(Commonly referred to as HVAC)
Sunlight becomes solar energy when it is transformed to heat. No matter where you live, it may be practical to use at least passive solar heat. Solar energy can provide hot water as well as heat for the home. Passive is solar energy produced without the aid of any mechanical means.
These include, but are not limited to, south-facing glass, masonry walls, and solariums. These are relatively inexpensive and may fit in with your design. Active systems are more effective but can be expensive. They require solar collectors and storage systems. The collectors themselves require unobstructed southern exposure. Talk to your local building department and HVAC contractor to find out if solar energy is a viable alternative in your area. If your situation warrants further research, visit your local library.
Other Heating and Cooling Systems
The most widely used system is Central Forced Air. Both hot and cold air is forced through a series of ducts by a blower attached to the furnace. The air enters the living space through registers on the floor usually located near windows and doors. Heating and air conditioning use the same ductwork and blower. The central system can get its energy from natural gas, oil, propane, or electricity.
Today, natural gas is the most cost-effective, followed by oil. Keep in mind that the A/C condenser will still run on electricity in both cases, and electric bills can get quite high in summer. If you live in a northerly climate you will also want to attach a humidifier to the furnace. It will add keep the humidity at a comfortable level in winter when humidity levels drop dramatically in heated spaces.
An optional electronic air cleaner will help remove dust, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, tobacco, and cooking smoke more effectively than disposable filters.
Another heating system is hot water. Here the water is heated in a gas or oil-fired boiler and then circulated by pipe to radiators placed in the living space, or through coils that are installed into the flooring system. A separate air conditioning system would be required, usually window or through-wall units.
A heat pump is a good choice for a central heating and cooling system but only if you live in an area that does not drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. It is a very energy-efficient system and also uses the same ducts for heating and cooling.
Electric baseboard heat is another choice. It is inexpensive to install but very expensive to operate. It is most often used in apartment buildings because of the low installation cost, and because the tenant will have to pay the electric bill!
A zone control system requires one heating unit and one cooling unit for each room. The advantage to this is that you can heat and cool selected rooms to different temperatures, thereby saving energy by not heating or cooling spaces that are not being used at any given time.
The key to determining which system is best for you is to determine the operating costs of these systems in your area. Your friends, neighbors, and HVAC contractors can be a great help. You will likely find that one particular system is the most widely used and efficient for your area.
My choice would be a heat pump if the climate permitted, (20 degrees or above in winter). In colder climates, a gas-fired central forced air with a central humidifier attached provides great comfort and efficiency.
Try to locate your mechanical equipment where the noise of operation does not disturb the people living there. (Such as yourself!). It is also preferable to locate the water heater fairly close to the master bath, insuring hot water without waiting.
Your HVAC contractor should provide all materials and equipment necessary for these systems as well as venting ducts for bathroom fans, range hood, and dryer vents. Be sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured.
Everyone enjoys a fireplace on a cold winter night. Your decision on whether to have one will probably be based on aesthetic appeal more than heating efficiency. Unless you have an ample supply of free firewood and live in an area that seldom gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, a fireplace will seldom pay for itself in saved heating costs.
A functional masonry fireplace and chimney should cost about $6000 for a single-story home. You can probably install a metal, wood-burning prefabricated fireplace with a framed chimney for about half that.
In either case, you can get gas-fired simulated logs, which are clean-burning, insect-free, have lower operational cost, look nice and you don’t have to chop wood. They also provide more heat because the damper remains closed. The only downside is that they are imitations.