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Hydronic heating is not only one of the most common forms of heating found in homes, but also one of the most efficient. If you’re looking to invest in hydronic heating, or simply understand the system you have, this article will provide you with the working principles, types and pros/cons of these systems.

What is hydronic heating?

As the name suggests, a hydronic heating system uses water to distribute heat in various places of your home. It includes a boiler that heats up the water and then circulates it through a piping system. The generated heat can be used to warm up radiators, floors, bathroom towel racks, and many more.

How does Hydronic Heating work?

Working Principle

A hydronic heating system consists of a boiler, a piping system, and heating distribution equipment.  The core principle of hydronic heating systems is water. The water is heated by the boiler, the circulation pump moves it through the pipes and then into the radiators or other heating equipment. Once the water is used, it will be recirculated back to the boiler by the dedicated recirculation system and then reheated.

Radiators

A common heating distribution equipment used to distribute heat includes radiators, which are usually installed in different spaces of a building. An advantage of using radiators is that they have the capacity to distribute radiant heat which naturally spreads in a uniform way. This means you will have the perfect temperature everywhere you need. 

Radiant Heat

Moreover, when used for floor heating, hydronic heating systems can greatly decrease heat losses thanks to the radiant warmth that builds up and covers the entire given area. This not only brings greater comfort but also energy savings.

Hydronic heating systems can also be used to heat bathroom towel racks or even a swimming pool. They are fully customizable and support many configurations according to your needs.

What is a boiler?

A boiler can be seen as a water tank with the main purpose of heating the water in a hydronic system. After having warmed up the water, the boiler will distribute it through pipes until it reaches the heating equipment like radiators.

Advantages

A major benefit of using a boiler is that it can run on different types of energy. You can opt for a gas-powered boiler, an electric boiler, or even a solar-powered one.

Unlike furnaces, boilers can keep a constant temperature for longer periods of time and improve the overall comfort of your home. They are also well-known for their capability of reducing heat losses which ultimately leads to energy savings.

What is a hydronic radiator?

A hydronic radiator is a piece of heating equipment that uses water heated by a boiler to distribute heat in a space. Maybe one of the most popular choices among consumers, hydronic radiators have proven to be more efficient than air heaters or other devices that use forced air.

Hydronic radiators can use both radiant and convection heating to generate heat and thus warm up a large space or a room. The main difference between these two is that radiant heating transfers energy to nearby objects with no contact, while convection heating transfers heat to the air.

Benefits of Hydronic Heating

Efficiency

When it comes to efficiency, hydronic heating is far superior to forced-air heating systems since water is a better heat retainer than air. It takes less energy to circulate water than air through the pipework and, as a result, the heat is effectively transferred throughout a space. 

Hydronic heating systems can also minimize heat losses – which means that you can maintain a constant and comfortable temperature within your home while keeping energy bills low.

Quiet

Contrary to forced-air heating systems, hydronic heating systems not only offer the perfect thermal comfort but they do that in complete silence. No matter what type of heat distribution equipment you install when designing your hydronic heating system, you can be sure it will run quietly with no background noises. 

Cleaner than forced air

Hydronic heating systems are much cleaner for the indoor environment of your home. 

When using forced-air heating systems, the air transferred around your home collects dust and debris which can harm your health. Hydronic systems have no transfer of dirt, mold, or dust throughout your house so you can keep your space clean and healthy.

Life

Hydronic systems have a longer lifespan than other traditional heating systems. They are easy to maintain and have fewer spare parts to be replaced. For example, there’s no need to replace or clean air filters. 

Also, the materials used when manufacturing hydronic heating equipment are long-lasting and rarely need repairing. That’s why hydronic heating systems are far more durable and can last for decades.

Zoning

Another benefit of using hydronic heating is that it’s easier to control separate zones for different temperatures. If you want your bedroom to be warmer but your kitchen colder, you can achieve exactly that – a customized temperature for each room according to your needs and preferences. This is made possible mainly because the heat is not pushed from one space to another.

Balanced humidity levels

It’s important to keep a constant and balanced level of humidity throughout your home. Unlike forced-air heating systems that usually absorb moisture present in the air and dry rooms out, hydronic systems will not turn your space into a dry environment. By eliminating the issue of dryness, you can have better control over the humidity levels of your home.

Drawbacks of Hydronic Heating

Slow heating

Even though hydronic heating systems are more efficient and cost-effective in the long run, heating up your home may take longer than with other traditional heating systems. Since the heated water needs to move through the entire network of pipes, the heating process can be slower.

Ventilation can be a problem

With no air circulating inside the rooms, you can experience ventilation problems as air can get stagnant. You can avoid this by leaving the windows open for a longer period of time to get fresh air inside your home. However, this can be unpleasant especially on a cold winter day, and reheating the space can take a while.

Need room space

The lack of space can be a problem when using a hydronic heating system. Heating equipment such as baseboard heaters or radiators need space in a room for installation. 

This is also not ideal if you want to warm up narrow spaces where there is no possibility of installing large equipment. A solution to this would be to install radiant floor heating, which works great for small spaces.

Harder to repair

Although hydronic systems are in general durable and don’t require a lot of maintenance, issues can appear occasionally. When that happens, have in mind that the repairing process can be much more difficult. That’s because it’s harder to reach the pipes that are either installed behind the walls or under the floor. 

What is hydronic floor heating?

Hydronic floor heating is a form of heating that uses pipework embedded in the floor to generate radiant warmth. It is an efficient and flexible solution compared to other traditional heating systems and can distribute heat uniformly throughout a room.

How does it work?

Hydronic floor heating systems use water that is heated in advance by a boiler. The heated water is then moved by a pump through a primary pipework system that is connected to a manifold. The manifold is responsible for distributing the heat to the pipes embedded in the floor. 

These pipes are usually installed in a spiral or loop pattern under a sealed floor and will warm up the floor and direct the heat to where it is needed.

Benefits of a hydronic floor heating system

One of the main advantages when using a hydronic floor heating system is that the radiant warmth is evenly distributed – no need to worry about cold spots throughout your home. 

These systems are also more efficient and cost-effective than traditional heating solutions. This brings a true level of comfort, keeping the room temperature at a constant value.

An additional advantage is that this type of system is hidden under the floor which can save you a lot of space and does not ruin the aesthetics of your rooms. It also runs silently and eliminates the transfer of dirt in the air.

Drawbacks of a hydronic floor heating system

Having a hydronic floor heating system seems to be the perfect solution but there are also a few drawbacks, especially when it comes to installation. 

The pipework has to be installed under the floor, which can make things a bit more complicated when an existing floor has to be removed. In this case, it is highly recommended to seek the advice of a professional technician.  

Another disadvantage is that you won’t be able to use carpets to cover the surface of the floor, as this will only obstruct the heat.

The Verdict

When it comes to energy efficiency and thermal comfort, hydronic heating systems are a great solution for your home. Durable and fully customizable, these systems support many configurations and can satisfy any necessity.

We hope the resources listed in this article help you get a better understanding of how hydronic heating systems work and bring you one step closer to making the right choice for keeping your home warm and cozy. Feel free to leave us a comment below in case you have any questions.

Sources

energy.gov

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