If you live in a place like British Columbia that sees drastically different temperatures in the winter compared to the summer, you rely on your home heating system to keep you warm. There are various ways of heating your home as we’ll see, but the main idea for them all is transferring heat from one place throughout your home. You ask your home for heat, and it gives you heat.

As British Columbians are aware, home heating costs can soar during the winter. Some systems are more efficient or less costly than others to run, but they all cost money. It all depends on what type of fuel source you’re using and how that heat is being distributed throughout your home.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the five main fuel sources along with the five main distribution systems. We’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each, the efficiency level, and the general cost to run. By the end, you’ll have more complete knowledge of how home heating works, and you’ll be aware of all your options.

If it’s time to upgrade your home heating system, get in touch with Hudson Service Group, the plumbing and HVAC experts. Plus, they’ll quote your job for free. Give them a call today at 604-826-7989.

The Five Heat Sources

solar panels on roof


Furnaces are the most popular home heating source in new homes being built today. They can be powered by either gas, oil, propane or electricity. It works by heating up air and using a blower fan to distribute the warm air throughout your home.

One key benefit that separates furnaces from boilers is that they can be used to both heat your home in the winter and cool your home in the summer when attached to a forced air distribution system. One drawback is the blower fan noise, which can be quite loud in some cases.

Cost: Inexpensive

Efficiency: 59 – 98.5%, depending on age


Most older homes today use a boiler system. Similar to a furnace, the boiler is a central home heating unit, except it heats water or steam instead of air. The water or steam is boiled before being sent through pipes to heat the home. To power a boiler, you can use natural gas, propane, fuel oil, biodiesel blends or electricity.

A boiler system can’t be used to cool air like a furnace, but it can provide better-zoned heating. So you have the power to heat just a couple of rooms if you prefer. As a drawback, these systems are expensive to install, and also require a minimum year-round temperature to prevent the pipes from freezing.

Cost: Expensive installation

Efficiency: 50 – 90%, depending on age

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are the newest home heating technology, and work well for both heating your home and cooling it. Similar to an air conditioning unit, a heat pump extracts air from the outside. It then transfers the air to indoor air handlers throughout your home. They can be fueled by either electricity or geothermal energy. Heat pumps also have a lifespan of about 15 years – shorter than a typical boiler or furnace.

While these units are slightly more efficient, they don’t work great in ultra-cold climates. But people love heat pumps because there’s no ductwork required, and the heat can be controlled in each room (or wherever you have a wall unit installed).

Cost: Expensive installation, depending on the number of air handler units

Efficiency: 7.7 – 10 HSPF (8.2+ are awarded the ENERGY STAR® label by the US EPA)


Active solar heating relies on the hot shining orb in the sky to heat either a liquid or air in some type of storage system. From there, it can be either stored or used to provide instant heat via radiant floor, hot water baseboards, or a forced air system.

This modern home heating technology is best for the environment, and the fuel source is free! Active solar heating can help you save lots on your home heating, but unfortunately, in most climates, you’ll need a supplementary heat source to back it up.

Cost: Least expensive (although it will likely rely on another system for help)

Efficiency: N/A

Electric Heating

The fifth and final heat source option is electric heating, or electric resistance heating, often in the form of portable and space heaters. They convert electricity directly into heat.

These systems are inexpensive upfront and are incredibly efficient. The problem is, compared to combustion systems, they’re quite expensive to run long-term. But if you live in a hot climate, a space heater could be all you need. They heat up instantly and are great for warming specific spaces.

Cost: Inexpensive upfront

Efficiency: High (95%+)

The Five Distribution Systems

forced air fan up close

Forced Air

As the most popular residential heat distribution system today, a forced air system transfers hot or cold air from a furnace and shares it throughout the home using a collection of ducts and vents. This system can be powered by electricity, propane, gas or oil, and can even be retrofitted to increase efficiency. The one downside of forced air is that it distributes all air – allergens included. So be sure to change your filters frequently in order to avoid circulating dirty air.

Steam Radiant

Steam radiant heat distribution has been around for a long time, and is still used in many older homes. These systems use a handful of radiators placed around the home to transfer the steam into heat. They’re compatible with boilers, and can’t double as cooling systems in the summer. But generally, this is a clean, safe way to heat your home.

Radiant Heating

Radiant heating distribution can be installed on either your floor, ceiling, or wall panels. This type of system is compatible with boilers, solar, and electric heating, and works by moving heat from a hot surface to people or furniture. The downside is that installing and repairing the system can run up a large bill.

Hot Water Baseboards

Baseboards are attached to the wall near the floor and can be placed strategically throughout the home. Also known as hydronic heat, these systems heat water to warm your space. The main benefit of a baseboard heater is the ability to maintain close control over how warm each room it. But be careful – you can’t leave any furniture, plants, beds, or anything else resting against the heaters.

Electric Baseboards

Electric baseboards are similar to hot water baseboards, as they provide heat to different zones and are attached to walls. But instead of using heated water or steam, they use heated air. They also have the ability to pull cold air into the bottom of the unit, all while forcing warm air out the top. Be sure to clean the coils regularly to improve efficiency and prolong the system’s life.

If you’re looking for a home heating upgrade, call the qualified professionals at HSG. We work with furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, hot water heaters and air conditioning, and we’ll quote your job for free. Get in touch today by filling out our contact form or giving us a call at 604-826-7989.