Boiler Heat vs Forced Air

Most homes in the United States are heated through forced air, but there are some advantages to hydronic heating systems.  This is probably not a question you are considering unless you are gutting your home or building a new one, but if so, you should at least consider a hot water boiler from a trusted manufacturer, like Lochinvar or Dunkirk, as your source of home heating.

What Is Hydronic Heating?

radiator memeWater serves as a great conductor of heat.  Within a hydronic system, water is heated and distributed throughout the home/building to provide radiant heat.  For our purposes, we will be discussing hydronic systems that are powered by boilers.  Most have seen movies staged in NYC apartments with a noisy radiator.  That is one way a boiler system distributes heat, but with proper planning the piping may be found within the walls or the flooring for a better aesthetic result with no noise pollution.  Boilers typically run off of natural gas or liquid propane as an energy source.  In some cases you may encounter an oil-fueled boiler, but they are not very common.

Advantages to Hydronic Heating System

There are many pros and cons when considering boiler heat vs forced air.  Here are a few points to go over in favor of hot water boilers:

  • As long as the radiant heat is pushed through the walls or the floor (rather than a radiator) it will be a lot more quiet than the typical forced air system.
  • Because you can conveniently select which zones of the home you want heated, you can opt to shut off certain parts of the home that get less use and save on energy costs.
  • Hot water boilers tend to heat homes and buildings more evenly.
  • If the heat is delivered through the floor, barefoot winters indoors become a great comfort rather than something you want to avoid.
  • A boiler system can supply hot water to the home in addition to radiant heat.
  • In some homes, forced air conflicts with the ventilation in certain rooms (think kitchen), and this is obviously not a problem in hydronic heating systems.
  • Avoid the “drafty” feeling that often accompanies a forced air system.

Drawbacks include:

  • If you need central cooling in your home you will still need a duct system in place.  Obviously, there are cost savings to consider because forced air heating and cooling use the same infrastructure, but there are disadvantages to that.  It can be very difficult to get both your heating and cooling to work well, especially when it comes to multi-level buildings.
  • Hydronic heat does not provide immediate heat as quickly as a forced air system does.
  • If not properly maintained, a radiant heat system can suffer damage from frozen pipes.

It’s too horrifying to show an image of Ben Affleck’s Boiler Room, so the “son of a hundred maniacs” will have to do.

Maybe the most overlooked advantage is that you can punish your kids by sending them to the “boiler room” for timeout.  Most people in the United States would never consider a boiler system, but they have become extremely popular in Europe for a reason.  Radiant heat will increase in popularity as Americans become more aware of the benefits of hot water boilers (I recommend Lochinvar boilers or Dunkirk boilers).  In the age of the internet, a boiler system becomes a more feasible option as you enjoy a wider selection than a showroom typically offers and much better prices.  There is not a lot of discussion out there about boiler heat vs forced air, so hopefully this post has been helpful.  Leave me some feedback.