Home-based programmes may offer an alternative to conventional programmes or as a means of maintaining physical fitness after graduating from centre-based programmes. We sought to examine the effectiveness of home-based exercise programmes on exercise capacity in patients with heart failure compared with usual medical care. Electronic databases were searched to identify randomized controlled trials. Protocols included an initial period of centre-based exercise followed by exercise at home, home-based exercise only and concurrent centre and home-based exercise. Outcome measures included peak oxygen consumption, exercise duration and the six-minute walk test. Nineteen relevant studies were identified for review. The mean improvement in peak oxygen consumption was 2.86 ml/kg per min [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.43-4.29]. Exercise duration increased by 1.94 min (95% CI: 0.89-2.98) and distance on the six-minute walk test was increased by 30.41 m (95% CI: 6.13-54.68). Other reported benefits of home-based programmes include increased quality of life and lowered hospital admission rates. In conclusion, home-based exercise programmes have been shown to benefit people with heart failure in the short term. Further research is required to investigate the long-term effects of home exercise and to determine the optimal strategies for improving exercise adherence in patients with heart failure.