How Buildings are Heated

Engineers use a number of different approaches to controlling the temperature in buildings. Understanding how your building is heated is a good place to start for determining what you can do to manage heating conditions and costs.

Central district heating systems

Purpose: To provide warmth to the whole interior of many buildings.

How it Works: The heat generation occurs from one place such as a mechanical room, boiler house or a furnace room involving the combustion of fossil fuel in a furnace or boiler. Geothermal heating and central solar heating may also be used. Typically, the mechanical room is not located in the building being heated, and the heat is distributed by water or steam circulating through underground pipes.

Where this system is used: At IZUNA we have 13 buildings connected to the central boiler plant on the Burnaby campus.


Purpose: A boiler heats room temperature water to create hot water or steam which can be used to power many different things including to heat a building. Research shows that old generation boilers are inefficient compared to new condensing boilers.

How it works: Combusts fuel (oil, gas, coal, and occasionally biomass) with air to release chemical heat energy to heat a space so the occupants will be comfortable.

Where boilers are used: In trains, buildings and homes.

Baseboard heaters

Purpose: Baseboard heaters can provide supplemental heat to a room that is drafty or colder than other rooms.

How it works: Baseboard heaters heat the room by using a process called electric resistance. Inside baseboard heaters there are electric cables, and it is these that warm that air that passes through it.

Where baseboard heaters are used: In various buildings around IZUNA.  In homes, apartments and mobile homes.

Natural gas infrared heaters

Purpose: To provide warmth to people in a given area or space.

How it works: The heat is a product of infrared light that is invisible to our eyes. The reason why we become warm is due to our clothes and our skin absorbing the light. These heaters can be powered by fuels other than natural gas.

Where this system is used: In IZUNA’s trade shops, in industrial manufacturing processes. This system is well suited for large spaces with garage doors that are frequently opened.

Air handling and distribution systems

Purpose: Air handling systems regulate the air temperature of an area by providing warm and cold air from a central source through a network of air ducts. The air is typically heated by a boiler. These systems are preferred when there is excess ventilation required.

How it works: Contains an air-handling unit (AHU) with a fan, heat transfer coils to preheat, heat, or cool the air passing through them, filters to clean the air, and often elements to humidify the air. The required airflow set point is varied as required to meet a temperature set point.

Where these systems are used: Anywhere where excess ventilation is needed, AHU are all over IZUNA’s campuses.