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Forced-Air Heating vs. Radiant Boiler Heating

Posted by Warner Service on Nov 25, 2014 5:31:00 PM


Are you planning or in the process of a remodeling or new home construction? If so, you will likely have to make a choice in how to heat your home. While there are many options you can go with, the two most popular today are Radiant and Forced Air systems.

Each of these systems have their pros and cons, and can have a large impact on both utility costs and your home's comfort level. That's why Warner Service has put together this guide to help you choose which heating system is right for your home or project.

Radiant Heating

Radiant boiler heating isn't a recent innovation. Rather, it has a long history both here in the United States and abroad. In fact, some records indicate that underfloor radiant heating dates all the way back to ancient Rome, and Benjamin Franklin used it in one of his inventions. These systems have been proven through the years to be an effective method of heating homes, but why is it enjoying a resurgance recently?

By definition, a forced-air furnace warms your home by heating the air around you. Radiant energy, on the other hand, heats everything in a room. By warming not just the air, but the floor itself, that heat is then transfered to things touching the floor. This means your feet are warmed instantly, and the air in your home will be heated consistently with everything else. It’s like standing next to a window on a winter day with the sunlight streaming in. You’re comfortably warmed by the sun’s radiant heat, rather than the air in the room around you.

Today, the most common radiant systems are called hydronic, meaning water passes through a high-efficiency boiler and is heated to about 110 degrees before being circulated through tubing under the subfloor. That heat energy from the water then heats the tubes, which heats floor, which heats the rest of your room. This method of heat transfer is extreemly efficient because it is much easier for water and objects to heat the air than for air to heat objects (or people).

Forced-air heating

Though it has been common throughout history to heat a home using warm air, it was not until the 20th century that Forced Air was made possible. By using electricly powered blowers, it was possible to move air precisely and at will (this put the "forced" into forced air). This system is appealing because it is inexpensive when compared to radiant systems and it is more versitle. The ductwork used in a forced air system can also be used in the summer for air conditioning, and air filters are installed to keep improve the quality of the indoor air that is circulating.

In a common gas-fired forced-air heating system, air is pulled out of rooms through return ducts by the suction of the blower fan, heated as it is drawn over the heat exchanger inside the furnace and then distributed through through supply ducts to warm every room in the home.

Benefits of Radiant Boiler Heating

  • Radiant heat warms the room at the level where people live, within a few feet of the floor. Conversely, heated air from a forced-air furnace duct quickly rises up and often out of the room. Typically, the room thermostat for a radiant system can be set up to eight degrees lower than the thermostat for a forced-air system, with no difference in comfort level. Radiant heat energy benefits people in the living space rather than the ceiling.
  • Once the floor is heated to operating temperature, it functions as a thermal mass that continues to emit heat between the on/off cycles of the boiler that heats the circulating water. This effect smoothes out the often abrupt and uncomfortable temperature fluctuations that occur when a forced-air system cycles on and off.
  • Heat energy in hot air transmits readily through glass windows on a cold day. The electromagnetic energy of radiant heat, however, tends to reflect off of windows and remain indoors.
  • Radiant heat requires no blower or other air circulation to infuse a room with warmth. This draft-free performance reduces the level of dust and other airborne particulates and makes indoor air less likely to trigger allergic responses in susceptible individuals.
  • The noise of air rumbling through ductwork is one of the hallmarks of a forced-air furnace. A radiant system is completely silent.

Benefits of Forced-Air Heating

  • Because forced-air heating predominates in residential applications, the mass production of furnaces and ductwork, as well as the fine-tuning of installation practices, have lowered the upfront costs of using this heat source. In most cases, installing forced-air heat is the most economical option.
  • Ductwork used to convey heat throughout the home in the winter can also be used to convey central air conditioning in the summer. Today’s central heating furnaces often include an A/C evaporator coil and condensation collection equipment that can be incorporated into a central air conditioning system. Consolidating both systems is space-saving and cost-efficient.
  • Forced-air heating and cooling systems are often the front line of defense for maintaining healthy indoor-air quality. Because these units circulate air through a filter, the air in the home is filtered several times each day. The whole-house air circulation of a forced-air system can also be treated by a humidifier.

If you need help deciding for yourself between these two systems, contact Warner Service to have a qualified technician examine your project and help you make this important decision.

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