Hydronic Heating vs Forced Air

5 March 2021
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When choosing the right heating and cooling system for a commercial space, it’s important to consider the costs and benefits of traditional and newer heating systems, and how they compare in the long term.

So, how do forced air systems work?

Ducted or forced air heating units run off natural gas, propane or oil.

A traditional choice, ducted systems rely on either a furnace or heat pump which takes in cold air through a vent where the air is heated by burning fuel. The air is then transported back via ductwork and in-room vents, and spread throughout a building. 

This heating process repeats itself until the building temperature matches the thermostat setting. 

Common problems encountered with forced air heating include uneven air distribution, excessive noise and the potential of stirring up an allergenic environment. 

Let’s tackle these one by one.

Air 

The quality of air distribution can easily be affected by the design of forced air systems, resulting in spaces heating unevenly.

Forced air systems rely on vents and ducts to convey air throughout a home or building which can easily become obstructed by obstacles in the indoor environment, such as furniture or indoor design elements. Additionally, poor vent placement may obstruct airflow, heating rooms unevenly.

Conversely, hydronic heating functions by using water to heat the room. 

The process begins in the boiler, circulating hot water around the building through a pipe distribution system, with heat emitted from radiators.

Due to it’s smart design which can include panel radiators, wall-mounted radiators and underfloor coils, hydronic systems heat evenly to maintain a consistent indoor temperature.

Heat emitters diffuse natural radiant heat which spreads evenly throughout a space.

Hydronic heating systems also come equipped with room-by-room control to allow precise temperature control. 

Flexibility in deciding which areas of a building are heated can drastically reduce commercial building running costs.

Sound 

Noise is a major consideration in forced air systems. 

One of the biggest downsides to forced air systems can be the level of noise generated by vents and ducts. 

The most obvious noise complaint emerges each time the system cycles on and off, and  fans begin to push air through the vents, causing rattling, hissing or scratching sounds.  

Sound issues can include popping sounds due to metal ductwork expanding, rattling due to loose debris blowing around within the system, clicking sounds as the system powers up for the first time after a period of nonuse and hissing, which indicates that ducts may be leaking air.

Noise issues are completely resolved through hydronic underfloor and in-slab heating which use gas condensing boilers or air-to-water heat pumps to deliver seamless and sound-free solutions. 

Health 

Forced air heating can create an unhealthy environment for allergy sufferers. Ducts and vents require frequent and diligent filter maintenance, to stop the spread of harmful airborne particles. 

In contrast, hydronic heating is the healthier solution for allergy sufferers or those with dust sensitivities. 

Hydronic heating systems eliminate the circulation of harmful bacteria entirely. Rather, they are powered by natural convection through pipes and thermal radiators throughout the building. 

Efficiency

Hydronic heating is an energy efficient system. Heat is transferred without the need for forced air circulation, increasing efficiency and reducing heat loss.

Instead, heat is conducted through water. 

Insulated circulating pipes ensure minimum heat loss. When the water cools, it is effectively recycled back into the boiler to be reheated.

Extra energy efficiency is achieved through condensing boilers which extract heat that would typically be lost from the carbon dioxide and water vapor. This collected heat is then used to pre-heat the water before it returns to the boiler. 

Avoid paying for a noisier, less efficient system that promotes uneven temperatures and invest in a quality design that will stand the test of time. 

Although hydronic heating start up and installation requires a higher initial investment than more basic forms of heating, the long term benefits plus savings in running costs make it an easy choice for home and commercial projects alike.