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What is the Best Heating System for Your Home's Climate and Region?

Everyone has their own version of what cold is. Someone in Chicago might be rocking shorts in 60 degree weather, while a Floridian is looking up the closest store to buy a parka. With such varying climates and typical temperatures across the United States, how we keep our homes warm is also going to vary from region to region. From how long you will need to keep the heat on, to the most energy-efficient way to do it, we will go over the best heating systems for different regions and climates of the U.S., including what type of heater to buy for your climate and what SEER rating to look for.

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Choosing the right home heating system is important — it accounts for almost half of the energy used in the home! In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked homeowners since 1940 what source of heating they use in their home, helping the government better understand the country’s energy needs. In the 2019 American Community Survey:

  • 48% of homes used utility gas
  • 38.9% used electricity
  • 0.2% used solar energy

It is worth noting that overall in the United States, most people still use gas to heat their home. However, electric heat pumps are increasingly becoming more popular as the years go by, since they are more energy-efficient.

Best Heating Systems for the Northeast

northeast-home

In the northeast United States, winters can be brutal! Even if it is not snowing, the low temperatures and wind can still be intense. Your home should be a warm refuge from the winter weather, and there are multiple options to make sure it is.

In the Northeast, natural gas is still the most popular home heating source. It fuels about 55% of homes in the region. More specifically, 75% of homes in New Jersey, 61% in New York, 51% in Pennsylvania, and 40% of New England.

Electricity is gaining traction in most of the nation, but the Northeast tends to hold onto gas-fueled heating systems. The best heating system for the Northeast continues to be the gas furnace, since it effectively heats homes in colder climates.

Why is natural gas so popular in the Northeast? Its low cost, ability to quickly heat a home, and low air emissions make it a relatively environmentally friendly choice for homeowners. The U.S. also produces almost all of the natural gas that it uses, with Pennsylvania producing about 20% of the country’s natural gas, coming in second after Texas.

Gas furnaces are a winner in the Northeast, since heat pumps are known to be less efficient as the temperatures drop lower. Another advantage of using a gas-powered heater in the Northeast is that it continues to function during power outages. For example, if your region is hit by a winter Nor’reaster causing the power to go out, homes with electric heating systems are in trouble – unless they have a back-up generator. Gas furnaces ensure your home will stay warm even during emergency situations, or when temperatures drop to below freezing.

Best Heating Systems for the Southeast

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Winter is usually a welcome respite from sweltering summers for the Southeast. But that doesn’t mean it never gets cold. While some Southeasterners can get away with opening a few windows or throwing on a sweater, heating systems are often still necessary for residents in the Southeast United States.

Most of the country tends to turn to natural gas to heat their homes. But in Florida, Georgia and other parts of the Southeast, electricity is the name of the game. An electric heat pump can be used to both cool and heat a home, making them energy-efficient and versatile choices for the Southeast.

Also known as an electrical resistance heating system, electrical heating systems are considered to be 100% energy-efficient because all of the energy is used to create heat.

However, it’s possible to be even more efficient than that! A heat pump transfers rather than creates heat. This means it takes less energy for it to warm up a home. How does this work? Basically like a backwards air conditioner—it pulls warm air from outside and brings it into the home. Southeastern homes can take advantage of electric heat pumps, since the outdoor temperatures rarely drop close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are worried about the possibility of power outages in the winter, you can look into a back-up generator to keep your heat pump functioning during emergencies.

Remember: electric heat pumps are great heating systems for homes in warmer climates, while gas furnaces are better for areas that get colder in the winters.

Best Heating Systems for the Midwest

midwest-house

The Midwest is another region of the country that experiences very chilly winters. Chicago was nicknamed Chiberia during the 2014 polar vortex! So it is no wonder that keeping families warm is of the utmost importance for homeowners in the Midwest.

Because of the low temperatures for many months of the year, natural gas continues to be the most widely used heating system for homeowners in the Midwest. Like the Northeast, the best heating system for the Midwest continues to be the gas furnace.

68% of homeowners and businesses in the Midwest use natural gas. In fact, states in the Midwest have the highest use of propane in the country.

There are different opinions about using heat pumps in these closer climates. Some feel that it is not cost effective, since temperature frequently drops below freezing (sending the heat pump into “emergency mode”). Others disagree and argue that a furnace can be turned on when the heat pump is no longer able to keep the home warm. It is certainly something to discuss with a contractor if you are looking to invest in an alternate form of heat.

Best Heating Systems for the Southwest

stucco siding house

A large ranging region of the United States, the weather in the Southwest varies and is also impacted by the temperatures of the desert region. It might be blazing during the day, but temperatures can dip low in the nighttime and also during the winter months.

Most homes in the Southwest are still equipped with natural gas heating systems. In fact, Texas provides the largest percentage of natural gas to the United States, at 23%. However, considering climate and energy-efficiency, the best heating system for Southwestern homes is the electric heat pump.

Even so, in the Southwest there are moves to shift over to the more energy-efficient heat pump. However, because of the varying climates in the Southwest, this is more cost effective in some places than others. According to a 2018 report by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, new homes with mini-split heat pumps are cost effective throughout the region and consume 31% less energy.

However, for homeowners wanting to make the switch in an existing home, Phoenix residents experienced lower replacement costs than their neighbors in Denver, Salt Lake City, Reno and Las Vegas. In fact, Phoenix homeowners saved 41% while those in Denver ended up paying 18% more. 

So while heat pumps may be the most energy-efficient option for the Southwest, there are still kinks to be worked out for it to make financial sense for people to switch over from natural gas. As always, make sure to get a total installation quote from your local contractor.

Best Heating Systems for the West

california-homes

Yes, even in California there are days that get chilly. The most popular heating systems, particularly in Northern California, are natural gas or electric furnaces. These use the ducts in the home to blow warm air throughout.

Gas furnaces are cheaper upfront, but not as cost-efficient over time, than electric furnaces for homes in the West.  If you live in the much colder Pacific Northwest, go with a gas furnace. If you live in the southern regions of the West, an electric furnace would likely save you more in the long-run. Homeowners in the West should look into the electric heat pump if they live in climates that stay temperate year-round.

However, as we mentioned in other regions, heat pumps are gaining popularity, particularly in new homes. They are energy-efficient, which keeps monthly utility costs low.

There are also different versions of the heat pump that are getting attention. For instance, ductless heat pumps are less expensive to install. They are preferred in homes that do not have existing ductwork throughout. Ductless mini-split systems are also gaining popularity, as they use an indoor and outdoor unit. Again, it is another great choice for homes that don’t have a ductwork system and can quickly warm or cool a home depending on the time of year.

Overall, if your Western home tends to get chilly in the cooler months, a furnace may be your best bet. If your climate remains moderate throughout the year, look into a heat pump for better overall energy-efficiency.

Checking SEER Rating Requirements in Your Area

Energy-efficiency matters when it comes to choosing a home heating system. The more energy-efficient your heating system is, the more you will save on monthly utility bills, for the most part.

The SEER rating for a particular heater is a good way to tell just how energy-efficient your system is. Different regions in the country have different SEER rating requirements for HVAC systems, depending on the climate and typical temperatures. Be sure to check for your region’s SEER rating requirements before choosing a heating system to ensure you stay comfortable in your home year-round.

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