Hydronic heating may sound like a fancy new technology, but it’s actually one of the oldest home comfort systems around. Known technically as hydronic heat and includes both hot water heat and steam heat, it uses water to move warmth throughout a home to efficient, comfortable and reasonable effect. Long popular in Europe, hydronic heating is beginning to find a niche on this side of the pond as interests in energy savings and greener options increase.
Presently, forced air heating continues to be the most likely choice in the U.S. and is present in 90 percent of American homes, according to the Hydronic Heating Association. This is mainly because it’s an economical choice for home builders, and allows for the simultaneous or later integration of air conditioning. However, hot water heating can still be a part of your home comfort scheme--you just have to know when and to what extent it’s a worthwhile addition. To help you compare water and air in the heating realm, here’s a quick hydronics primer.
Getting hot water heat from here to there: hydronic basics: A hydronic system uses water--the ultimate transfer medium--to move heated water throughout a structure. Heated in either a gas- or oil-powered boiler, the hot water courses through a one-inch-diameter hydronic heat pipe as either liquid or steam to radiators and convectors located in every room of your home. From there, the resulting heat is distributed as it circulates through the outlets for moist, from-the-ground-up warmth that lasts, and then heads back to the boiler for reheating and another trip to living spaces.
Hydronic heat can be zoned for different areas or individual rooms within a home, and also helps to improve indoor air quality in the absence of the blower and allergen-trapping ductwork that a forced air system requires. You also have the option of radiant floor heating, in which durable PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) piping carries warmth underfoot.
When to go hydronic: Besides understanding how hydronic heating works, it’s helpful to know when its installation will provide the greatest return on your investment. A new build offers the best opportunity for installation of a hot water heating system, and it’s worth considering if you’re planning from the ground up. Components can be more costly than those for forced air heat and won’t deliver AC, but you’ll enjoy immediate energy savings and a good 20 to 30 years of service if hydronic components are properly installed and maintained.
And what about existing homes? Making a complete switch from existing forced air to hydronic heating isn’t really worth the investment. You’d be better off spending on improvements to existing ductwork and replacement of major components. However, if you’d like to add on heat to limited areas of your home hot water heating might be an option, Check out the easy-to-install panel and blanket fabrications now available for creating radiant heating retrofits.