Ducted Heating versus Hydronic Heating

11 October 2021
Ducted Heating and Cooling Systems

When it comes to selecting the best heating and cooling systems for our homes, we’re lucky to have a number of systems and energy sources to choose from. Many homeowners are leaning towards ducted heating over standard blow heaters and fans, but there is another option for both warming and chilling your pad that you really don’t want to overlook. 

Hydronic Heating. 

Until fairly recently, hydronic heating and cooling wasn’t really known to many Australians, despite having existed for hundreds of years across the northern hemisphere. It’s now rapidly gaining in popularity for both residential and commercial settings due to the wide range of benefits it offers, from health and safety to reduced environmental impact and lower running costs. 

In this article we will cover the basics:

  • What is ducted heating and how does it work?
  • What is hydronic heating and how does it work? 

Then we’ll compare the two solutions when it comes to:

  • Health
  • Safety
  • Installation and running costs
  • Energy efficiency 

It pays to do your homework before investing in any heating or cooling solution for your home, so let’s start by getting back to basics on both options. 

 

What is ducted heating and how does it work?

Also known as ‘central heating’, ducted heating is a system that collects cold air, warms it up to a thermostat determined temperature and pushes it via air force fans through ducts, which lead to air vents located throughout your home. 

Is ducted heating gas or electric?

Generally speaking, most ducted heating is gas run, but also uses electricity for the fans. It also depends on the choice of heat source which can be gas powered or electricity powered. 

Can ducted heating also cool?

Yes, it can. You can opt for a ducted reverse cycle air conditioner, which provides both heating and cooling. If you already have an existing ducted heating system, there are options to add on a cooler.

What is hydronic heating?

Also known as radiant heating, hydronic heating warms water via an energy efficient heat source, that could be natural gas, air to water heat pump, wood or diesel, and moves it through a sealed pipe system to hydronic products installed throughout your home. 

Products include:

 

How does hydronic heating work?

The warmed water heats the unit (underfloor heating pipework, radiators or towel rails), which in turn evenly distributes natural radiant heat.

ducted heating and cooling, hydronic heating

Instead of warming the air within the space, radiant heat actually warms objects, such as furniture, soft furnishings and people, through what is known as natural convection and radiation. This results in the warmth remaining for a longer period of time. The heat is not drying, but very comfortable and the temperature can be adjusted in each space by thermostat control. 

Can hydronic heating run on electricity?

Yes, it can. The most common options for residential hydronic heating fuel sources are natural gas or electricity by way of an energy efficient boiler or air to water heat pump. 

Can hydronic heating be used to cool?

Most commonly associated with heating, hydronic systems can also provide efficient and effective cooling for your home. Hydronic products including underfloor, trench systems and wall mounted fan coils offer both powerful heating and cooling in one product. A great example is the Galletti ART-U.

Which heating system is best?

Believe it or not, there’s more to heating and cooling systems than their ability to warm or cool your home. We’ve rounded up some of the most frequently asked questions within each category that would be wise for you to take into consideration when researching the ideal fit for your needs. 

 

Hydronic vs. Ducted Heating: Health

Is hydronic heating healthy?

Absolutely. The biggest health benefit of hydronic heating is that it doesn’t rely on fans, vents or ducts to transport warmth throughout your home, unlike ducted heating and cooling systems, blow heaters and air conditioning units. 

Dust mites, pollens, pet and people dander, fungal spores and other air borne pollutants can spur the growth of mould, which is a serious trigger for asthma sufferers. Approximately 2.7 million Australian’s have asthma across all age groups and there are just as many who experience seasonal allergies. 

Can ducted heating make you sick?

Ducted systems can filter the air to a degree, but ultimately because it is using fan forced air to warm your home, there will be airborne dust particles, pollens and other pollutants circulating. Dust also builds up inside air ducts and can be costly to properly clean, unlike with hydronic systems where you simply wipe over the unit with a damp cloth. 

Dirty air ducts and vents can result in people getting headaches, respiratory issues, asthma or allergies worsening, general lethargy and skin rashes including eczema and sinus issues. 

Another potential health risk with ducted heating systems is carbon monoxide poisoning. When ducted systems are not serviced regularly or are faulty or damaged in any way, there is the possibility of large volumes of carbon monoxide being produced and leaking into the home, which is not good news. The best thing to do is ensure you have it serviced regularly (as advised by the manufacturer). 

Summary: What is the healthiest heating system?

Hydronic heating wins the gold medal for health. It’s easy to keep clean and the right choice for the best air quality for everyone under your roof, especially those with asthma and allergy issues.

