Here in Manitoba, ensuring your home is properly heated in the winter isn’t just a matter of comfort – it’s a matter of safety.
There are a number of different heating systems on the market, each with advantages and disadvantages. This article will provide an overview of the most commonly used heating systems. Our focus will be on how effective these heating systems are in Manitoba, though the descriptions we give should be of use to people living in other climates, as well.
We’re going to take a look at the types of heating systems, the fuel sources available for them, and whether or not you should invest in an energy-efficient model. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s heat things up:
Types of Heating Systems
What heating system does your home currently use?
This is the single biggest factor when considering a new heating system. Basically, if you’ve already got a furnace installed, you’ll want to replace it with another furnace. The same logic goes for boilers.
The reason for this is simple: Boilers and furnaces use different systems for transporting heat around your house. Boilers use pipes and radiators, while furnaces use ducts and vents. They are often called radiant heat and forced-air systems, respectively. Installing pipes and radiators or ducts and vents can be prohibitively expensive, so stick with what you’ve already got.
But what if you’re building a new home from scratch, and you can design your heating system from the ground up? That’s where things get interesting.
Boilers heat water, then circulate that water or steam through pipes. Those pipes feed radiators, which in turn release that heat into the rooms of your home. Depending on the type of boiler you get, they can be among the most energy-efficient home heating systems (more on that later). They’re an excellent choice for Manitoba’s climate, as they can provide high levels of heat quickly throughout a home.
There are two main disadvantages of boilers. The first is that they don’t use a ducted system. That means they can’t be used in tandem with central air. Manitoba summers can get hot, though portable air conditioners and ductless systems (which we’ll discuss shortly) can provide you with comfort without the need for ducts.
The second is that they tend to require a bit more care than furnaces. You’ll need to bleed your radiators on occasion, which some people find to be a hassle.
Furnaces are the most commonly used heating systems in Manitoba. They heat air which is then forced through ducts. These ducts feed vents, which circulate the warm air throughout your home. Newer furnaces can be quite energy efficient. Like boilers, furnaces are an excellent choice for the cold weather we get in Manitoba, and unlike boilers, furnaces can be used in conjunction with central air.
There are two main disadvantages to furnaces. The first is that ducted systems tend to be more expensive to install than the pipe and radiator-based boiler systems. The second is that furnaces can lead to a reduction in air quality, which can be problematic for allergy sufferers.
Heat pumps are an extremely viable and energy-efficient heating option in many climates – but not in Manitoba’s. They’re, in essence, air conditioners that can work in reverse. Normally, air conditioners take the heat from inside your home and shunt it outside – heat pumps take the heat from outside your home and bring it inside. Unfortunately, when it’s -40 outside, there’s not a lot of heat for a heat pump to move around.
While heat pumps aren’t viable as a heating source in Manitoba, there is something interesting about them we wanted to discuss. You see, many modern heat pumps are what we call ductless mini-split heat pumps. They provide heating and cooling to rooms without ducts. That same principle can be used for air conditioning – remember, heat pumps are air conditioners that can work in reverse. That means that even if you have a boiler, you can install ductless mini-split air conditioners, and provide cooling to your home without ductwork. Pretty cool, if you’ll excuse the pun!
Fuel Sources for Your Heating System
Almost as important as the heating system you choose is the fuel that the system consumes to provide heat. Let’s look at the two most commonly used fuels in Manitoba:
Natural gas is by far the most common source of fuel for heating in Manitoba. That’s because it costs significantly less to heat a home with natural gas. The reason for this is simple – it takes a lot less natural gas to heat a home than it does electricity.
One thing to keep in mind when evaluating fuel sources is the energy efficiency of your appliance, something we’ll discuss further in the next section. The energy efficiency of modern gas boilers and furnaces can range from around 80% to as high as 98%. We use AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) to measure efficiency. AFUE represents how much fuel is input into a heating system that becomes useful energy – heat for your home.
The AFUE of electric systems is from 95% to 100% – and more often than not, it’s 100%. That’s because there are no waste gases – the electricity is all converted to heat, which warms your home.
So why is electric heating more expensive than natural gas heating? It’s because it takes much more electricity to heat a home – natural gas is better at heating, even though some gas is inevitably wasted.
A lot of people turn to electric heating because of environmental concerns. After all, about 96% of Manitoba’s electricity is generated through renewable sources – Hydro has its advantages.
It’s true that, in Manitoba, electric heating is far cleaner than natural gas heating. In a broader context, however, you may not actually be moving the needle toward clean energy as much as you’d think at first glance. Any energy that isn’t used by Manitobans is instead sold to other regions – regions that often use fossil fuels to generate electricity. By using natural gas instead of electricity for heat (which, again, is more efficient at heating), you enable Hydro to help wean other regions off of fossil fuel electricity.
Just some food for thought.
If you’re looking to go green, there’s one surefire way to reduce your carbon footprint – get a more energy-efficient heating system. Let’s compare conventional to high-efficiency systems:
Modern conventional systems tend to have an AFUE of around 80%. That means they’re less eco-friendly than high-efficiency systems. So why should you choose a conventional system?
The upfront cost is lower.
The answer is as simple as that. High-efficiency systems are strictly better than conventional systems in every way except for upfront cost.
You’ll notice that we were specific in saying the upfront costs of conventional heating systems are lower. The overhead costs of high-efficiency systems, on the other hand, are much lower. When you have an AFUE of 98%, that means you’re wasting 18% less energy. While this doesn’t translate to an exact 18% reduction in your energy costs, it’s close.
That means high-efficiency systems can pay for themselves over time. The longer you stay in your home, the more value you’ll get out of a high-efficiency system. They can also improve the resale value of your home. In the best-case scenario, the Government of Manitoba or the Government of Canada will offer rebates for high-efficiency units – we’ll tell you about any rebates that are currently available.
Which Heating System Is Right for Me?
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a system to provide heating in Winnipeg. Let’s summarize:
- If you’ve already got a heating system in place, choose an appliance that’s compatible with that system.
- If central air and lower maintenance are important to you, choose a furnace.
- If lower installation costs and higher air quality are important to you, choose a boiler.
- Opt for natural gas heating over electricity unless you feel very strongly about electric heating.
- Conventional systems have a lower upfront cost. If that’s important, choose a conventional system. Otherwise, opt for high efficiency.
And with that, you should be able to choose the perfect heating system for your home! And remember: Your technician will handle details like sizing your system appropriately for you. You don’t have to worry about those details!