Understanding Centralized and Decentralized Heating Systems

Presidential Heating & Air Conditioning

Gaithersburg HVAC Contractors


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heatingBefore having a new heating system installed for your home, there are a few initial decisions you will need to make. The first decision you’ll need to make has to do with the fundamental design of the heating system—should you go with a centralized or decentralized heating system for your home? Once this decision has been made, more specific decisions involving fuel and equipment type, maintenance, or energy efficiency will follow. First things first, however—in order to make that critical first decision, you’ll need to know how centralized and decentralized heating systems differ.

Centralized Heating

Centralized heating is a type of heating system in which heat is generated from one “central” point in the home. From that single source, heat is distributed out to the various rooms in the house in order to bring the air in the home to a consistent temperature, which is controlled by a thermostat.

Centralized heating is often combined with a cooling system and a ventilation system to provide a complete HVAC system able to control airflow, temperature, and even humidity throughout the house from a single control point.

Advantages of centralized heating include:

  • Easy to control from one central thermostat
  • Comfortable, consistent temperature from room to room
  • Typically driven by highly efficient heat-generation mechanisms
  • Centralized installation creates fewer potential problem sites for repairs when the system malfunctions
  • Lower cost of heating over time

Decentralized Heating Systems

Decentralized heating systems are essentially the inverse of the centralized alternatives. Instead of having the single unit which distributes heat to the whole house, there are individualized units that control the heating within a single room or location. Decentralized heating systems allow individual control of the temperature in different areas of a building as needed. This ensures that heating costs are kept to a minimum.

These systems are often very practical in the context of large commercial spaces. When dealing with massive square footage, it can be financially impractical to keep the entire space heated to a consistent temperature.

Advantages of decentralized heating systems:

  • Easy and cheaper to install
  • Allows for easier individual control of separate spaces
  • Can be more affordable when dealing with large spaces
  • Repairs only involve units in the spaces where the fault occurs

Types of Heating Systems

Within these broad categories there are several different heating systems available. Each of these systems has its own distinct blend of advantages and disadvantages to be considered. These individual differences, combined with basic knowledge of centralized and decentralized heating systems, should help anyone decide what type of heating system is going to work the best for their home.

Furnaces: Furnaces are the most well known and most common type of centralized heating device. In a furnace, a fuel source is burned in order to generate heat. This heat is then used to warm the air that is circulated through the home via a series of ducts. Furnaces can run on a variety of fuel sources: in the past, wood burning furnaces were extremely common, but most furnaces run on either natural gas or oil today.

Furnaces can be highly efficient, especially when opting for newer natural gas models. Gas furnaces are also extremely reliable, with repairs that tend to be affordable and simplistic.

heatingBoilers: A boiler is another type of centralized heating system. Boilers work similarly to furnaces except, instead of using fuel to heat the air, it uses fuel to heat water. That hot water flows within a series of pipes that run throughout the building, connecting to radiators in each room. The radiators are filled with hot water and then transfer that heat to the room in order to warm them. In modern systems, the water is often piped through in-floor radiant heat pipes as opposed to wall-mounted radiators.

One of the advantages of a boiler is the difference they can make to the air quality in your home. Boilers don’t move dust and allergens through the environment and don’t have ductwork that require cleaning like air-based systems. Boilers are also completely quiet.

Heat Pump Systems: Heat pumps work by exchanging heat energy with either the air outside the home or with the ground under the surface of the earth. Heat pumps transfer heat from the earth or air outside your home to a refrigerant material in your system’s coils, which is then distributed throughout the home. Heat pump systems are best suited for environments with moderate temperatures. They can be used to both cool or heat an environment as long as the temperature change required is not too great.

Mini Splits: Mini splits are an example of how decentralized systems can work in a residential setting. Residential mini splits operate using a heat pump system but heat or cool the air in an individual room instead of connecting to centralized duct work. The advantage of this approach is that mini split systems can be added to any room easily, without requiring any large-scale retrofitting of your existing system. They also allow for more fine-tuned and efficient temperature control in an area of the house that might get used more often than others, such as a dining room or a home office.

Choosing the Right Heating System for Your Home

The difficulty in choosing which of these systems is right for your home is that there are many variables in play. These include:

  • Your local climate
  • Existing heating equipment in your home
  • The layout of your home
  • The land your home is situated on
  • The size of your home
  • Whether your home is in seasonal or year-round use

Ultimately, the best way to understand what type of heating system is the ideal fit for a given home is through a professional consultation with our HVAC specialists at Presidential Heating & Air Conditioning. Our heating professionals can examine the details of your home and determine which system will provide your with the most cost effective, comfortable, and energy efficient system based on your specific needs.

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