10 Types Of Apartment Heating Systems

Choosing heating units for apartments is different than choosing a heater for your own home.

Apartments are poorly insulated, so hot air escapes through exposed openings and crevices, which explains why they are always drafty and colder. This is especially common in older apartments or loft or factory buildings that were converted into apartments.

Apartments can also experience cold temperatures if their windows and doors don’t close tightly enough, allowing air to escape and replace itself with cold air.

Because of these issues, you need to give a lot of thought to the type of heater you use for your apartment.

Since there are numerous apartment heating options, we’ve included, in this article, different types of heating systems in apartments and their pros and cons.

1. Furnaces

A furnace, also known as a central heating system, is used to heat all or part of a building. A furnace is an airtight metal cabinet with one or more burners that burn fuel such as natural gas or propane. The hot combustion gases flow through ducts and into the various rooms of the house, where they heat air that is distributed through the ducts.

There are many types of furnaces, each one designed for a different purpose. The two most common types of furnaces are forced air and hydronic. Forced-air furnaces use fans to move warm air throughout the home. Hydronic furnaces use pumps to circulate water, which is heated by natural gas, oil, or electricity and then pumped through radiant heat tubing embedded in walls or flooring of the apartment.

A gas furnace is one of the most widely used home heating systems in the United States. It is less expensive and more efficient than an electric forced-air system (it reheats a room quickly) and less expensive than oil or wood furnaces (which must be kept running continuously to provide heat).

A gas furnace has a heat exchanger, which is the part of the system that heats the air. A burner on top of this unit ignites natural or propane gas and sends it through a tube to the heat exchanger. The flame heats an inner core, called a heat transfer element (the part inside the exchanger). As the element heats up, it warms the surrounding air in the furnace’s hot-air ducts.

Pros:

  • Gas furnaces are more efficient than electric forced-air systems. They also burn hotter, which means they can provide a quick blast of heat when a room gets too cold — making them ideal for chilly mornings in bedrooms.
  • Gas furnaces have a long life span. They last about 20 years, which means you’ll need to replace a furnace less often than a forced-air electric heater.

Cons:

  • If not installed correctly, gas furnaces can be dangerous. The main safety issues with gas furnaces are carbon monoxide poisoning and flue gas fires.
  • When it’s time to buy a new system, the price tag for a gas furnace is usually higher than that for other types of heaters.

2. Boilers

A boiler is a type of furnace that produces superheated water above 212°F. The hot water can be circulated throughout the building to provide heat in radiators, baseboards, or radiant panels. A boiler is commonly fueled by natural gas or oil but may also use electricity as an energy source to boil the water.

The use of a central boiler means that each apartment has its own radiator attached to the system. This makes for very even heat distribution throughout the building, eliminating hot and cold spots.

Central boilers are also very efficient, delivering more heat with less fuel thanks to a larger size. While a typical home may require a 60k BTU/hr output from its boiler during the winter, an apartment building might need twice that. Since individual boilers are not needed to heat each apartment, greater energy efficiency is possible.

Boilers must be properly maintained on a regular schedule to work efficiently and safely. During this process, the burner assembly is checked along with the water level inside the boiler. Faulty components are replaced before problems get out of hand.

Pros

  • Boilers feature quieter operation than forced-air furnaces, which pump air through ductwork via a blower motor.
  • Modern boilers use direct digital controls and electronic ignition rather than pilot lights.  They are more efficient, requiring less fuel to heat your home or apartment.
  • boilers require less maintenance because they do not have blowers. Though they are more expensive to purchase, the lower operating costs make up for this initial investment

Cons

  • Some apartment complexes may not allow the installation of a boiler in an apartment. Therefore, you should check with both your landlord and management company before purchasing one.
  • Boilers cost more to install because they need to be outfitted with the proper piping systems in order for them to work well. If the piping is not correctly in place, then this can lead to a lot of problems that could cost time and money to fix.
  • Replacement parts for boilers can be more expensive than their regular counterparts and can be difficult to find because they may not be as popular.

