Which Heating System is Right for Your Older Home? - Design for the Arts & Crafts House | Arts & Crafts Homes Online
Heating systems in older homes have traditionally been supplemented by fireplaces, stoves and inserts, but there are plenty of other choices for old houses that can boost comfort and save money.

Forced Air Heating Systems

Scrollwork-pattern heat register in brass finish by Reggio Register.

Scrollwork-pattern heat register in brass finish by Reggio Register.

Forced air units utilize built-in duct work to carry warmth throughout a home. Many of these furnaces use natural gas to heat the air, but there are also electric models available.

Pros: 

  • Ducts can be used for both heating and cooling.

Cons:

  • Inefficient for heat delivery (especially with heat pumps)
  • Hot and cold spots; variations in temperature
  • Retrofitting or installing a new system can cost thousands

Works Best For:

  • Regions with more cooling days than heating days
  • Comfort/Cost Savings Alternatives
  • Distribute warmed air more efficiently with ceiling fans
  • Supplement with radiant floors, wood stoves or inserts
  • Systems with built-in humidifiers
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Swap out balky radiators for new, almost silent ones that fit right into your existing system. This is from Runtal North America.

Radiator from Runtal North America.

Radiators / Steam Heating 

Steam heating systems utilize a boiler furnace, which heats water and turns it into steam. This steam is distributed throughout the home through pipes which lead to radiators or convectors that warm the home.

Pros:

  • Efficient, comfortable whole-house heating delivery system

Cons:

  • Does not address cooling needs
  • Older radiators can be balky or noisy

Works Best For:

  • Colder climates with many heating days
  • Comfort/Cost Savings Alternatives:
  • Retrofit noisy, balky or broken radiators with almost silent new ones (at about $500 each)
  • Disguise ugly radiators with covers.
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This heating stove is from Fires of Tradition.

This heating stove is from Fires of Tradition.

Heating Stoves/Inserts

Heating stoves can provide relief for drafty areas of your home—contemporary models offer clean, high-efficiency heating in period-friendly designs.

Pros:

  • Easy to install (except masonry stoves)
  • A quality stove costs $2500 or less
  • Highly fuel efficient
  • Masonry and catalytics capable of whole-house heating
  • Passive cooling in warm months (masonry stoves)

Cons:

  • Effectiveness diminishes in proportion to distance from heat source
  • Wood and masonry stoves require regular feeding/maintenance
  • Masonry stoves best suited for new construction or major remodels

Works Best For: 

  • Smaller homes
  • As supplement to whole-house heating, especially forced air

Comfort/Cost Savings Alternatives: 

  • Humidifiers; supplementary units
  • Distribute warmed air more efficiently with ceiling fans
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radiant heat

A cutaway of an original radiant system in an old house. 

Radiant Heat 

Radiant heat can be produced by hot water, air, or electricity and delivers warmth to the home via direct contact with the heated surface (such as floors, walls, etc.).

Pros:

  • Even, cost-effective heating ($8 to $12 square foot installed)
  • Cost-Effective in retrofits (i.e., replacing old wall radiators with new), spot applications (baths, mudrooms, etc.), new construction (additions, whole house remodels)

Cons:

  • Requires hot water or steam boiler except for spot (electric) units
  • As whole-house heating, can be expensive and difficult to install in houses without existing radiators
  • Does not address cooling needs

Works Best For:

  • Homes in cooler climates
  • New homes and homes being extensively remodeled
  • Retrofits with existing water systems
  • Spot heating

Comfort/Cost Savings Alternatives:

  • Use as spot-comfort zones where possible (wall and floor radiators)

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