• SkillCat Team

Types of Heat Sources

Heating Systems: Chapter 2


In this module, we will describe the properties, advantages, and disadvantages of different types of heat sources.

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1. Introduction


Throughout history, humans have relied on different sources of heat. To start, we burned whatever was available — typically wood in early human history. However, now we know that different fuels have various advantages and disadvantages.


One consideration when choosing a fuel is the ease of combustion — some fuels burn easier than others. Certain fuels, such as butane, combust instantly in air. This makes it easy to burn them and create heat. However, this also makes it more difficult to control when they do combust.


Control of combustion is another important factor. Some materials, like wood, are easy to control. However, gases like butane and methane are difficult to control once they start burning. The “Gates of Hell” in Turkmenistan is a crater where methane has been burning non-stop for 40 years!


Uncontrolled combustion can be very dangerous, as fire has the ability to destroy homes and take lives. Therefore, fuels that are easier to control once they combust are safer.


We must also consider the amount of heat a fuel produces when burned. For example, if we burn the same amount of natural gas and firewood, the natural gas would produce more heat. This means that natural gas is a more efficient and cost-effective fuel.


Burning fuels can also produce smoke and harmful gases that have a negative environmental impact. For example, coal is a good source of heat, but it causes air pollution when burned. Reduced air quality harms people and the planet.


Recall that some common types of heaters are gas, oil, and electric. Gas and oil heaters both rely on combustion but use different fuels. Electric heaters pass electricity through metal coils to create heat.


2. Gas Heating


Recall that gas heating systems rely on combustion to produce the heat that warms our homes. Modern gas heating systems burn fossil fuels like natural gas, propane, and butane.


With the creation of more and more gas pipelines throughout the U.S., the availability and popularity of gas heating systems have increased. More than half of the residential houses and commercial buildings in the U.S. rely on gas heating systems!


As shown in this table, gas heaters can produce very high temperatures. This means they can be used even in the coldest regions of the U.S.!


Gas heaters produce a lot of heat, so they require a lot of power. Because of this, they often run into electrical issues. For example, the system will receive power, but still not run.


Gas heaters often face problems with combustion as well. This is because there must be the perfect amount of gas in the burners. If there is too little gas, the flame will not produce enough heat. If there is too much gas, the flame will get too large and become a safety hazard.


Gas heating systems have several advantages. Gas produces more heat and can heat homes faster than other fuels. Natural gas is much cheaper than electricity. Gas heaters also produce less smoke than oil heaters.


Gas heating systems also have several disadvantages. For example, they need a pipeline connection to supply gas and a chimney to remove smoke. They can even leak carbon monoxide, a potentially fatal gas. They can also leak gas, which could cause a fire.


3. Oil Heating


Oil heaters, like gas heaters, rely on combustion, but they burn oil instead of gas.


Oil heaters were very popular in the 1900s but have mostly been replaced by gas heaters. This is because gas in the U.S. is cheap and widely available. Gas can also be moved to our homes quickly and easily through pipelines. On the other hand, the oil in your home must be refilled manually, just like the oil in your car.


Recall that burning oil can produce soot, a black powdery substance. Soot can buildup on the components inside the system, causing them to fail or work less efficiently. This forces us to consume more fuel to produce the same amount of heat. We can solve this problem by occasionally cleaning the system.


Oil heaters have several advantages. Unlike gas heaters, they do not create dangerous carbon monoxide. Also unlike gas heaters, oil heaters do not require pipelines. This is because we store oil in refillable cans.


The storage of oil in cans could also be regarded as a disadvantage, as we must refill these cans ourselves. Also, like gas heaters, oil heaters can leak and cause fires. The BP oil spill is a very large-scale example of the dangers of oil leaks.


4. Electric Heating


Electric heaters have metallic coils. We pass electricity through these coils, heating them up. Cool air from your home then passes over these coils, absorbing their heat. This hot air warms your home! Ovens are examples of electric heaters, but they cook food instead of heating homes.


Electric heaters are smaller than oil or gas heaters. This is because they do not combust fuels, so they do not get as hot as oil or gas heaters. They require less space around them and can be smaller.


When oil and gas heaters burn fuels, some heat is lost in the form of smoke. Because electric heaters do not burn fuels, they do not waste any heat. This means they are more efficient than gas or oil heaters.


Because they rely on large amounts of electricity, electric heaters often encounter electrical issues. The protective component, called the fuse, can blow out if the system receives too much electricity. If the fuse blows out, the system will stop working.


Overload switches are an element that is designed to turn the system off it receives too much electricity. However, sometimes these switches can fail to do their job. This image shows an overload switch that failed and caught fire from the excess electricity entering the system.


Electric heaters have many advantages. They are more compact than gas or oil heaters. They do not burn fuels, so they do not need chimneys to remove smoke. They are also much more efficient than gas or oil heaters.


Electric heaters have one main disadvantage: price. They consume a lot of electricity, and this can lead to a costly electricity bill.


5. Conclusion


Gas and oil heaters both rely on combustion but use different fuels. Electric heaters use electricity to create heat instead of burning fuels. Each type of heating has various issues, properties, advantages and disadvantages.


Question #1: Which of the following is NOT a factor for choosing a fuel?

  1. Ease of combustion

  2. Weight of the fuel

  3. Control of combustion

  4. Amount of heat produced

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Answer: Weight of the fuel

We mix the heat source with oxygen in the burner system.


Question #2: Gas heating systems often face problems with combustion or __________ issues.

  1. Mechanical

  2. Electrical

  3. Environmental

  4. Financial

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Answer: Electrical

Gas heaters produce a lot of heat, so they require a lot of power. Because of this, they often run into electrical issues.


Question #3: Gas heating systems are cheaper than electric heaters but produce more smoke than oil or gas heaters.

  1. True

  2. False

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Answer: False

Gas heating systems are cheaper than electric heaters, and they produce less smoke than oil or gas heaters. The first part of the question statement is true, but the second part is false.


Question #4: Gas heating systems require a pipeline connection to supply gas and a chimney to remove smoke.

  1. True

  2. False

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Answer: True

This statement is true.


Question #5: Some of the main issues in oil heaters are caused by the buildup of _____ on the systems components.

  1. Oil

  2. Gas

  3. Smoke

  4. Soot

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Answer: Soot

Burning oil can produce soot. If this soot builds up on components, it can cause them to work less efficiently or even fail.


Question #6: The fact that we store oil in refillable cans can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

  1. True

  2. False

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Answer: True

This statement is true. This can be an advantage if we are heating a home that does not have access to a gas pipeline. However, it can also be a disadvantage because we must refill the oil ourselves.


Question #7: Electric heaters are more _________ than oil or gas heaters.

  1. Dangerous

  2. Compact

  3. Wasteful

  4. None of the above

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Answer: Compact

Electric heaters take up less space than oil or gas heaters, so they are more compact. This is because they do not combust fuels, so they are not hot on the outside and pose less of a safety hazard.


Question #8: What is the main disadvantage of electric heating systems?

  1. Size

  2. Fuel consumption

  3. Price

  4. All of the above

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Answer: Price

Electric heaters have one main disadvantage: price. They consume a lot of electricity, and this can lead to a costly electricity bill.

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