3. Heat Pumps

A heat pump is an air conditioner that can be reversed to act as a heater. During the winter, when the exterior temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat pump will operate in reverse and heat your apartment.

A heat pump operates in the same way as an air conditioner, except that it pulls in warm air from outside and pushes it inside. The unit is similar to a window unit only much smaller. Heat pumps are installed on walls or windows in your apartment. They can also be installed through the wall for central heating purposes.

There are three types of heat pumps: a ground source, a water source, and an air source. The two most common sources in apartment buildings are air and water sources. Air-source pumps work when outdoor air enters the outside unit and passes over the warm coils. Once it has been heated, it is pushed inside your home through vents or ducts. Water source pumps function much the same way as the air source, except that they use a special liquid inside to absorb and transfer heat from outdoor to indoor zones.

Heat pumps work best where the outdoor temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also more efficient in warmer climates, though will not operate well when it is humid outside. If you live in an area where the winter temperatures often fall below 40 degrees, your best option would be to install central heating through baseboard or radiant heaters.

Pros

  • Heat pumps are energy efficient. They use far less electricity than normal units and usually only cost around $100 per month to operate.
  • The units also last much longer than conventional furnaces, lasting at least 12 years.

Cons

  • Heat pumps are much larger than conventional heating units. The outside unit is usually around five feet tall, while the inside one usually stands between two and three feet tall. This can make them difficult to install in smaller apartments, though you may still be able to use them if they fit through the window of your apartment.

4. Ductless Mini Splits

A ductless mini-split is a type of heating and air conditioning system that consists of two parts: an outdoor component known as an “evaporative condenser” and an indoor component known as a “remote” or “head” unit.

The remote unit is connected to the evaporative condenser by refrigerant piping and a three-inch diameter copper tube, known as a “suction line” or “liquid line.” The remote unit is mounted to a wall and has a single connection for power and refrigerant piping.

Mini-splits work best when the space to be heated or cooled is over 1,000 square feet in size. In other words, a large space or a multi-story home would be ideal for a ductless mini-split system. For smaller spaces between 200 and 1000 square feet, multi-zone systems are recommended.

Ductless mini-split systems are considerably more efficient than the standard system used by most homeowners. They also work more quietly and can be installed in areas where a traditional ducted heating and cooling system could never fit.

Mini-splits have SEER ratings between 15 and 24, which is significantly higher than any other type of central heating and cooling system. Multi-zone systems can achieve SEER ratings as high as 35 (for Carrier, the highest in the industry), which is unheard of for any other type of heating or cooling system.

Pros

  • Energy efficiency. Mini-splits are at least 30% more energy efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems.
  • Quieter operation. The outdoor component in a ductless mini-split system has an average decibel rating of 57 dB, comparable to the noise level of ordinary conversation or soft background music.
  • Versatility. Mini-splits can be installed on both the interior and exterior of homes, making them ideal for attached houses or houses with concrete siding.
  • Flexibility. You can customize a ductless mini-split system to meet virtually any climate control need.

Cons

  • Higher initial cost. A ductless mini-split can cost $4,000-$8,000 to purchase and install.
  • Less aesthetically appealing than traditional heating and cooling systems.
  • Installation limitations. Mini-splits require a dedicated electrical circuit that is available for the remote unit to function correctly. If the electrical circuit is not adequate or the circuit breaker trips, the system may not work.
  • They do not warm or cool individual rooms; they work on a whole-home basis.

5. Gas Space Heaters

Four basic types of gas space heaters can be used in an apartment. These would include the “open vent” type, the “ventless” type, and two different vented units. The open vent heater is an older style regulated by laws in most states to be at least six feet from the nearest combustible surface.

The ventless heater was developed to meet this regulation and eliminate the need for a flue. They use an opening in the front of the unit that allows oxygen to mix with gas burning inside, making them more efficient. As a result, these units will have a greater potential for safety problems if not installed and maintained properly.

