What Is A Hot Water Fan Convector and How Does It Work?

July 9, 2023

When many homeowners think of hot water boilers (we hope not too often!), baseboard heaters are usually one of the first things that comes to mind, often followed by radiant floor heat, or maybe fancy modern style or classic radiators. The list goes on. But did you know that boilers can also be used to provide forced air heating? Kind of like a furnace, but with lots of options.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at a class of heating products known as hot water, or hydronic, fan convectors. These versatile heaters can be connected to a boiler in a hot water-based heating system, and supply warm air heat to different parts of a home. Fan convectors are yet another option in the many ways that a boiler can be used to heat your home.

What is a Hot Water Heat Fan Convector?

A hot water fan convector is a relatively compact, self-contained heater that has a fan and a hot water heat exchange coil installed in a housing whose size and appearance varies depending on the specific unit and application. The heat exchanger in the fan convector looks similar in appearance to a car radiator, with aluminum fins attached to water pipes. During operation, hot water from a boiler circulates through the pipes in the heat exchanger while household air is blown across the fin tubes, producing warm air that the convector delivers to the home.

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Fan convectors are often set up as an independent heating zone, with their own zone valve located by the boiler in the mechanical area. They’re normally controlled by a fairly standard thermostat, which can be either a basic model or something with more bells and whistles, depending on the homeowner’s preference.

In reality, fan convectors can cover quite a bit of ground. They can be found in both commercial and industrial applications, as well as in a variety of locations around a home. In residential use – the focus of this post – hot water convectors can be installed in virtually any finished room, with the caveat that new piping can be run to the room from the boiler. Fan convectors are commonly used in rooms such as kitchens, hallways, laundry rooms, bathrooms, entryways, additions, and home offices – even bedrooms, studios, and workshops!

The Benefits of Hot Water Fan Convectors Include:

  • Can provide warm air heating from a hot water boiler to specific rooms or areas in a home, as needed
  • Help preserve valuable wall space that might otherwise be used to accommodate baseboard heaters
  • Operates at the same heating efficiency as the boiler that’s powering the heater
  • Quick response as compared with other hot water heating options such as baseboard heaters
  • Broad selection of relatively compact units, some of which can pack a big BTU heating punch, if needed
  • Variety of designs to accommodate a range of locations in both finished and unfinished spaces
  • Relatively low fan speeds (with multi-speed fans), which don’t produce the loud operating sounds sometimes associated with whole-house furnaces
  • Low surface temperature heaters (no gas burners or electric elements), equating to greater safety than many other types of heaters.
  • Minimal clearance required from combustible materials, making these products a good fit for tight spaces while helping to preserve useable floor and wall space
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How Large of an Area Can A Fan Convector Heat?

Beacon Morris kickspace heater - bottom of stairs

Hot water fan convectors are capable of heating a broad range of size areas, from single rooms to larger or adjoining areas. Depending on the size and layout of larger areas, and the fan convectors chosen, in some cases this may require multiple heaters. Kickspace heaters, for example, are available in relatively low CFM (fan) and BTU (heat) ratings and are used to heat relatively small, finished areas, while products such as hydronic unit heaters and other wall and floor models are available with bigger fans and heat exchangers, with the ability to heat larger areas.

The bottom line for our customers at Save Home Heat: Fan convectors are available to suit a wide variety of home heating applications.

Types of Hydronic Heating Fan Convectors

To clear up any potential confusion, in our industry the term “hydronic” is synonymous with “water-based,” so when you hear someone refer to “hydronic heating” that’s simply another way of discussing a hot water-based heating system. Hydronic home heating systems are normally powered by a boiler, and hot water fan convectors are another of many ways that heat can be delivered to your home from a boiler. Let’s look a little closer at the most common fan convectors:

Kickspace Heaters

Kickspace heaters are designed to be installed in tight locations such as the vertical area down near the floor below cabinets in a kitchen or bathroom, or even at the base of stairs; they can also be adapted for floor installation. These units are very compact and provide moderate to low-level fan power and heating output. Kickspace heaters normally serve relatively small areas and may be used in tandem with other heaters located nearby.

Beacon Morris kickspace heater - airflow illustration

Wall, Floor Console, and Ceiling-Mounted Fan Convectors

These types of hydronic heaters are capable of accommodating larger areas than kickspace heaters, and are often employed in commercial applications such as schools, administrative and medical offices, and hospitals. Models are available for floor-mounting, a variety of ceiling configurations, and wall units, as well. Some manufacturers build convectors that are also a good fit for residences, aesthetically speaking.

Hydronic Unit Heaters

Hydronic unit heaters are designed to be hung in an unfinished space and resemble the box-like gas heaters we often see suspended high overhead in warehouses. In home applications, these units are typically installed in spaces such as a workshop or unfinished studio, or a well-insulated, attached garage.

Beacon Morris hydronic unit heater-side discharge-1

Hydronic Air Handlers

‘Traditional’ forced air heat can also be powered by a hot water boiler, employing a ducting system similar to what a furnace uses. However, instead of a furnace, the means for delivering heat is a hydronic air handler connected to the boiler. Similar in appearance to a small furnace, these heaters have a built-in hot water heat exchanger, and a main air blower just like a furnace. Hydronic air handlers are designed to be installed in an unfinished area and, unlike the above-mentioned self-contained units, are connected to a ducting system. Hydronic air handlers can accommodate a wide range of size areas, using ducting that’s custom designed to match the air handler and meet the needs of the specific area being heated.

The Proper Size Boiler & Reliable Controls Are Crucial!

Your boiler is, of course, the heart of your home’s hot water heating system. Whenever adding new heating products to the system, it’s critical to make sure your boiler has the capacity to handle the load. In addition, it’s important that the new controls be set up to operate accurately, efficiently, and reliably. When in doubt, simpler is usually better!

The Right System for Your Denver-Boulder Area Home

The versatility of hot water boilers is truly remarkable. They can be used to provide zoned baseboard heating and radiant floor heat; power old-style or modern radiators, as well as high performance indirect-fired water heaters (a great option) – and as discussed above, provide forced air heat in a wide variety of ways. All of these comfort and efficiency options can be powered by a single, properly sized, efficient, reliable boiler, all set up as independent heating zones for optimal comfort and operating efficiency.

Master Plumber Logo - redServing homeowners in the Boulder-Denver metro area for over four decades, our plumbing and heating team at Save Home Heat Company is highly qualified to assist homeowners in getting your job done right, the first time, with the right products to suit your needs. Whether your home is heated by a forced air furnace, mini-splits, or a hot water boiler, you can trust our years of experience and high level of expertise when you work with Save Home Heat. Please contact us to learn more or to schedule a highly informative, low-pressure, free install quote for upgrades to your home’s boiler system or for any other home comfort needs

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