Gas, electric, pellet heating, etc., are just a few of the best-known ways of heating our homes. But what is the most efficient and economical heating system?

Whether your boiler has broken down or is very old and inefficient, whether you are considering changing your heating system at home to save money or whether you are building your own home and want to install the best heating system, in this article we will review the most popular home heating systems, analysing their characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

Types of heating according to energy source

Although heating systems can also be classified according to the device that produces the heat (boiler, stove, radiator, underfloor heating, air pump, etc.), in this article we discuss each system according to the energy source used:

Gas heating

Gas heating is one of the most widely used heating systems in Spain, given its accessibility. Most cities have a natural gas distribution network, while in rural areas or small towns, propane gas can be used, either in cylinders, by installing a tank at home or even by being channelled from a central tank.

Gas is a highly efficient form of energy and is cleaner than other types of energy (although it is still a fossil fuel that emits CO2), and it can be used to heat the home, for domestic hot water (DHW) and for cooking. Less maintenance is required for a gas boiler than a heating boiler and gas is cheaper than oil or electricity. The price of gas depends on whether the customer has arranged their supply on the free or regulated market, and also on the prices offered by different suppliers, but it ranges between €0.0412/kWh for a TUR2 (last resource tariff, on the regulated market) and €0.1539/kWh for a RL.2 tariff (in the free market).

According to a study by the OCU (Organisation of Consumers and Users), to heat a 90m2 house in a cold area of Spain, the cost of a condensing gas boiler will amount to €468 per year.

Oil heating

In single-family homes or rural areas where there is no access to the natural gas network, oil heating is one of the most commonly used heating systems. One of the advantages of oil boilers is that they can be used to heat up large surface areas quickly and that they can be installed anywhere.

In terms of disadvantages, they are more polluting than gas boilers; a tank is required to store the oil, they need more maintenance than other systems, and in 2021 the average price of oil for heating in Spain was €0.845 per litre. According to the calculation of the OCU, heating a house of 90 m2 with an oil boiler costs €653 per year.

Electric heating

The advantage of the various electric heating systems (electric boilers, electric accumulators and radiators, thermal emitters or heat pumps) is that they are easy to install, they involve a low initial investment and use clean and non-polluting energy (which will depend on the source of the electricity), which does not release odours or gases.

Its main drawback is the high price of electricity. The same study points out that conventional radiators cost about €934 per year, while accumulators cost €822. These electric heating systems are therefore recommended for small houses, second homes or for hot areas.

Biomass heating

Biomass heating systems generate heat by burning firewood or pellets or other natural fuels (pruned branches, olive pits, etc.). If a stove is involved, it will provide hot air to the room it is located in and if a boiler is used, it will be connected to a water circuit to heat the entire house.

The main advantage of this type of heating is that it involves clean energy, from 100% renewable sources, and it is usually cheap (a 15-kg bag of pellets costs just over €4). The OCU calculates that this type of heating costs €313 per year.

In terms of disadvantages, if you want to channel the heating throughout your home, considerable work is required; an external smoke extraction duct will need to be installed, and maintenance needs to be performed more regularly than with other systems. You will also need to have storage space for bags of pellets.

Geothermal heating

Geothermal heating systems are one of the newest types of system, and they involve using energy stored in the form of heat beneath the surface of solid earth. When used in homes, very low temperature geothermal resources (below 25-30º) tend to be used, which, thanks to heat pumps, can be used for heating, DHW and even for cooling.

It is a renewable, safe and highly efficient source of energy, with a low maintenance cost and one that does not require tanks, boiler rooms, or chimneys. As it is produced on site, geothermal energy helps reduce the home's energy dependency on external sources, and is not influenced by fluctuations in energy prices.

In terms of disadvantages, installing geothermal heating systems is expensive and installation is not possible in all locations. An assessment of the land, climate and energy load of the house needs to be performed beforehand.

Aerothermal heating

Another of the most efficient heating systems is aerothermal heating, which extracts energy from the air - usually using a heat pump - to heat the house in winter, keep it cool in summer and have hot water all year round. Aerothermal systems require the use of electricity to run the compressor motor, which generates between 3 and 4 kWh of heat energy for each kWh of electricity consumed.

Aerothermal energy is clean, renewable, efficient and economical (25% cheaper than gas heating), and requires hardly any maintenance. On the downside, installation is expensive (between €8,000 and €24,000 depending on the size of the house and the power of the pump) and performance is not as good in very cold areas.

According to the OCU study, a heat pump powered by aerothermal energy costs €339 per year.

So what is the best heating system?

 Broadly speaking, we can conclude that gas, biomass, geothermal and aerothermal heating systems are the most efficient and economical. Although it costs more to install a pellet boiler with radiators and a DHW system, or a geothermal or aerothermal system, the national authorities are keen to promote them because they are renewable energies and this means there are grants available to help with installation costs, which can considerably reduce costs.

In order to choose one system over another, you should not only think about how much it costs to install a boiler, but you should also analyse other factors, such as the type and size of home and what it will be used for (whether it will be your main or second home), the climate, the types of fuel that will be accessible, the initial investment required and repayment terms.

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