Heaters are appliances whose purpose is to generate heat (i.e. warmth) for the building. This can be done via central heating. Such a system contains a boiler, furnace, or heat pump to heat water, steam, or air in a central location such as a furnace room in a home, or a mechanical room in a large building. The heat can be transferred by convection, conduction, or radiation.
Heaters exist for various types of fuel, including solid fuels, liquids, and gases. Another type of heat source is electricity, normally heating ribbons composed of high resistance wire (see Nichrome). This principle is also used for baseboard heaters and portable heaters. Electrical heaters are often used as backup or supplemental heat for heat pump systems.
The heat pump gained popularity in the 1950s in Japan and the United States. Heat pumps can extract heat from various sources, such as environmental air, exhaust air from a building, or from the ground. Heat pumps transfer heat from outside the structure into the air inside. Initially, heat pump HVAC systems were only used in moderate climates, but with improvements in low temperature operation and reduced loads due to more efficient homes, they are increasing in popularity in cooler climates.
In the case of heated water or steam, piping is used to transport the heat to the rooms. Most modern hot water boiler heating systems have a circulator, which is a pump, to move hot water through the distribution system (as opposed to older gravity-fed systems). The heat can be transferred to the surrounding air using radiators, hot water coils (hydro-air), or other heat exchangers. The radiators may be mounted on walls or installed within the floor to produce floor heat.
The use of water as the heat transfer medium is known as hydronics. The heated water can also supply an auxiliary heat exchanger to supply hot water for bathing and washing.
Warm air systems distribute heated air through duct work systems of supply and return air through metal or fiberglass ducts. Many systems use the same ducts to distribute air cooled by an evaporator coil for air conditioning. The air supply is normally filtered through air cleaners to remove dust and pollen particles.
The use of furnaces, space heaters, and boilers as a method of indoor heating could result in incomplete combustion and the emission of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, and other combustion byproducts. Incomplete combustion occurs when there is insufficient oxygen; the inputs are fuels containing various contaminants and the outputs are harmful byproducts, most dangerously carbon monoxide, which is a tasteless and odorless gas with serious adverse health effects.
Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can be lethal at concentrations of 1000 ppm (0.1%). However, at several hundred ppm, carbon monoxide exposure induces headaches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood, forming carboxyhemoglobin, reducing the blood's ability to transport oxygen. The primary health concerns associated with carbon monoxide exposure are its cardiovascular and neurobehavioral effects. Carbon monoxide can cause atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) and can also trigger heart attacks. Neurologically, carbon monoxide exposure reduces hand to eye coordination, vigilance, and continuous performance. It can also affect time discrimination.