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What is Central Heating?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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Central heating refers to a system of ductwork, vents, and a furnace that allows heat to be circulated throughout a building’s entire interior at once. The heat is typically generated from one location and distributed through the home or building. Despite the name, the location of heat generation does not necessarily have to be in a central location or room, but can be found anywhere within the structure.

In areas that become hot in the summer and require air conditioning, it is generally routed at the same time as central heating. They are often combined in one unit and use the same ducts and vents to distribute air to each room. The units used to create and pump hot or cold air can be powered by gas or electricity, although blowers generally require electricity to get heat into every room.

Most times, central heating has to be installed by a professional installer. The ductwork required is most easily installed in a new home, but can be added in older ones. Once the system is in place, there is generally not much maintenance needed by the home or business owner. There are often filters that should be changed regularly, primarily if a humidifier is included in the unit. Otherwise, most issues of maintenance and repair should be handled by a professional.

Large buildings as well as small homes can be equipped with central heating. For large structures, more than one heating unit may be needed to produce the necessary heat. Separate space heaters can also be used in combination with central heating to help save energy and money.

In most cases, central heating systems are controlled by a thermostat located at or near the center of the home or building. This device can be set to a specific temperature and the unit will run until that number is reached. The colder it is outside, the longer it may take for the air inside of a structure to reach a high enough temperature. Homeowners are encouraged to keep thermostats as low as comfortably possible to reduce energy consumption and save money.

Central heating can also run by running hot water through piping systems or by forcing hot air through pipes. This can be done to replace or supplement more traditional ductwork units. In extremely cold climates, a combination of more than one system may be used. People in these areas may also be more likely to use fossil-fuel based systems than those in milder climates because they are most cost efficient.

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Discussion Comments

By StarJo — On May 12, 2012

@OeKc05 – I don't think there is a difference between gas and electric central heating when it comes to changing your filter. You should just go by how dirty it is.

Most filters have a label that recommends changing it out every three months or every month, depending on whether you buy the cheapest one or the slightly more expensive one that lasts a little longer. I always buy HEPA filters, because I have dogs that live inside, and they are better at trapping allergens.

I probably have to change my filter more often than someone who doesn't have indoor pets. Once it gets caked with dirt and hair, I switch it out.

However, if my filter still looked pretty clean after three months, I would get as much usage as I could out of it. Keep checking it every week or so, and only change it when it looks filthy.

By OeKc05 — On May 12, 2012

I have gas powered central heating, and I love it. I save so much on my electric bill because of this.

Strangely enough, gas seems to be less expensive than electricity when it comes to running a heating unit. My parents have electric central heating, and they pay more for it than I pay for my gas and electricity combined.

I do have one concern, though. I am not sure how often I need to be changing my indoor filter, because I've never had gas central heating before. It looks pretty clean, but it has been in there for three months. Should I go ahead and change it anyway?

By Perdido — On May 12, 2012

If I have central heating problems, I always call a maintenance man. My husband claims to know a little about the system, but he has tried to work on it before, and he messed it up even more.

I think it is best to call a professional who fixes things like this on a daily basis, even if it does cost a good bit of money. If you try to fix something on your own and you don't know enough about it, you can wind up making the repair even more expensive. I now make my husband leave the unit alone.

The only drawback to hiring a professional is that you sometimes have a long wait. I had to go for three days without heat in the dead of winter because the maintenance man was so busy.

By wavy58 — On May 11, 2012

I have stayed with relatives in homes without central heating, and this made me appreciate it so much more. My cousins had a fireplace in the living room, but all the bedrooms had to be heated by space heaters, and that made me nervous.

You always hear about people who died in a fire caused by a space heater. I really hate using them, but when I stay with my cousins, I have to either do that or freeze.

When I return home after a visit, I crank up my thermostat a little higher than I normally do. I just want to bask in the warmth and thaw out my cold bones for awhile!

By summing — On May 11, 2012

Central heating is something that we probably all take for granted but it is a fairly recent luxury. It was not all that long ago that people the world over had to huddle around a fire or a stove for warmth. And this was true for everyone from peasants to kings.

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