The most common stereotype about Canada is that it is cold. And in many parts of the country – who are we kidding, the whole country – it’s true! Different provinces and sections of the country have different climates, with some much colder than the others. But even in the warmest parts of the country, there is a need for indoor heating.
Since indoor heating is necessary throughout Canada, the question is: how are houses heated in Canada? There are a number of different ways, and it varies quite a bit based on the area of the country.
Heating systems are also important to understand and consider carefully because they can be a huge financial cost. Heath accounts for an average of 61% of the energy used in Canadian homes, which translates to quite a bit of money over the year. Different systems can be more energy-efficient and provide cost savings.
These are the main systems for heating houses in Canada:
- Furnaces: These systems are probably the most popular and are powered by natural gas or electricity. They operate by heating the air in the room and re-distribute it through the house.
- Heat pumps: These systems are similar to a furnace, but it actually brings in air from outside and heats it before distributing into the room.
- Boilers: This is the least popular system in Canada, though they are effective. Boilers use hot water to heat the house, distributed through the system’s plumbing lines, radiators and heating grids.
- Baseboard heating: Electric baseboard heaters are typically used as supplementary heating sources rather than the main heating source. They operate by sucking in cool air and heating it via electric coils.
Let’s look at each of the systems further in-depth.
Furnace Heating Systems
Forced-air furnaces are, by far, the most popular heating system in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, these heating systems accounted for 55% of all systems in the country in 2017.
As previously mentioned, furnace heating systems operate through heating air already in the room and then pushing it throughout the house via a duct system. Furnace heating systems are commonly referred to as “central heating” because the type of system means that the whole house heats up to the set temperature, rather than just heating one area or room.
Pros of furnaces:
- Efficient, consistent heating throughout the house
- Relatively inexpensive
- Can use natural gas, propane, or electricity, which allows for greater flexibility
Cons of furnaces:
- Can be noisy as they turn on and off
- Need to be cleaned and filtered because they can spread dust and allergens
- Ductwork takes up space in the walls of your house
Heat Pump Heating Systems
Heat pump systems are very effective and efficient systems because they move heat into your home rather than generating heat. There are air source heat pumps, which bring in outside air and heat it, and ground source heat pumps, which use the heat in the ground.
Pros of heat pumps:
- More efficient (and therefore cheaper) than other electric systems
- Can also cool the home and act as an air conditioner
- Air source heat pumps are cheap to install
- Ground source heat pumps offer very stable temperature maintenance
Cons of heat pumps:
- Most only work to a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius, and require supplemental heat (i.e. a baseboard heater) if temperatures are colder
- Ground source heat pumps can be very expensive to install because they need to be dug deep underground to install
Boiler Heating Systems
Boiler heating systems used to be more popular, but made up only 8% of heating systems in 2017. Despite the lack of popularity, they are effective systems. Boilers operate by heating water and distributing it via pipes and radiators into different areas of the home. The water is heated in a central boiler and can run on natural gas, propane, or electricity.
Pros of boilers:
- Can heat very consistently
- Can heat more than just the air, as the hot water can be directed towards the floors as well, providing heated flooring
Cons of boilers:
- Installation can be very expensive if your home didn’t already have the system installed
- Repairs can also be expensive if a pipe bursts as they can be hard to access and even go undetected at times
- Cannot run as an air conditioning system like furnaces or heat pumps
Baseboard Heating Systems
Electric baseboard heating is often used as a supplementary heat source, not the main source. Although, in some small apartments it might be the primary source. This is because it can be very energy inefficient and more expensive than other heat sources. They can, however, heat specific rooms, which make for a good cost-savings option when you primarily only use one room.
Pros of baseboard heating:
- Easy to use and control – can turn it off and on as needed
- Quick to provide heat
- Can be used in just one room
Cons of baseboard heating:
- Can be expensive to run as they are not very efficient
- Only heat a small area, so not suitable to heat an entire house
Energy Options for Heating Houses
Because heating is such a large energy expenditure and expense for most Canadians, there is a lot of discussion about ways to make it more environmentally and cost-friendly. Ultimately it comes down to the power source being used to heat the house.
Different power source options include electricity, natural gas, thermal energy, or propane. No matter what power source is used, there are products on the market that help reduce energy expenditure. There are federal and provincial government programs to incentivize homeowners to use more energy-efficient products. More information about ENERGY STAR® certified equipment is available on the Canadian government website and is a good place to start.
As we discovered, there are a number of popular heating systems that are used in Canada. Each of them has its pros and cons, which need to be considered. Where the house is in Canada, determining the temperature, and the size of the house will make a big impact on what heating system will work.
Overall, it’s important to consider the different options so that you choose the right system that will keep your house warm during the cold Canadian winters!