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Home Heating System Types | Top Notch Furnace Service in Pittsburgh


With so many options for heating a home, selecting a new home heating system can be a little overwhelming. The team at Top Notch Heating & Cooling has been providing furnace service in Pittsburgh since 1993. Our crew is well versed on all types, makes and models. We want you to be, too.

In addition to our in-person consultation, we’ve compiled this breakdown of the different types of home heating systems on the market and the pros and cons of each. We want to make your choice as easy as possible for you. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to read our previous blog post – Selecting a Home Heating System. The better you understand your options, the easier time you’ll have deciding what’s best for your home and budget.


Furnaces are the most common heating system used in Pittsburgh. Furnaces produce heat using natural gas, fuel oil, or electricity. This heat is distributed throughout your home through ducts pushing it out through registers or grills. This is known as forced-air distribution.

Today’s furnaces are more energy efficient than ever before with Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings between 78 and 96 percent. Keep in mind the higher the AFUE rating, the more money you’ll save on future heating bills.

Beyond the AFUE of a furnace, its electrical efficiency must also be considered. Furnaces consume a significant amount of electricity. Your best bet is a furnace with a multi-or-variable-speed fan motor, which will be more energy efficient than a unit with a single-speed motor.

Advantages of Forced Air Heating

The main benefit of a forced air system is the ductwork can be used for a central air conditioning system in summer months. It can also help with air filtration/ventilation.

Disadvantages of Forced Air Heating

The air pushed through registers can sometimes feel cool. Temperature swings are especially common if the furnace is oversized. Ducts can also occasionally leak resulting in higher eating costs. Many people complain that ducts are sometimes noisy since they transmit sounds from the furnace. Forced air can also circulate dust, allergens, and odors through ductwork.


Boilers, just like furnaces, use an AFUE rating for efficiency. Any residential boiler heating system manufactured since 1992 must have at least an 80 percent AFUE. Boilers manufactured before 1992 may only have a 55 to 65 percent AFUE. Boilers have much more longevity than furnaces, so be sure to know the age of yours since many Pittsburgh homes still have systems more than four decades old.

Most boiler systems distribute heat by way of a radiant heating system. This can be anything from radiant flooring systems (the most widely used today), the traditional cast iron radiators seen in many Pittsburgh area homes, baseboard heating, or aluminum floor, wall, or ceiling panels. Radiant floor heating works great paired with ceramic floor tile.

Advantages of Boiler Heating Systems

Since boilers and radiant heating systems allow heat to be distributed without ductwork, allergens aren’t circulated throughout the house. This allows for non-allergenic heat. Even better, radiant heat systems can be controlled from room to room for more even temperatures.

People with boilers usually feel their home heating system is more efficient, cleaner, quieter, and warmer. Boiler systems are also incredibly durable and can withstand the test of time; lasting decades without losing efficiency.

Disadvantages of Boiler Heating Systems

Boilers and radiant heating is more expensive to install since copper piping is usually used. Any home cooling system must be added separately. Lastly, not all HVAC technicians service boilers.


A heat pump is basically a year-round two-way air conditioning unit. When it’s cold outside, a heat pump absorbs and recycles scavenged heat from the frigid outdoors; transferring it inside for warmth. Just as an air conditioner moves heat from the inside to outside to cool your home on a hot summer’s day.

Air-Source and Ground-Source (Geothermal) heat pumps are the two most widely used. Air-Source heat pumps (ASHP) use a refrigerant, compressor, and condenser to move warm air from outside a building to inside or vice versa. Ground-Source (GSHP) or Geothermal heat pumps use the earth as a wintertime heat source and a summertime heat sink.

Practically all heat pumps utilize a forced-air delivery system to supply heat throughout the house.

Advantages of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can be used year-round for both heating and cooling. They are incredibly energy efficient. Fitting a heat pump with a desuperheater – a secondary heat exchanger transferring excess heat to a hot water tank – can lower utility costs even more.

Air-source heat pumps can be installed much more easily (like a central AC system) and affordably. However, geothermal heat pumps are generally much more energy efficient.

Disadvantages of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can get overworked in extreme heat or cold. They also lose efficiency when the air temperature dips below 32 degrees. This makes them more of a supplemental heating option in Pittsburgh rather than a main source.


Whether you’re purchasing a furnace, boiler, or heat pump, you’re making at least a 15-20 year investment. Before you choose a type of heating system, a brand, or even an installation company, seek advice from Top Notch experts in furnace service in Pittsburgh. Call us today 412-381-0598 to discuss your home heating.