, these devices pull heat from a nearby water source. They require a well or nearby lake to function.
  • Hybrid heat pumps. Some systems use both air and water to get the best of both worlds.
  • Geothermal heat pumps. The temperature of the ground, when you get deep enough, is fairly steady, making them more efficient even in very cold and very hot areas. Though they have a lower cost of operation, the need to excavate and install pipes underground, however, makes them pricey to install.


Furnaces are a common way to generate heat in homes. They take in cold air, heat it, and then use a blower to force it through ducts and into all the rooms in your home.

Types of furnaces

Furnaces are generally alike in how they heat your home, but vary by the fuel they use. A furnace may be the most efficient home heating system option, depending on the types of power available in your area.

  • Gas furnace. These units hook up to your home’s natural gas line and use it to heat the air in the unit’s heat exchanger.
  • Electric furnace. Electric coils heat air that is forced into ductwork by electric fans.
  • Oil furnace. Just like with a boiler, these units generate heat by burning oil.
  • Propane. Propane is an alternative to natural gas piped into your home. You can buy furnaces that use this fuel as their heat source.

Are furnaces energy-efficient?

The efficiency of these units depends on their size, construction and features. A well-insulated unit, for example, will lose less heat to the air around it, meaning more heat can be forced through your ducts. For natural gas and propane, a pilot light burns all the time, consuming energy. Electric units don’t need to vent waste gasses, keeping more heat energy in the system. In general, furnaces are second to heat pumps as the most efficient home heating system.

What’s the most efficient way to heat your home?

Heat pumps are the most efficient home heating system. Their main drawback is that they do not function particularly well in temperature extremes. In very cold weather, you may need space heaters around your home, lowering efficiency. Innovations in furnaces and boilers make them competitive with heat pumps when it comes to energy efficiency. If a boiler keeps your home warm enough that you don’t need space heaters, it may be the more efficient choice when it comes to average home power usage.

Things to consider when choosing a home heating system

Energy efficiency is one factor to consider when choosing among different types of home heating systems. If you are thinking about upgrading your heating system as one of your winter home improvements to help save energy, the best home heating system for your house may also depend on:

  • Your home’s energy source. You may not have access to certain kinds of fuel, which can limit your choices. If you only have electric power, a boiler is a poor choice when considering boiler vs. furnace. If you don’t have natural gas, propane could be an option.
  • Your local climate. Heat pumps may not be the best choice in very hot or very cold climates, despite their efficiency. A boiler or furnace may give you greater comfort.
  • The size of your home. Right-sizing whatever home heating option you choose is important. If you have a unit that is too small, it will have to work overtime to keep you comfortable, which is not efficient.
  • Special needs. If you have allergies, a hot water or steam system with a boiler is better than a furnace or heat pump that blows air through your home.
  • Availability of smart controls. Newer systems connect easily to smart thermostats that can fine tune operations to keep you comfortable and to reduce energy consumption.

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Comments ( 1 )

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Dave Roper - 2/3/2022

As much as I try, I find it very difficult to reduce my energy bill. I live in a two bedroom apartment built in the 1980’s. I have shut the ceiling louver off in the spare bedroom and shut the door as well thinking that may help conserve. I program my thermostat to 63 degrees when I am not there, and 65 degrees when I am there. Down to 63 degrees when I go to bed. I find it hard to believe the amount of energy I am going through for a two room apartment. I am very frugal with electricity use. I pay more now per month than I did when I had a raised ranch! I am educating myself about heat pump as I believe this is what they are using for heating and cooling. I have been at this address for just three months. The superintendent says I cannot insulate the hot water heater externally as it does not need it. I suppose I am at the mercy of the apartment complex managers. Is there anything else I can do to help save energy?

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