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The Definitive List of Home Heating Myths

We bust some heating myths to help you prepare for winter to get the most out of your furnace, heat pump and other HVAC equipment.

The Definitive List of Home Heating Myths

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Joshua Rodriguez


August 11th, 2020

Fake news. Conspiracy theories. Half-truths. We live in a complicated world with a lot of misinformation out there.

We’re an HVAC company, so we unfortunately can’t combat all of it. But here in our little corner of the internet, we do what we can.

To that end, this is the second in our “Mythbusters” series. We probably can’t call it Mythbusters for copyright reasons, but the intent is the same: busting HVAC myths.

We’re in homes every day helping people to better understand the HVAC industry. And since HVAC equipment is something people rarely think about in their day-to-day lives, a lot of misconceptions exist about how it works and how to get the most out of it.

Unlike a lot of lists that are content to give Yes/No, black & white answers, some myths are rooted in a kernel of truth. So we’ll be taking a deeper look at a few of them to explain what parts are actually true and false.

And if you know of a commonly misunderstood aspect of heating your home that isn’t listed here, let us know! If it can be verified by one of our experts, we’ll add it to the list below.

RELATED: The Definitive List of Air Conditioning Myths

RELATED: Common HVAC Myths Busted

Flames inside a furnace.

Common HVAC Heating Myths

Myth: If I set my thermostat higher, my house will heat up faster.

Fact: All reputable HVAC installers should be doing a Manual J Load Calculation for your HVAC system, which determines the proper sizing/power for the equipment in your home. This means that your furnace operates at a certain BTU (British Thermal Unit) level, which is designed to heat your whole home efficiently.

So if you want your home to be 72 degrees and it’s currently 65 degrees, it will heat to 72 at the same speed regardless of the temperature. This is a good thing, because having a system that’s too powerful for your home size is inefficient in the long-run for a whole host of reasons.

In rare circumstances, if you have multi-stage equipment, your home may heat slightly quicker because it will go from single-stage to multi-stage more quickly. However, this difference is marginal and will only be true of some heating equipment.

Myth: It’s more cost-efficient to leave the heater at the same temperature all day, whether or not I’m home.

Fact: We recommend adjusting the temperature around five degrees when you’re not home, which will help you to save on energy costs while avoiding overworking your system with frequent on/off cycles. Utilizing the programmable settings on your thermostat can also help you to avoid long periods of discomfort as your furnace adjusts to the new temperature settings when you’re back in your home.

A furnace instead of a test facility.

Myth: I can use space heaters or fireplaces to replicate the heat of an HVAC system.

Fact: There’s again a milder version of this statement that has some truth to it. Space heaters and fireplaces can provide a fair amount of heat. If you have a space heater for, say, a private office or are using the fireplace for when you have company and they’re all in a couple rooms of the home, they can be good temporary solutions.

What they can’t do, however, is replicate the whole-home heating comfort of an HVAC system. Even powerful space heaters will be situational, at best, and likely aren’t any cheaper in terms of energy usage. In fact, space heaters are one of the most cost-inefficient methods of heating available. Additionally, fireplaces can be situationally useful, but need to be able to tightly seal their chimney flue when not in use. Otherwise, the fireplace will siphon energy from the home at alarming rates.

If there’s only one person home during the day and they aren’t using the entire home, this may be a viable temporary solution. Just don’t expect it to do anything larger.

Myth: Windows matter more than my furnace, since so much heat can escape from them.

Fact: Windows matter. So does insulation. So does your HVAC system. One isn’t a magical cure-all that will account for poor quality in the others. If your windows are poor quality, a brand new HVAC system will have to work harder (and more often) to maintain desired temperature levels. Conversely, an old, inefficient HVAC system will still be costing you in both comfort and cost, even with brand new, energy-efficient windows.

It’s better to think of your home as a holistic system, in which the HVAC system is a large aspect of it. Whether or not you need windows more than better HVAC equipment is a conversation best left to you and HVAC and window professionals. Ultimately, though, a home should have both to maximize comfort and reduce energy costs.

A man trying to cool himself down with a piece of paper.

Myth: Warm air rises, so why not just heat the basement and allow it to travel upward?

Fact: This is one we’ve heard a handful of times, and the part about warm air rising is true. Additionally, HVAC equipment like whole-home dehumidifiers will sometimes be set up in the basement, since the dehumidifying they provide there benefits the entire home. It’s easy to think the same might be true of heating.

