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If you’ve been shopping for a new house or researching options for heating or cooling your home, you’ve probably heard the term “forced air” used a lot. What exactly does this term mean, and how does a forced air furnace work? Read on to learn more.

What Is Forced Air?

Forced Air Furnace In the simplest of terms, a forced air heating system is just a system that uses air as its medium for distributing heat. Many homes and businesses are heated in this fashion, but not all of them. For instance, some homes use boilers, which heat water and then distribute it to radiators and heat registers throughout the house. A boiler is a heating system which uses water as its medium for dispersing heat. It does not, in other words, fall into the category of forced air.

Most furnaces are forced air furnaces, in that they heat air and then use fans to blow it into duct systems and distribute it throughout the house. The air flows through the ducts and is expelled out of the ducts through vents located in different rooms around the building. You can feel a flow of air coming out of these vents when the furnace fan is going. Hence the term “forced air.”

How Does a Forced Air Furnace Work?

While most furnaces are part of forced air systems, that doesn’t mean all forced air furnaces work in the same way. On the contrary, different types of furnaces can heat air in different ways. Some achieve the process by burning natural gas and using it as fuel to create heat. Others use electricity to heat the air before distributing it throughout the house.

It’s also important to note that not all forced air heating systems use furnaces. Appliances like heat pumps also heat air and then distribute it through a flow of air. Heat pumps are not furnaces but are still a type of forced air heating.

As you might expect, the furnaces in any forced air system are quite complicated and sophisticated in design and performance. For our example, let’s look at how a gas furnace works to heat and distribute warm air throughout your house. To start, the furnace receives a signal from your thermostat. You set a temperature on your thermostat, which sends a message to the furnace’s control board. The furnace then starts burning fuel with the aim of achieving your desired temperature. There are numerous monitors and control systems in place to make sure that the burning fuel is going into the furnace and not leaking out into the air—a crucial protection to keep you and your family safe.

Gas furnaces also include systems to protect you from carbon monoxide, which is produced by the process of burning natural gas. To keep toxic gas out of the air throughout the house, the burning gas in the furnace doesn’t heat the house directly. Instead, it heats up the heat exchanger, a track or pipe made of metal through which the heat and gas exhaust produced by the furnace travels. The metal heat exchanger gets extremely hot, at which point the furnace fan activates and forces air over and past the heat exchange. This air makes it into your ducts, which then carry it to the vents and out into the rooms of the house. Over time, the air will diffuse throughout your home, raising the interior temperature throughout.
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Is a Forced Air Furnace Right for Your Home?

If you are in the process of choosing a heating strategy for your home, you might be wondering if forced air—and specifically, a furnace—is the right option for you. Indeed, boilers are worth a look. They are typically more efficient than furnaces and can be more effective for heating homes in cold, northern climates. However, boilers are also extremely expensive to purchase and install—a factor that pushes many buyers toward forced air. Furnaces also tend to be better for milder climates, which is why you are unlikely to find many boilers in the southern United States.

If you already own a home and it has an existing ductwork system, then you are well situated for a forced air furnace. You can hook the system up to the existing ducts and vents and use them to distribute warm air throughout your home. Having this ductwork in place will significantly decrease the installation costs of your heating system. Even if you don’t have ductwork yet, though, installing a furnace might be worth it for how much more effective central forced air is than using a heating pump. Heating pumps aren’t ideal for achieving consistent temperatures throughout a whole house—especially a larger one. In any case, consider consulting your HVAC professional to get a personalized recommendation about which type of heating system is best for your home. Contact us at Valley Comfort Heating and Air for more information.

Valley Comfort conducts heating and furnace services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor