A central heating system provides warmth to a number of spaces within a building from one main source of heat. It is a component of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (short: HVAC) systems, which can both cool and warm interior spaces.

A condensing boiler
Hot water central heating unit, using wood as fuel

A central heating system has a furnace that converts fuel or electricity to heat. The heat is circulated through the building either by fans forcing heated air through ducts, circulation of low-pressure steam to radiators in each heated room, or pumps that circulate hot water through room radiators. Primary energy sources may be fuels like coal or wood, oil, kerosene, natural gas, or electricity.

Compared with systems such as fireplaces and wood stoves, a central heating plant offers improved uniformity of temperature control over a building, usually including automatic control of the furnace. Large homes or buildings may be divided into individually controllable zones with their own temperature controls. Automatic fuel (and sometimes ash) handling provides improved convenience over separate fireplaces. Where a system includes ducts for air circulation, central air conditioning can be added to the system. A central heating system may take up considerable space in a home or other building, and may require supply and return ductwork to be installed at the time of construction.