The advantages of gas heaters over other types are that they can rapidly provide a large amount of heat into a room, and because they require no warm-up time, the heat is immediate. They will also continue to run once started until the thermostat tells them to shut off.

Due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, gas heaters should not be used in small spaces such as closets and bathrooms unless they specifically state that they are suitable for these enclosed areas. They should also not be run in garages or other areas where the pilot light is possibly going out and not being noticed.

Pros

  • Gas heaters are also considered extremely reliable when it comes to heating your apartment since they can reliably provide hot air for long periods of time if needed
  • Gas space heaters are typically very energy efficient. They do not release any hot air into the room, so they can be kept at a much lower temperature than other forms of heating, while still keeping the occupant comfortable.
  • Gas-fueled models often have built-in fans that circulate warm air to increase efficiency and comfort even more
  • Because they release no harmful fumes and they do not require electricity, gas-fueled space heaters can be relied upon in a blackout
  • They are cheaper than most other forms of home heating.

Cons

  • Installing gas space heaters can take several hours to complete
  • Risks of carbon monoxide poisoning

6. Electric Space Heaters

Electric space heaters for apartment use are now often seen as the best option, especially those that can be bought for under $100. These can take many forms and be used to heat your whole home or just a small room or two. There are 3 main types: baseboard, wall, and portable.

Baseboard electric heaters, as the name suggests, are very similar to their gas equivalents. These heaters will be built into either your walls or floor and occasionally both. A thermostat is controlled by a switch that turns on the electricity that heats up elements within the unit. These baseboard electric heaters for apartment use are among some of the least costly models available, with many costing under $100.

Wall electric heaters will also be built into your wall but instead of heating up elements, these work by simply blowing hot air out at you. They are very similar to the styles that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Newer models work more like space heaters with fans that push the hot air around. These heaters are very inexpensive, usually costing less than $50.

Portable electric heaters can be moved from room to room and used as you see fit. They run off of a standard wall outlet but can also be plugged into a car’s 12-volt cigarette lighter or a vehicle battery if going camping, fishing, or hunting for an extended period. These are the most expensive of the 3 options, costing between $100 and $200.

Electric fan heaters are another option for apartment dwellers but these have the potential to cause burns if used incorrectly. They work in much the same manner as their portable cousins but due to built-in fans that circulate air around a room, these heaters can get extremely hot, especially if they are on for more than just a short time. These heaters run the risk of tipping over and catching items around them on fire so it is very important to use them with extreme caution.

Some apartment complexes will allow certain electrical appliances such as electric baseboard and wall heaters but not allow the use of portable heaters. This is to keep the maintenance and cost down by avoiding having to hire an electrician that needs to be called out every time someone needs a cord moved, outlet changed or heater fixed.

Pros

  • Space heaters are inexpensive
  • Takes up less room than other types of heating equipment.
  • You do not need to worry about ventilation or flues with electric heaters.

Cons

  • Risks of fires and burns
  • Space heaters dry out the skin
  • They can emit carbon monoxide

7. Fireplaces

Back in the day when apartments were not as popular as they are right now, most rooms were small and made out of wood. People used to heat their homes using fireplaces that can be found almost in every room. This tradition remains today because a lot of people still choose this type of heating option even if they have the privilege to have central air conditioning or electric appliances.

A fireplace in your apartment comes with a lot of benefits. Depending on the type that you have, it can give out heat to keep your kitchen or living room warmer during the winter months. It also comes in handy if you want to host guests at home and don’t want them shivering under their blankets during their visit.

Having one may not be ideal for people who live in a small apartment because of the limited space it occupies and its tendency to become dusty and dirty. Also, it will pose a risk for your flooring if there’s a chance that the fireplace may tip over or something that can cause a fire.

