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Hydronic vs. Forced Air

What is Hydronic Heating?

Hydronic heating is a method of heating your home through the use of water as opposed to air. In a hydronic system, the heat source heats water, which is then circulated around the home through pipes to a range of heat distributors; either a combination of radiators, floor coils and more!

As there is no air circulating, hydronic heating offers a more natural and efficient way to heat your home. There is no drying of the air and no forced air movement or noise — a fantastic option for asthma and allergy sufferers.

Hydronic, or hot water, heating has been standard for years in many parts of the U.S. It is seeing a surge in popularity at present, mainly because of the increasing use of radiant floor heating, which is known for providing even, comfortable heat. Yet contrary to popular belief, not every home in the free world needs hydronic heat to achieve this level of comfort.

Apples to Oranges

Hydronic heat is sometimes touted as more comfortable than forced-air heat. But since the typical hydronic system is significantly more expensive than the typical hot-air system, especially if cooling is included, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Customers willing to invest in a quality hot-air system, rather than a bare-bones package at the lowest price, will find that forced hot air can be as comfortable as hydronic heating. Unfortunately, if the heating system is hot water and the home owner doesn’t spend the extra upfront to cool the home, the finished home may be still too expensive to add the cooling system later and probably impossible to even install without doing even more expensive and inconvenient remodeling to accommodate such an install. Or the homeowner may have to add a window air conditioner instead to each of the rooms in the home. Another system maybe a ductless system that is not as efficient as the central split system design on a standard forced air install.

The least expensive forced-air system usually includes a single-stage furnace with a single-speed blower motor. The entire house is ducted as a single zone, and therefore has just one thermostat. If the system is sized by a contractor who uses a rule-of-thumb formula to estimate heat loss and heat gain, the homeowner can end up paying higher-energy bills for a noisier, less efficient system that provides uneven temperatures from room to room.

Conventional ducted systems disperse heat from the roof down, causing forced air movement and efficiency loss. As hot air rises, it just makes more sense to heat from the ground up.
On average, a hydronic heating system using a standard gas boiler (when correctly installed) will cost around 20% less to operate than a ducted central heating system in a house with 2.7 metre ceilings. Even greater efficiency can be achieved when the boiler is upgraded to a condensing boiler.