Furnaces and boilers are the most common methods of heating a home in the United States. The furnace heats air, which travels through ducts. The boiler produces hot water or steam, which travels through pipes or radiators. If you're considering either of these heating methods, you can compare their efficiency levels by simply checking their Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. But before you make a choice, you should consider all of your other heating options.

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1. If You Use an HVAC, Keep It Tuned

Furnaces can be part of a central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit called an HVAC system. The reason that HVAC systems are so popular is that they offer a whole-house heating option that can be controlled and monitored from one or more thermostats located around the house. One of the biggest disadvantages of this method is that, if the thermostat is not set properly or the equipment is not maintained properly, it can cause significant energy loss. Learn more at HVAC Maintenance Tips.

2. Consider Wood as a Renewable Energy Option

Over a century ago, practically everyone used wood to heat their homes. About a half century ago, almost no one was using wood. Today, newly-designed wood-burning appliances have started to regain popularity among those who are interested in renewable energy resources. If you choose this option, make sure that you get the right size of appliance for your home. If it's too big, you'll waste fuel and create air pollution. If it's too small, you'll be uncomfortable.

3. Consider Pellets as a Biomass Energy Option

Pellet-burning appliances are very similar to their wood-burning cousins in that they're newly-designed to heat more efficiently and to burn cleaner. Conventional pellets are made up of compacted sawdust, wood chips, waste paper, crop waste, and the like. However, some pellet-burning appliances are capable of burning biomass fuels, such as nutshells, barley, beet pulp, sunflowers, cherry pits, and soybeans.

4. Consider Radiant Heating as a Non-Allergenic Option

If you're someone who suffers from severe allergies, you might want to look into radiant heating. These systems distribute heat directly to the floors, walls, or ceilings of your home and then radiate the heat out to warm the rooms. Because no air is blown through your home, it cuts down on air pollution. And because no ducts are used, much of the heat loss during distribution is minimized. There are many variables involved with radiant heating, so be sure to do your homework before you decide.

5. Consider Solar Heating as a Supplement

Though solar heating is a great renewable energy option, it hasn't advanced to the point where it can provide a complete heating solution. In fact, the Department of Energy advises that solar heating is best when it's only required to supply 40% to 80% of your heating needs. That's why many choose to use a hybrid electricity system that combines the best of both solar power and wind power.