Hydronic radiant heating systems use hot water and a heat exchanger to transfer warmth inside homes and commercial spaces. Some people are surprised to hear that hydronic systems heat surfaces in a structure instead of heating the air. This contrasts with forced air furnace systems that work by blowing heated air into a space to displace cooler air. Hydronic systems in older homes circulate steam to cast-iron radiators. Modern systems deliver hot water to smaller, baseboard heaters. Other modern systems circulate heated water through radiant heating loops installed under the flooring. These systems keep the floor warm while heating the house. Hydronic systems are a great choice for some situations, but not for others.
Advantages of Hydronic Heating
Most people living in the upper Midwest use forced air heat, however, there are some distinct advantages to choosing a hydronic heating system. Here’s a list of benefits provided when using hydronic heat for home heating.
Reduced allergy symptoms
Hydronic systems don’t use ductwork or blowing air that can spread dust, germs, viruses, allergens and pet dander that trigger symptoms.
Apart from a water heater or boiler firing, hydronic heating works without a lot of noise.
Good for new construction
Hydronic systems can be installed without adding ductwork, vents or registers them a great choice for new construction.
Easier to control separate zones
Multiple thermostats and control valves can be installed for efficient zone heating.
Lower energy consumption
Hydronic heat feels warmer at lower thermostat settings partially because the air doesn’t blow the way it does with an air handler.
It takes less energy to circulate water than blow hot air so hydronic systems are more energy efficient than air systems.
No Heat Loss
Heat produced by a hydronic system doesn’t get lost while traveling through ductwork.
These systems don’t require air filters because they don’t produce blowing air.
Radiant floor hydronic systems provide an extra level of comfort by heating the floor and other surfaces.
Tubing can be run in areas with limited airflow and zone valves can be used to heat specific areas.
Disadvantages of Hydronic Heating
While hydronic heating systems are ideal for certain situations, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind if you’re considering a hydronic system. Read below for a list of disadvantages that come along with a hydronic heating system.
Takes longer to heat up
Heated liquid must travel through the whole system, so it takes longer to heat a space.
Not ideal for setting heat back at night
Since hydronic systems take longer to heat up, they are better when set at a consistent temperature.
Baseboard convectors need space
The need for extra space near convectors may interfere with furniture arrangement.
Expansion tanks need to be drained occasionally to maintain efficient operation.
Hard to access piping if a problem comes up
Since the bones of the system are concealed underfoot or in the walls, repairs are more difficult.
Higher installation costs upfront
Although operating costs are lower, the materials and labor for hydronic installation are higher.
No ductwork for air conditioning
These systems aren’t good for cooling, so a separate A/C system would be required.
Water could potentially freeze during power outage
The components could be damaged if exposed the freezing temperatures.
Requires careful planning before installation
Pump placement and tubing layout can make or break the efficiency of a system.
Lack of ventilation
Since air isn’t circulating, inside air may get stagnant.
Need to remove floor
Hydronic systems can’t be installed over existing flooring, so the are better suited for new construction, otherwise any flooring will have to be removed.
Not Good for Retrofits
Adding a hydronic heating system to an old house would more than likely be cost prohibitive.
Best Heat Source
Hot water used by a hydronic system is commonly heated by a boiler fueled by natural gas, propane or fuel oil. Other systems rely on heat pumps, solar thermal heat or on-demand water heaters. The most reliable radiant systems employ high efficiency water heaters, instead of boilers. An advantage of tankless water heaters is that they can heat water instantly, which saves energy due to a reduction in overall runtime. Tankless water heater systems also cost less money and are more efficient than standard water heaters.
A heating and cooling system will play a huge role in the day-to-day comfort of a homeowner. The right system will provide years of energy efficient service, while he wrong system will inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and extra expense. The advantages and disadvantages listed in this article should help anyone looking for a new HVAC system make an informed choice. Count on First Supply for information, tools and supplies.