If you know the feeling of damp shivering chilled to the bone cold, and you want to come into a house and be embraced like a mother wrapping a sick child in a blanket, then forced –air heat is the one to choose. Turn up the thermostat, stand on the grate and the warmth surrounds your chill and smothers it.
Forced air systems are easily recognized in a basement as the network of silvery trunks and pipes converging on a large metal box. The older the unit, the larger the box and the more places to duck underneath. In the rooms upstairs, the system is identified by the simple or decorative grilles in the floor, usually under windows. Typically the grills do not interfere with furniture placement and are a great delight for kids to stand over in bathrobes.
This system, aptly named, makes the cold air hot and pushes it through a duct system, entering each room through the grilles in the floor. Another set of grates, usually in central common areas, returns the cooled air back to the furnace to be heated again. This is an on-demand system: a call for heat delivers immediate satisfaction with a rush of warm air no one could deny. The heat is a comforting embrace, a luxury of warmth.
But in any house, especially a drafty one, the heat soon dissipates. The cold slowly creeps back in. A whirr of motor and a fluff or breeze soon delivers more heat. The body constantly readjusts.
All that movement of air also stirs up and redistributes the dust we wish was not actually there. This could certainly be a problem for allergy sufferers, but additional filters installed within the system provide a strong argument that this system actually cleans the house while heating. As long as they are maintained regularly, a series of filters in the ductwork may actually catch and control a healthy portion of the dust naturally floating around.
Air movement also accentuates the amount of moisture drawn out naturally in the process of heating air. Felt mostly in our dried out nostrils, this is often experienced by an increase of bloody noses. Here too, a humidifier can be added to the system to replace moisture lost in the changes of temperature blown through the house. Humidifiers in various strengths being necessary to balance any form of winter heat, this system may actually hold the advantage, being directly applied internally and requiring no oversight.
While these drawbacks make people avoid furnaces, each problem has a solution that actually improves it overall. Forced air is less expensive to install (about $6,000) and costs about the same to run relative to natural gas, LP, or oil. No system satisfies our need for heat more quickly and the fluctuations may be controlled by well-placed thermostats. The vicious claws of winter are well-tamed with a forced-air system.