 

Hydronic vs. Ducted Heating: Safety

Is ducted heating safe?

Compared to open fires or electric blow heaters, ducted heating is a much safer bet, especially if you have little ones and pets in the home. There are no hot surfaces or electrical cables and power points, which all minimise safety concerns. 

Can ducted heating cause a fire?

If you don’t keep on top of the dust build up within your ducted heating system, or the routine inspections recommended by the manufacturer, there is a potential fire risk. Faulty parts and wiring need to be tended to urgently and the only way of knowing anything is wrong is with regular servicing. 

Is hydronic heating safe for children?

The water in hydronic heating systems is always well below boiling point and surface areas on radiators and towel rails will not burn or scald little hands, but the surface temperature can get hot, so caution is needed with younger ones who might be inclined to hold onto the radiator panel.

Ducted heating and cooling, hydronic heating

If you opt for underfloor heating or trench hydronic heating systems, you can avoid this potential issue. Like ducted heating, there are no electrical connections. 

Summary: What is the safest heating system?

Both options present with potential safety challenges, but it is important to note that these systems are much safer compared to electric blow heaters, which are still one of the number one causes of house fires in Australia. 

 

Hydronic vs. Ducted Heating: Installation and running costs

How much does it cost to install hydronic heating?

There are a number of factors to take into account when costing the installation of a hydronic system, including:

  • Size of your home
  • Which hydronic heating products you want to use
  • If you are wanting underfloor heating, what kind of flooring (in existing homes)
  • If it’s a new build, extension or retrofit

The best option is to get a free consultation and quote from experienced industry professionals

How much does it cost to install ducted heating?

Similarly, the cost to fit out ducted heating in your home will depend on a few considerations, namely the size of your home and ceiling height. If your place is multi-level, this will also impact costs as vertical ducting will be required. Prices will also vary between brands, so it would be wise to shop around if ducted feels like the way you want to go. 

Is hydronic heating cheaper than ducted?

In terms of running costs, yes. A hydronic heating system can be 35 percent more cost effective to run in comparison to ducted systems. 

Summary: What is the most cost-efficient way to heat a home?

While the initial installation cost for a hydronic system may be a higher investment than a ducted system, the ongoing running costs for hydronic are lower and a big reason it is chosen over ducted systems. In either case, it pays to have quality insulation throughout your home.

ducted gas heating, gas heating system

 

Hydronic vs. Ducted Heating: Energy efficiency

Home heating and cooling makes up a substantial 40% of household energy use in Australia, the largest use of energy in the average home. This makes the selection of your heating and cooling systems an important one when it comes to efficiency and environmental impact. 

Can ducted heating and hydronic heating be zoned?

You can zone control with both ducted and hydronic heating systems, which will enable you to set the temperature for specific areas of your home. This means you don’t have to run your heating or cooling through the whole home, which will cut down on bills, make it more efficient and reduce green-house emissions. 

Is hydronic heating efficient?

Hydronic heating can have ‘thermal efficiency’ of up to 90%, compared to forced air options, which can be below 50%. Extra energy efficiency is scored by using a condensing boiler, which extracts heat that would generally escape via water vapour. The heat is recycled to pre-heat the water before it makes its journey back to the boiler. 

Is gas ducted heating efficient?

You can increase the efficiency of your ducted system by ensuring your select a system with a high Gas Energy Rating – the higher the rating the more efficient it is. Ducted heating does lose heat through the ducting system, so loses efficiency points on that front. 

Summary: Which heating system is more efficient?

Hydronic heating uses very little energy, making it more likely to be the better option on the efficiency front. Environmentally hydronic scores higher points for energy efficiency and sustainability. 

 

A quick note on insulation

Whichever solution you go for, it is important to have quality insulation in your home to maximise the efforts of your heating and cooling system. Having your ceiling, walls and floors insulated can make a huge difference to heating and cooling expenses. 

Doing what you can to reduce draughts throughout your home can also have a positive impact – good old door snakes are effective and if your home is older, it’s worth checking the quality of the seals on your windows. 

ducted heating, heated floors

 

So, is hydronic heating better than ducted heating?

If we tally the scores across the key areas, hydronic heating comes out on top. While ducted heating has its merits, hydronic heating can’t be ignored when it comes to health, safety, running costs and energy efficiency. 

Contact the friendly team at Hunt Heating who can offer you an obligation free consultation and quote to help you discover the best hydronic products and solutions for warming and cooling your home.