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Given that a central heating system, such as a furnace or a heat pump, represents a significant monetary investment, and that it plays a critically important role in maintaining a comfortable and safe residence, it is essential to identify a trusted manufacturer. Although there are many companies which manufacture residential heating systems, only a handful can be considered as uniformly adhering to a superior standard of quality. The same holds true for makers of space heaters. 
Industry Background
Over time, there has been significant consolidation within the HVAC industry, and a number of major companies have either merged or acquired other manufacturers. However, even post-merger or acquisition many companies continued to maintain their separate brand identities. As a result, consumers can find themselves today choosing between two brands, not realizing that both are actually made by the same company.

HVAC is a relatively old industry, pre-dating computers, microwaves, and televisions. Consequently, a number of the leading manufacturers of residential heating systems trace their history all the way back to the late 1800s or early 1900s. While experience in and of itself is not a guarantee of product quality, knowing that these companies have been able to satisfy consumers for such a long time is certainly a mark in their favor.

Over the course of the 20th century, certain companies have changed name or been bought and sold by either competitors or conglomerates. Within the industry, there has developed an interesting dichotomy between the manufacturers, which are, for the most part, giant international companies, and the retail sales, installation, and repair businesses, which are typically small local shops which serve as authorized distributors for a particular manufacturer.

Given the complexity and customized needs of individual installations with respect to placement and ductwork, the manufacturers of heating systems prefer not to detail with the retail market, leaving it to local contractors and authorized distributor networks.  As a result, for many years there was no real interaction between the end users of central heating systems and their actual producers. Although in recent years the companies have made an effort to improve their customer service persence, many of the major producers of central heating systems still do not sell directly to consumers.
Of course, in the case of space heaters, this is not the case, but space heaters are a much more commoditized product.
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Top Central Heater Brands
In 1885, a Norwegian immigrant named James Trane opened his own plumbing store in the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin. In the course of his work, James invented a new type of low-pressure steam heating system. Some years later, James’ son, Reuben, received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then, in 1913, father and son incorporated the Trane Company. By 1916, the Trane Company was exclusively focused on heating products. In 1925, Reuben invented the convector radiator, which was smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more efficient than the cast-iron radiators which had been in use until that time. In the 1930s, the Trane Company also became involved in the production of air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Over the succeeding decades, the Trane Company grew extensively, becoming one of the undisputed powerhouses in the HVAC industry. In 1984, Trane was acquired by American Standard, a Fortune 500 conglomerate which was also a major player in bath and kitchen products and vehicle control systems. Subsequent to the acquisition, the company produced furnaces and heat pumps under both the Trane and American Standard brand names.

In 2007, American Standard sold off both the bath and kitchen products division and the vehicle control systems division, retaining only the Trane Company. Given that it was now only focused on HVAC, American Standard renamed itself as Trane Inc., returning the Trane name back to the fore. Just months later, Trane was acquired by Ingersoll Rand, an international industrial giant that also owns such diversified brands as Schlage, Thermo King, Hussmann, and Club Car. Today, as a part of Ingersoll Rand, Trane continues to produce high quality residential heating systems that have a long-standing reputation for quality, durability, and performance.

The history of Carrier is as storied as that of Trane. In 1902, Willis Carrier, the American-born descendant of Welsh immigrants, was working as an engineer for the Buffalo Forge Company in Buffalo, New York. In response to a quality issue that was facing a client of the company, Willis Carrier presented blueprints for what would subsequently be recognized as the world’s first modern air conditioning system. Four years later, Carrier was granted a patent on his invention, which he dubbed the “Apparatus for Treating Air”. The very first sale of the apparatus was made to the LaCrosse National Bank, an interesting coincidence given that at the same time, on the other side of the Great Lakes, James Trane was running his plumbing shop in a town called La Crosse.

Up until the start of World War I, Willis Carrier continued to develop and refine his ideas for air conditioning. In 1914, along with six other engineers, he started the Carrier Engineering Corporation. The company did well as air conditioning became an increasingly popular method for cooling buildings. However, as a result of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Carrier ran into financial trouble and was forced to merge with the Brunswick-Kroeschell and York Heating & Ventilating firms. The combined company was called the Carrier Corporation, still keeping the Carrier name, and Willis Carrier was elected Chairman of the Board.

Seven years later, the headquarters of the Carrier Corporation were relocated to Syracuse, New York. In the 1950s, air conditioning began a tremendous growth in popularity, and the Carrier Corporation grew along with it. By that time, it had started the Toyo Carrier and Samsung Applications Company in Korea and Japan, which would eventually become the largest producer of air conditioning in the world.

In 1980, Carrier was acquired by United Technologies, an industrial and manufacturing giant that is one of the 50 largest companies in the United States and one of the 200 largest corporations in the world. As part of United Technologies, Carrier continued to grow, becoming a world leader in not only residential, but also commercial HVAC and refrigeration. Carrier today has worldwide sales of more than $15 billion and employs more than 40,000 people. It is without question one of the best producers of quality heat pumps and furnaces for the home, which it makes under not only the Carrier brand, but also under the Weathermaker brand. In addition, Carrier owns the Bryant and Payne companies, although they continue to manufacture heat pumps and furnaces under their own brand names.

In addition to Trane and Carrier, several other companies make heating systems that are of comparable quality. These include York, Rheem, and Lennox. We will briefly consider each of these brands in turn. York is the oldest brand, tracing its roots back to 1874 when the company was founded in the eponymous town of York, Pennsylvania. Over the next century and a quarter, York grew rapidly. Today, York has more than 20 manufacturing facilities around the world and sales offices in more than 100 countries. York is a part of Johnson Controls, another gigantic industrial conglomerate with multiple business lines.