Pros

  • They are aesthetically pleasing. Fireplaces look great in any home, especially if the area is decorated with a rustic or traditional theme.  Fireplace mantels can play a large role in this regard.
  • Even small fireplaces can create a cozy and warm atmosphere for the entire family.  Hot air rises, and this means that fireplaces can heat up and warm an entire room much faster than any forced-air heating unit.

Cons

  • Large fireplaces can be costly to outfit and maintain.
  • Apartment owners must make sure fireplace flues are cleaned regularly, as creosote buildup within the flue could lead to a chimney fire.
  • Large fireplaces may need expensive repairs or complete renovations if they start to show any signs of damage (cracks in the brickwork, peeling paint, etc.).

8. Wood Stoves

Wood stoves work well in smaller, open apartments. They require close proximity to a flue or chimney that is not shared with another appliance.

Wood stove safety is an issue that has become even more prevalent as many apartment buildings ban the burning of wood because of the fire hazard. It is important to consult both the owner and manager of your apartment community as well as local city ordinances about using a wood stove.

Wood stoves can be installed inside an apartment building, but only if the following conditions are met: The flue and chimney must meet all code requirements for proper installation. The apartment unit must have an operable fireplace for the stove to be vented through. There must be at least three feet between the wood stove and all combustible materials, including furniture, floor coverings, curtains, etc.

Other things that may be determined by your local city ordinances are The type of fuel used (some areas allow only seasoned, dried wood). Whether or not the unit may be used for drying clothes (check with your apartment manager before using your new wood stove to dry clothing).

Pros

  • They provide some radiant heat, as well as convection heat from the air currents.
  • They have a cozy appeal that no other heating appliance can match.
  • No electricity is required for operation.
  • It is easy to control room temperature by loading and unloading wood through a small access door on the side of the stove.

Cons

  • Wood stoves produce a lot of air pollution
  • Pollution from wood burning has been linked to many health problems, including respiratory infections, heart attacks, asthma, and cancer.
  • Wood stoves require a workable fire to stay going. The stove must be re-stoked every two hours, leaving the room cold during the periods between restoring.
  • It can be difficult to keep the fire burning in difficult weather conditions.
  • Burning wood releases carbon dioxide, which can lead to global warming if it is an uncontrolled release.
  • It requires regular maintenance.

9. Radiant Floor Heating Systems

If you want a good way to keep your floors warm without spending too much money, radiant floor heating for apartments is a great solution. It can provide your apartment with plenty of warmth over the course of the winter season without having to use too much electricity or energy.

These heating units are becoming common for apartment owners for several reasons. The most common reason is the small installation space needed for this type of heating.

During colder months, a floor radiant system will provide a lot of heat in a relatively short amount of time without having to spend too much money on energy bills to keep it running. Some people think that low-cost does not equate to high efficiency, but with a floor heating system you’ll be surprised at how quickly it will warm up and stay warm.

The most common type of radiant floor heating is hydronic, which uses water to transfer the heat from one place to another. This is usually done through metal pipes that are placed under the floor. Water is pumped through this system and it heats up as it passes through the loops of metal tubing. The heated water eventually makes its way to a boiler or some other type of heater, where it will be stored until you need to use it again.

Pros

  • Energy efficient
  • Easy to install
  • Relatively fast heat output with no cold spots
  • Can be used as a primary, secondary, or supplemental heat source depending on the apartment’s layout and distribution of radiant heating tubing.

Cons

  • Expensive to install since you have to remove your current flooring
  • Cost of operation can be high especially if the cost of electricity is high in your area
  • It requires many loops to provide a wide range of temperatures, so it is not an ideal primary heat source.
  • The tubing may stop working if not serviced over time.

Final Thoughts

There are many different heating options for small apartments. Each option has its positives and negatives. The final choice depends upon the personal needs and preferences of the apartment owner.

If you need help choosing a heater for your apartment, there are a number of resources available to you. Some apartment complexes have information about the different types of heaters available when people sign their lease. You can also take advantage of this information to help you decide the type of heater that is best for your needs.

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