Pros and Cons of Hydronic Heating

Pros and Cons of Hydronic Heating

By: First Supply

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.

Very quiet

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.

No Filters

These systems don’t require air filters because they don’t produce blowing air.

Warms Floors

Radiant floor hydronic systems provide an extra level of comfort by heating the floor and other surfaces.

Design Flexibility

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.

Require maintenance

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.

Comfort First

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.