Over the years, York has provided HVAC systems to a number of landmark installations, including the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.; the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan; the Bank of America building in San Francisco, California; the British Houses of Parliament in London, England; the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, France; the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia; and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia.

Of course, the home systems produced by York are nothing as extensive, complex, or expensive as the commercial systems installed in these landmark buildings. Still, for many consumers it is confidence-building to know that the manufacturing know-how behind their furnace or heat pump is the same as behind those large-scale systems.

Compared to the York brand, Rheem is a relative upstart even though it was established nearly 90 years ago. Started by two brothers in San Francisco, the Rheem Manufacturing Company began with the manufacture of water heaters and by the 1940s was also making space heating systems.

In 1959, Rheem acquired the Ruud Manufacturing Company, which was another leader in the water heating industry. In the 1960s, Rheem entered the heating and air conditioning market and continued its rapid growth. In the 1980s, the company expanded further by acquiring Raypak, a producer of heating equipment for swimming pools and hydronic systems.

Today, Rheem sells furnaces and heat pumps under both the Rheem and Ruud brands. The company has an outstanding reputation for quality and reliability in the industry, receiving consistently high marks from home heating experts and service professionals. Many consumers swear by Rheem/Ruud systems and would not even consider purchasing a heating system from any other manufacturer.

Approximately three decades prior to the founding of Rheem, an American workman named David Lennox was exposed to the idea of using riveted steel instead of cast iron for furnaces. Riveted steel offered a number of advantages, including being a lighter and more durable material with a longer shelf life. David Lennox began to manufacture these new riveted steel furnaces and soon his business became a success. In 1904, he sold the business to a group of investors in his hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa.

Even though David Lennox sold the company, his name remained. The company was called the Lennox Furnace Company and it grew across the United States over the first half of the 20th century. As the company continued its expansion, it was renamed Lennox Industries and then Lennox International. After nearly a century of private ownership, the company was taken public and began to trade on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999.

Today, Lennox is an acknowledged leader in the HVAC space, producing a broad range of residential heating products. The company offers a number of high-efficiency models and is a pioneer in the incorporation of solar energy capture within the context of residential systems.
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Top Space Heater Brands
One might think that the same companies that produce central heating systems would also manufacture space heaters. As it turns out, this is not the case. There is virtually no overlap between manufacturers of heat pumps and furnaces and makers of space heaters. This is in no small part due to the fact that central heating systems are a much larger, more complex, and inherently different type of technology from space heaters.

The two consistent leaders in space heaters for some years now have been Honeywell and Holmes, providing effective, quality products. DeLonghi and Lasko have been right behind them. Arguably, Pelonis and Soleus Air conclude the six-pack of the best space heater manufacturers.

Honeywell is a Fortune 100 company and a major conglomerate. Space heaters are just one of the dozens of product lines created by Honeywell in such diversified industries as automotive systems, specialty materials, aerospace, and defense. The current company was created when the original Honeywell was acquired by AlliedSignal in 1999. Even though Honeywell was the smaller company, its name was kept due to its superior brand recognition.

Like General Electric, Honeywell actively employs the Six Sigma system to maintain industrial excellence across all of its product lines. As a result, many of Honeywell’s products are best-of-class. This certainly holds true for its space heaters, which receive consistent praise for their effectiveness and reliability from consumers.
However, Honeywell is actually not the most popular brand of space heater on the market.

That honor belongs to Holmes. When measured by the yardstick of major corporations, the Holmes Group has actually not been around for that long. The company was founded in 1982 by the businessman Jerry Kahn and rapidly gained market share in the home environment product space. Ten years later, the Holmes Group acquired the Rival Company, integrating the Rival, Crock-Pot, and Seal-a-Meal brands into its product portfolio. In 2005, Kahn sold the combined Holmes Group to the Jarden Corporation, a major conglomerate, which owns it to this day.

Holmes probably offers the widest range of space heating products available on the market. The company’s products run the full gamut in terms of pricing, feature set, and functionality. While this offers consumers a great deal of selection and has enabled Holmes to capture the largest share of the market, it also means that not all of the company’s products are of uniform quality and reliability. Certain products receive very high grades from consumers, while others perform less well.

In stark contrast with Holmes, which was built on the highly entrepreneurial American approach to business, we find the DeLonghi company, which owes its success to a more design-focused European tradition. The company traces its roots to the DeLonghi family, which set up a workshop to supply parts to local manufacturers in Treviso, Italy back in 1902. Incorporating in 1950, DeLonghi soon began to branch out into almost every category of small domestic appliances. It was one of the first to produce portable heaters and this has remained a core strength for the company.

One of the elements separating DeLonghi from its competitors is the company’s extensive emphasis on the design elements of its products. There is a lot of work invested within the company that goes into not only creating a reliable and effective heater, but also on creating an aesthetically pleasing, yet practical design.

Unlike the other three companies profiled so far, Lasko only has a limited number of product lines. Primarily known for their electric fans, Lasko also manufactures humidifiers, utility boxes, and, most importantly for our discussion, space heaters. Although not as large as the other companies, Lasko offers a surprisingly broad range of quality space heaters, including ergonomic designs and reliable functionality.

Pelonis and Soleus Air are two other smaller, but somewhat well known makers of quality space heaters. Pelonis was founded in the 1980s on the back of the invention of the disc furnace, a unique honeycomb disc technology that brought together safety, efficiency, and power in a product that was less than a foot across. Soleus Air is the baby of the group, founded in the late 1990s. However, the company has grown rapidly largely due to its commitment to high quality, innovative products and an unwavering focus on customer satisfaction. In 2007, the company was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Hot 500 Fastest Growing Businesses in America”.
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