Once the cold weather hits, many a Richmond, VA homeowner is faced with an important question: Is it time to replace my heating system? If the answer to that question is, "yes," there are some serious decisions to be made.
A simple review of any major HVAC manufacturer's website will show you that heating systems are not created equal. Certain systems are more suited to certain geographic locations, climates, lifestyle, home designs, etc. Your family's comfort - both physically and financially - depends on your ability to select the right heating system for your needs.
Things to Consider When Selecting a Heating System in Richmond
We recommend consulting with an experienced, licensed HVAC contractor in Richmond to make sure you select a system that makes sense for you. In the meantime, here are some things to consider as you deliberate between different heating systems.
Don't Forget to Take Humidity Into Consideration
Regardless of the heating system you select, it's imperative that you replace the outdated system with one that provides whole-home comfort in terms of humidity - as well as temperature. Today's heating and cooling systems come with built-in accessory options that maintain target humidity levels in your home.
Excess humidity can result in everything from mold and structural rot, to respiratory problems and higher heating and cooling bills. On the flip-side, dry air is hard on the skin and lungs as well, and can cause wood fixtures and features to shrink, crack, and split. Installing a system that takes whole-home humidity levels into consideration will improve indoor air quality and your comfort to boot.
Furnace, Boiler, or Heat Pump?
Richmond's climate - which can make for some freezing, or below-freezing, temperatures - often requires a combination of heat sources for optimal home comfort and energy efficiency.
Most American homes, particularly those built in the past decade or two, rely on a forced-air furnace to supply warm air, via air registers (grills, vents), located throughout the entire home. These furnace systems require ducts, which transport the heated air through wall/crawl spaces to the registers and can be powered by natural gas or fuel oil.
With gas furnaces, a hot surface ignitor ignites the fuel in order to heat a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger transfers heat to the air, which is then forced through the system by a blower.
Furnace sales often fluctuate in direct proportion to electricity versus natural gas versus fuel prices. Don't let yourself fall into that trap. Fuel prices are variable, so it makes more sense to choose a system that fits both short- and long-term plans.
Boilers (Hot Water Systems, Hydronic Systems)
While a forced air furnace transfers heat via air, boilers transfer heat through hot water. Water is heated and passes through a radiator or other devices that transfer heat into your home. Cooled water returns to the boiler to be reheated. In most cases, boilers are gas-fired. Older, oil-fueled boilers are outdated and being phased out.
Rather than ducts, a boiler uses pipes or tubes to carry water back and forth throughout the house and back to the heating element. Sometimes, this occurs through floors - called radiant floor heating. If have this type of heating system, it's a good practice to set up zones that will ensure you're only using energy to heat/cool occupied areas of the household.
Heat pumps are a great option for homeowners in moderate climates. They heat a home in the winter and cool a home in the summer. Like forced air furnaces, heat pumps use blowers to distribute heated/cooled air throughout the home.
Heat pump systems are efficient because they're using the bulk of the energy they consume to move heat, rather than generate it. That being said, these systems are overwhelmed by extreme cold temperatures because there's no "heat" to remove from the outside air.
Thus, some Richmond-area homeowners find it wise to use a heat pump for their primary heating and cooling needs and use some alternative heat source during extreme cold weather.
Geothermal Heat Pumps (Ground-Source Heat Pump)
The sustainable lifestyle movement has made geothermal systems (geothermal heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps) a top contender for eco-conscious homeowners. These systems operate on the same principle as a traditional heat pump with one significant difference - the loop where heat transfer takes place is located underground. So, while air-source heat pumps are susceptible to outdoor temperature fluctuations, ground source heat pumps benefit from earth's below-ground, consistent year-round temperatures.
Geothermal systems are more expensive at the outset because of the underground components. However, these one-time costs are quickly offset by their superb energy-efficiency, which means geothermal systems pay for themselves and then some over their lifetime.
Geothermal heat pumps are an ideal source of heat for Richmond homeowners, because they provide an efficient heating and cooling source year-round - including the most extreme hot/cold spells - without any supplemental heat required.
Solar Heat Systems
Solar heating systems are another option for Richmond residents. These systems typically require only a couple of solar panels. These panels are then used to harness solar energy, which is used to heat either air (for a forced air system) or liquid (for a radiant heat or boiler system) for distribution through the home.
In a climate like ours, your solar heating system would work best when paired with another system so you reap the benefits of high-efficiency heating depending on the weather and temperatures on any given day.
Both geothermal and/or solar heating systems are best for those who plan to stay put for a while, or who prioritize sustainable living tenets that will be appreciated by future home buyers, in terms of cost-efficiency.
Consult with the Pros Before Making a Selection
It's always a good idea to consult with licensed, experienced HVAC professionals before making a final determination. We have industry-specific software that analyzes things like:
- Our climate
- Your home's directional exposure on the lot
- Existing passive solar design (if relevant)
- Specific building materials
- Daily occupancy
- Household comfort preferences
- Current appliances and lighting fixtures (all of which generate heat and need to be taken into account)
We input that data and get immediate results, allowing us to recommend specific makes and models, which can help you choose the best heating system for your needs and budget.
Learn More About Replacing a Heating System in Richmond, VA
Interested in replacing your current heating system? Want to discuss the options for a future replacement so you can begin planning? Contact the HVAC experts at Howell's Heating & Air. We've provided honest, down-to-earth advice and service to our Richmond-area clients for more than 50-years. We promise to steer you in the right direction, installing and servicing a heating system that provides efficient heat all winter long.