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Forced air, steam, and hot water are three types of heating systems that warm many homes in Westminster, Maryland. All three share the same basic parts: a central heat source, conduits that distribute heat throughout a house, and appliances that release heat into rooms. Once your home heating system has delivered heat to these appliances, you need to make sure the heat gets distributed effectively. Learn about how your home heating system functions and ways you can maximize its efficiency.

Forced Air

If the rooms in your home have grates or grilles installed either in the walls or on baseboards near the floor, then your house is heated by forced air. In a forced-air heating system, a furnace heats air which is delivered to ducts into each room. When the warm air enters a room, it displaces cold air, which is sent into return ducts and back to the furnace where the cycle starts again.

To ensure a forced-air heating system can do its job correctly, follow some simple maintenance tasks:

  • Vacuum vent coverings, grates, and grilles weekly using a crevice or brush tool on your vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid blocking vents with furniture or other objects that can impede the flow of heat into your rooms.
  • Be mindful about closing doors, particularly if you own an older home without return vents. Closing doors doesn’t give cold air the chance to return to the furnace. When cold air can’t return to the furnace, the return air supply cycle becomes disrupted and the furnace works overtime to compensate. As a result, hot spots occur in some areas of your home while drafts exist in others.


Older homes or apartment buildings often contain steam radiator heating systems with their signature cast-iron components called baffles. In a steam-based heating system, a boiler heats water until the water turns into steam. The steam enters pipes that connect to individual radiators in rooms throughout the house. Once the steam flows into the radiator and heats the baffles, it condenses and returns to a liquid state. In a one-pipe system, the liquid returns to the boiler through the same pipe that brought steam into the radiator while a two-pipe system returns liquid to the boiler via a separate pipe.

You can perform some basic maintenance to keep your steam radiator heating system operating correctly:

  • Vacuum under radiators weekly using the bush or crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner.
  • Don’t use water or cleaners on radiators. Water can cause rust, and cleaning products can often create an unpleasant smell when the radiators warm up.
  • Once a year, use a dry bottle brush or paintbrush to remove dust and dirt from the baffles.

Hot Water

In a hot water heating system, a boiler heats water under pressure. The heated water travels to either baseboards or upright radiators and back to the boiler. Radiators, in turn, use convection to heat a room. As cool air moves across the radiators, the air warms and rises. Fins inside the radiators maximize the surface heating area.

As with forced air and steam, a hot water heating system needs a few maintenance tasks on your part to function optimally:

  • Since they’re positioned close to floors, baseboard heaters can collect a lot of dust and debris. Carefully vacuum the heater using the thin nozzle attachment on your vacuum cleaner. Vacuum gently so that you don’t damage the thin metal fins inside the heater.
  • Avoid placing furniture or other objects directly against baseboard heaters so that you don’t obstruct airflow.

The Importance of Heating System Maintenance

No matter which type of heating system you have in your home, call one of our HVAC professionals every fall to inspect your furnace. Regular heating system maintenance ensures that your heating system is working correctly and efficiently. During the cold weather season, you should also clean or replace the furnace’s air filter monthly. A clean air filter can significantly help your furnace perform better during the winter.

For professional heating system installation, maintenance, and repairs, you can rely on Griffith Energy Services. Call us today at 888-474-3391.

Image provided by iStock

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