While heat will, in fact, rise, it won’t rise evenly. You’ve probably walked up or down your stairs and noticed a 5-10 degree different from the bottom to the top of the stairs. This is because the warmer air is taking the path of least resistance, which means it’s rising in the largest airway (in this case, your staircase).

The problem here is that it’s not going to distribute everywhere, so you’ll have pockets of extreme cold or extreme heat. An HVAC system, and particularly your ductwork, is designed to heat your home evenly. To do anything less is to invite discomfort.

Myth: I need to run my heat constantly in the winter to keep the pipes from freezing.

Fact: Milder winter days that still require some indoor heating won’t be at risk of freezing pipes. Additionally, things like the positioning of pipes in your home, how close they are to outside walls, and the insulation of your home all matter when it comes to freezing pipes.

So while there’s a danger of freezing pipes, especially at freezing temperatures, the exact point at which a home will need to run a furnace constantly will differ.

If you’re worried about this, best to check with a plumber about this potential hazard. And if the temperature stays below freezing for days at a time, it’s safest to keep your heat on.

HVAC units with snow on them.

Myth: Heat Pumps won’t work in freezing temperatures.

Fact: Heat pumps will both heat and cool your home depending on the season. They are less efficient as the temperature dips, but will continue to work well into freezing temperatures.

That said, a heat pump in freezing temperatures will be supplemented by heat from the home’s furnace as well. The point at which a home will switch over from “heat pump only” to “heat pump plus furnace” will vary depending on the equipment. But at that point, they’ll work in tandem to keep your home warm.

Myth: If I close vents to certain rooms, I can save money.

Fact: Since HVAC systems are designed to heat and cool your entire home, all closing vents will do is create hot or cold spots in your home. The warm and cool air in the home will still mix together, but unevenly.

Additionally, perhaps you leave a vent open near the thermostat but close others. The furnace might shut off a bit sooner because it senses that your home is at the desired temperature. But as the warm and cool air mix in areas with closed vents, it’s going to cause the furnace to shut on and off more frequently.

This can have the inverse effect of costing you more in long-term wear and tear on the unit.

This is also different from a “zoned” home, which is set up to heat or cool certain sections independently. Most residential homes with central air are not zoned.

Myth: Fans don’t help in the winter.

Fact: Since warm air rises, fans can actually help recirculate warm air that has risen to the ceiling. This will be most important in homes with high ceilings, but can have limited benefits in any home.

That said, it won’t aid your HVAC system in heating the home, but can help you to feel more comfortable throughout the day.

Myth: My furnace is running fine. I don’t need yearly maintenance on it.

Fact: Yes, you do. Look, this myth exists because it’s possible for your furnace to continue to operate without yearly maintenance. The problem is that won’t operate well. The end result of this mentality will cost you thousands of dollars.

Most homeowners know to replace their filter periodically, but the number of items that can become long-term problems in an HVAC system is large. They are significantly less likely to become problems, however, with proactive maintenance.

And that’s the key: being proactive. Maintenance isn’t designed to fix things once everything goes pear-shaped. We can do repairs too, but it’s going to be more cost-effective for you to keep your system running smoothly for 15-20 years, rather than crossing your fingers past about year five and hoping for the best.

The other salient point here is that if the system is still under warranty (usually 10 years), the manufacturer won’t honor the warranty if it isn’t being regularly serviced. Check your warranty agreement. This language is sure to be there.

So sure, an un-maintenanced system can run for a while. The long-term risks far outweigh this fact, though.

RELATED: Cost of Waiting to Repair or Replace HVAC Equipment

Myths Into Reality

We don’t list these myths without reason. We list them, and correct them, because they directly relate to the health of your heating equipment and the comfort of your home.

We also enjoy educating our customers. Sometimes misinformation can be used (and abused) by companies that aren’t interested in informing the customer but are only interested in a sale. We sell and install HVAC equipment, yes, but we’ve found it’s a far better partnership when homeowners understand how to maintain and manage their system to get the most out of it.

Hopefully a couple of these myths were “busted” for you, but others undoubtedly exist that we didn’t address here. That’s why we’re always available to meet with you to discuss your questions and options when it comes to quality HVAC equipment.

RELATED: The Complete Guide to Home Furnaces

If you’re ready for that discussion, we’re here to help! Check out our service area below to see if you’re in it (Columbus, Ohio, and surrounding areas). We look forward to speaking with you!

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