Considerable variety is available in heating fuels, and in equipment used for residential properties.
Up until recent times, wood, coal, peat, and even buffalo or cow chips were the most likely heating fuels to be used.
They are still the mainstay for heating and cooking in some parts of the world. All these heating fuels required a quite a bit of work by the homeowner to operate. The cook had to be quite skillful in their use.
Wood had to be cut from the forests, made into usable lengths, and split to smaller sizes. It could be purchased ready to use. It had to be carried into the house and during cold weather.The stoves or fireplaces required constant attention. There were ashes to be removed at least daily. After all this, the result was often an unevenly heated house.
And there were the punishments meted out behind the woodshed. They were often for pelting the outhouse with rocks when sister and friends were using it. Yes, I am old enough to remember much of this.
Coal was an improvement in heating fuels, mostly because it provided more heat for a given volume.
If electricity was available, you might only have had to fill a hopper, and take out ashes every one or two days.There was considerable grime produced, and an always present danger from chimney fires, or from hot coals being dropped into flammable material. Asphyxiation or poisoning from gases produced from a poorly vented system, or an improperly banked fire, was a constant worry. Even though many of the houses were poorly sealed, and drafty enough to provide ventilation.
Gravity systems to distribute heat throughout the house were common, and could work fairly well if properly balanced.
Today, the heating fuel used is most likely to be the one that is the most economical, to purchase and deliver, in the area in which you live.
Natural gas delivered through an infrastructure of pipelines is the least expensive, and most convenient fuel, in much of North American.
Some areas, however, may have to rely on bottled gas (propane), fuel oil, or electricity. Heat pumps can extract heat from the air, water or the soil, and although they use electricity, can be a viable option. They can usually supply cooling as well. Coal is largely out of favor for residential use because of the inconvenience, and the air pollution it causes. In some areas, solar heating systems may be economical. Passive solar heating to supplement conventional heating may reduce the dependency on fuel.
The environment is a concern, .It has an influence on the choice of heating fuel sources, and on legislation .
Natural gas is comparably clean burning, and is an abundant resource. Fuel oil is still used in some areas, but it is getting more costly, as it becomes scarcer and more expensive to produce. Environmental activism targeting oil sources and its transportation facilities is bound to increase the cost of fuel oil. Solar heating is excellent, but it may be difficult to make the economics work. Electricity produces little air pollution, or CO2 emission, if it is produced by a method that does not burn fuel. Examples are hydro, wind or geothermal. It is a very poor choice if it is produced by coal burning power plants. Non fuel sources still use land and destroy wildlife habitat. Highly efficient homes that incorporate some use of passive solar heating to reduce heating fuel use can benefit the environment greatly.
Building codes and laws are increasingly being enacted to reflect a concern for the environment and housing efficiency. There is even some legislation to restrict the the types of heating fuel, and how they are burned. An example is the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), adopted by several American states. It restricts the inclusion of open fireplaces in a new home. It seems likely that even more legislation will be enacted in the future.
Of course, heating fuels, or some source of energy, is used in your home for more than heating the house. Significant energy is used for water heating, cooking, laundry, lighting and electronics. Each of these deserve your attention when designing your home systems, both for economy and the environment.
The future availability and cost of some heating fuel sources is uncertain, and it will be necessary to try and predict what the future holds when designing your systems. Not an easy thing to do