Identifying and Describing Heating Systems

by Ben Gromicko and Nick Gromicko

According to the InterNACHI Standards of Practice, a home inspector shall describe and identify, in written format, the inspected systems and components of the dwelling.  In this article, we will learn that most heating systems can be identified and described in just four ways.

Heating Systems

There are many different types of heating systems.  Each has its own characteristics that can be used by a property inspector to identify and describe the type of heating system being inspected. Most of these heating systems can be described according to one or more of the following broad categories:
  • the heat-conveying medium;
  • the fuel used;
  • the nature of the heat; and
  • the efficiency and capacity of the system.
The heat-conveying medium is what carries the heat from the source to the enclosure being heated.  The fuel used is a distinguishing characteristic of a heating system.  Wood, coal, oil and gas are used to produce heat.  Electricity may be considered a fuel, but it can also be the heat-conveying medium.  The nature of the heat is also a distinguishing characteristic.  For example, it could be steam, or heat produced by combustion.  The efficiency and capacity of the heating system can be used to distinguish one heating system from another.
 
These four categories alone are not enough for most inspectors to attempt to identify and describe the type of heating system that they are inspecting.  The use of the terms might be confusing to their clients.  Other distinguishing characteristics and details are needed in order to identify and describe different types of heating systems in a concise manner that is specific to the property, as well as easily understood.  Letís take a look at how heating systems can be identified and described in more detail according to heat-conveying mediums.
 
Heat-Conveying Mediums
 
For most inspectors, describing the heat-conveying medium is the one of the main ways to identify and describe different types of heating systems.  There are four heat-conveying mediums that can carry heat:
  • air;
  • water;
  • steam; and 
  • electricity.
For example, if the heating system is a high-efficiency, gas-fired furnace, then the heat-conveying medium would be air.  The inspector would use the heat-conveying medium as part of the identification and description of the heating system.  In this example, the description would be a warm-air heating system or, even more accurately, a gas warm-air furnace.
 
Four Types of Heating Systems
 
Given the four common heat-conveying mediums, most heating systems can be identified and described by a property inspector using one of the following four terms:
  • warm-air heating system;
  • hydronic heating system;
  • steam heating system; or 
  • electric heating system.
Most heating systems can be accurately identified and described using one of those four terms, which are based on the four heat-conveying mediums: air, water, steam or electricity.  Classifications of heating systems based on the heat-conveying medium is a convenient method for property inspectors because it includes the vast majority of heating systems that are manufactured and being used today.
 
Heating Fuels
 
An inspector should describe the energy source or the type of heating fuel in their inspection report.  This additional information is valuable to the inspectorís client.  Specifying the type of heating fuel being used by the heating system helps in defining and distinguishing the type of heating system being inspected.  There are several types of heating fuels that are used by most heating systems today:
  • fuel oil (No. 2);
  • natural gas;
  • propane;
  • coal;
  • electricity;
  • wood;
  • kerosene; and 
  • pellets.
Stating the type of heating fuel being used is essential to accurately identifying and describing the inspected heating systems.
 
In summary, according to the InterNACHI Standards of Practice, a home inspector shall describe and identify, in written format, the inspected systems and components of the dwelling.
 
 
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