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Choosing a new heating system

We are going to talk about heat sources over the next few weeks and hope it helps you make good decisions about your existing system and maybe its replacement. Is your current heating system meeting the needs of your family, your home, your budget?

If either the cost of operating your heating system or its efficiency or safety has you thinking about your options, this is the column for you!


The right heating system depends on many things, including just why you are looking into a new heating system!

Usually it is because the old system is constantly breaking or underperforming. Maybe you’ve added on to the house and your existing system is under-sized. Perhaps you are planning to upgrade a component like the outside heat pump unit, but it isn’t going to be compatible with your current central air handler heating system. That could mean a large investment. Maybe you can’t afford to turn on those darn baseboard heaters or the stinky strip-heat furnace from the 1960s and you’re sick and tired of being always cold and tired and even sick from mold and mildew – which is really not good!

Is dealing with buying seasoned wood or locating a source, cutting, splitting, transporting, stacking and loading the fire box all day and night an issue now? And, oh how about cleaning out the ashes, cleaning the chimney flue pipe and replacing the firebrick? Are you maybe a little concerned about the pollution that comes from burning any fossil fuel? These are all good reasons to read this column.


To compare your options, we suggest not only looking at the cost of the mechanical system and its installation, but also at maintenance requirements, warranties and what the expected monthly heating bills will be for as long as you own it. And, what about climate change and adding more pollution into the air? In some cases, the most economical choice is also the least polluting.

Before you settle on one system or even one company to purchase and install, you might want to get the benefit of the knowledge from more than one company. Invite several companies to inspect your house and give you some options, including the expected heating results, any challenges to expect, the estimate for the annual cost to operate and maintain, the location of equipment for optimal performance, and the size of the unit needed to both heat and cool your house and also get the longest life from the equipment.

Getting the best information is the beginning of a great plan to get what you want at a price you can afford. Friends and family are an additional source of user information about comfort, maintenance and expenses in a real home. A salesperson can tell you a lot, but there’s nothing like asking opinions from people you trust and who have nothing to gain or lose.

There are a lot of variables, though, that only your heating specialist will take be able to factor in for the final best choices. For example, the efficiency and fuel cost will depend on how well insulated your home is along with its total glass surface and how air-tight it is.

Another consideration is the cost of fuel and availability for various heating types. This may make a difference depending on where your house is located. For example, natural gas may not be available, or the source of pellets for a pellet stove may be 30 miles away. This is good information to know.

Here are some general pros and cons for other than oil furnace heat systems.


Electrical baseboard heaters


  • Inexpensive to buy

  • Quiet

  • Low maintenance

  • Somewhat cleaner than other types of resistant heaters


  • Not child-proof

  • Least efficient type of electrical heat

  • May require additional wiring or service panel upgrades

  • The units reduce your effective room size because they pose a potential fire hazard.

  • Doesn’t work if power goes out

Cadet wall heat

  • Pros

  • Inexpensive to buy

  • Instant fan-forced heat

  • More efficient than baseboards


  • May require service upgrades or additional wiring

  • Noisy

  • Require regular cleaning of the coils and fan

  • Attractive nuisance to toddlers

  • As a potential fire hazard, the units reduce your furniture and door layout.

  • Not a very comfortable heat source.

  • Doesn’t work if power goes out

Heat pump/air handler/ductwork


  • Best electrical heating/cooling source for this area

  • Non-polluting

  • Available in all areas

  • Geo-thermal units are exceptionally efficient


  • Initial expense can be high

  • May require an electrical service upgrade

  • Location of exterior unit may be a practical and aesthetic issue

  • Requires an air handler type furnace and ductwork

  • Doesn’t work if power goes out

Ductless Heat pump


  • Best electrical heating/cooling source for this area

  • Non-polluting

  • Available in all areas

  • No ductwork required

  • Super-efficient

  • Relatively low price after rebates


  • Location of small interior and exterior units may be a practical and aesthetic issue

  • Doesn’t work if power goes out (without a generator)

  • Heats/cools what it can “see”



  • Nice type of heat

  • Usually requires ductwork

  • Clean burning, but still produces CO

  • Can choose from a variety of appliance types


  • Not available in all areas

  • Maintenance required to avoid carbon monoxide concerns

  • Complicated piping, cutting and venting may be required

  • May not work if power goes out

Pellet stove


  • Nice, dry heat

  • Fueling is easy

  • No bugs


  • Pellets are expensive

  • Fuel storage takes room

  • Stove requires electricity to work

  • Potential safety hazard with toddlers

  • Doesn’t work if power goes out.

Wood Stove


  • Wonderful heat

  • Great ambience

  • Sometimes inexpensive if you have a source of wood

  • Always works when the power is out


  • Safety concerns with a hot stove

  • Time consuming wood splitting, handling

  • Need to have large storage area for wood

  • Bugs, dirt and bark can infest and dirty your home.

  • Environmental concerns


Are you interested in learning if you might qualify for a no-cost ductless heat pump – installed? If so, just call (360) 533-7828 and ask for Pat.

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