Heating systems may be classified as central or local. Central
heating is often used in cold climates to heat private houses and
public buildings. Such a system contains a boiler, furnace, or heat
pump to heat water, steam, or air, all in a central location such as
a furnace room in a home or a mechanical room in a large
building. The system also contains piping or ductwork to distribute
the heated fluid, and radiators to transfer this heat to the air. The
term radiator in this context is misleading since most heat transfer
from the heat exchanger is by convection, not radiation. The
radiators may be mounted on walls or buried in the floor to give
under-floor heating.

All but the simplest systems have a pump to circulate the water
and ensure an equal supply of heat to all the radiators. The heated
water is often fed through another heat exchanger inside a
storage cylinder to provide hot running water.

Forced air systems send air through ductwork. During warm
weather the same ductwork can be reused for air conditioning.
The forced air can be filtered or put through air cleaners. Most
ducts cannot fit a human being (as they do in many films) since
this would require a greater duct-structural integrity and create a
potential security liability.

The heating elements (radiators or vents) should be located in the
coldest part of the room and typically next to the windows to
minimize condensation. Popular retail devices that direct vents
away from windows to prevent "wasted" heat defeat this design
parameter. Drafts contribute more to the subjective feeling of
coldness than actual room temperature. Therefore, rather than
improving the heating of a room/building, it is often more
important to control the air leaks.

The invention of central heating is often credited to the ancient
Romans, who installed a system of air ducts in walls and floors of
public baths and private villas. The ducts were fed with hot air
from a central fire. Generally, these heated by radiation; a better
physiologic approach to heating than conventional forced air
convective heating.
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