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If you’re looking into heating systems for your home, you’ll certainly have come across the radiant heat vs forced-air debate. Both of these systems have their advantages and it’s not a simple question of which is better, but rather which system is better for YOU! 

When you’re looking for a heating system, what do you care about the most? Is it the energy efficiency, maintenance, or installation cost? We’ve written a detailed overview comparing and contrasting radiant heat and forced-air. Read on!

Radiant Heat Systems

Radiant heating warms up a space by heating up a surface. Usually that’s the floor or a wall. Once the surface is warm, it transfers heat to parts of the room that are in close contact with the body, leading to a targeted heating approach. Many people also prefer radiant heating because there is no air blowing allergens around and the heat is steady.

Forced-Air Systems

Forced air systems force hot air through vents to change the temperature in your house (usually, forced-air refers to heating and central air refers to cooling systems). 

Forced-air systems have their own pros and cons. For example, since air is continuously being recycled, the indoors do not get too humid which can be a problem with radiant heat. Forced-air systems are also less expensive. However, if you don’t take good care of the air vents and your home in general, you run the risk of inhaling dust, mold, mildew, and allergens from your air vents. 

Comparison of Radiant Heat vs Forced Air

Installation Costs

Radiant heat systems are more expensive to install compared to forced-air systems. That’s because radiant heat has to run through a system of pipes to reach your floors or walls. The pipes have to be able to hold the water that is going to heat up your house. In addition to that, you have to install a boiler to heat up the water.

A forced-air system is less expensive because it uses air ducts, which are less expensive and easier to install. If you already have it then you probably use it for central air conditioning, too. If you don’t, the installation is still significantly easier and cheaper. 

Energy Efficiency

Radiant heat is more energy-efficient than forced air. That’s primarily because radiant heat systems use liquids in sealed pipes, which means they can retain heat much better. While for forced-air systems, once the air is out of the ducts, all the heat is lost into the environment. 

Radiant heat heats up surfaces like floors and walls directly. As a result, the heat can get to humans quicker. Forced air warms up the air in the room first and takes a while to get to the surfaces. Radiant heat can also last longer. Your house will stay warm for some time even after you’ve turned the heat off, which won’t happen with forced air.

Indoor Environment

The way forced-air systems work is that they pump hot air into your house through air vents and ducts. That can be good, but only if you keep your filters and air ducts clean at all times. If any mold or mildew forms in your air vents, it is going to float around in your house the next time you turn on the heating. 

Similarly, if there is any dust or allergens in one room, the forced air will pick them up and spread them all around the house. That’s especially bad for people with respiratory illnesses, as they can be sensitive to dust particles and allergens. 

Humidity Control

Air ducts pump dry air, which makes humidity control difficult. If you prefer a more humid environment, it will be difficult with forced-air systems. In addition to that, air ducts can get a bit loud, especially if you are near the air ducts. Boilers work in almost complete silence.

Maintenance

Forced-air systems require more maintenance than radiant heat systems. For starters, you have to clean out your furnace filter, air ducts, and so on. If you put it off for too long, mold or mildew can form in your air ducts. 

Even something as seemingly harmless as dust can become a health hazard when it’s blown all around the house. That is especially so if you suffer from asthma or any other respiratory illness.

Forced-air systems require a fair bit of maintenance and preventative measures to avoid bigger problems. You should take care of your forced-air system regularly. 

Boilers are not so high-maintenance. You still need to take care of your boiler and conduct annual maintenance checks. Boiler checks are less frequent; you only need to conduct them once a year. Forced-air system checks should be done ideally 4 times a year.

Radiant Floor Heating vs Forced Air Cost

If we have to compare costs, it is immediately apparent that forced-air heating is less expensive than radiant floor heating. The installation cost makes up the bulk of the high price. The installation process is also quite complex. 

In order for radiant floor heating to work, you need to place pipes in your walls and/or floors that will connect the boiler to the surface. Because these pipes are hidden, maintenance becomes incredibly difficult. If you have a problem with your heating down the line, you might have to break through your walls and floors to fix it. Unfortunately, there is no other way to get to the pipes. 

At the same time, radiant floor heating is more energy-efficient. You can save a fair bit of money by reducing your energy consumption. With radiant floor heating, that’s a given! In the long run, the benefits and drawbacks of radiant heat even out.

Radiant Heat vs Forced Air – The Verdict

Generally speaking, radiant heat systems are more suitable for most homes. Even though the installation is more difficult and expensive, you can also save some money down the line. Forced-air systems, on the other hand, are cheaper and easy to fix. They require more maintenance, though. Take your pick!

Sources

energy.gov

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