What You Need to Know about Hydronic Heating

November 12, 2015

New technologies are surfacing all the time, and it can be hard keeping them all straight if they lie outside your knowledge area. Though hydronic heating has been around a while, many people don’t have a clue what it is.

Essentially, hydronic heating, which is sometimes called hot water radiant heat, is a system that heats and then distributes hot fluids through a piping system to different parts of your home, delivering indoor heating as needed through a variety of means. This type of heating system boasts a number of advantages over forced air heating and has been making a comeback in popularity, especially in custom new homes and retrofitting existing ones. One of the well-known advantages of hydronic heating is the ability to ‘zone’ parts of your home, leaving unoccupied areas at lower temperatures when they are not being used. This allows for more efficient use of the heat your boiler produces and allows you to run a tighter ship, temperature-wise.

How Does It Work?

The hydronic heating system revolves around heating water or another type of liquid (often an antifreeze solution) in a boiler or similar product, and then pumping that liquid through a piping network throughout your home. Heat can be delivered in a variety of ways, the most common of which is through metal ‘baseboard heating’ enclosures, installed along the bottoms of walls in most rooms. Another popular heat delivery option is through special radiant-floor tubing, installed below the floor in a thermal mass such as concrete–providing very uniform, comfortable heat! In some cases–or specific rooms–homeowners have also been known to prefer ‘old-style’ modern radiators. If the nature of your home allows, any or all of these heat delivery systems can be utilized in a single installation. They are all connected by copper piping to the boiler, located in the mechanical room, and can be set up to be controlled by thermostats located in separate heating zones around your home.

More On Radiant-Floor Heating:

As modern heating concepts and designs continue to embrace radiant-floor systems, the options of products available, and the types of flooring they can be used with effectively, continue to grow and expand. While radiant-floor heating systems are most typically installed in concrete or similar sub-floor material, recent advancements now allow you to be much more versatile. By and large, there is now a radiant-floor option for just about every common type of flooring. However, when you are selecting your flooring you need to make sure that the heating installer and the flooring installer understand your goals, and are ‘on the same page.’ For example, some types of thicker carpeting simply aren’t appropriate for in-floor heating systems, and would stymy the system’s ability to warm your home. The important takeaway it to make sure that you coordinate your choice in heating delivery system with your heating contractor, and be certain that he sees no potential issues created by other decisions you have made for your home.

Hydronic Heating versus Forced Air?

The debate of hot water boiler systems versus forced air furnaces ‘rages on,’ and in truth, one can make a strong case for the advantages of either. When looked at in the full light of our modern, residential HVAC scenario, it really comes down to personal preference. For instance, hydronic heating systems, with their easy ability to provide separate zones with separate thermostats, offer the option to leave unoccupied areas of your home cooler, delivering heat only where you need it and not wasting it elsewhere–a very efficient approach! And many people seem to prefer the more evenly distributed, less intrusive radiant heat coming from hot water baseboard or the floor, as opposed to warm air blowing around the home.

On the other hand, forced air furnaces generally offer higher efficiency ratings than boilers, per consumer dollar spent. Maybe more importantly, forced air systems provide options for quality central humidification and air filtering and purification that boilers, by their nature, cannot offer. In addition, with the introduction of two-stage, variable-speed, and modulating forced air furnaces, these types of systems no longer need be as ‘noticeable’ to homeowners as they once were.


A well-informed consumer is typically a wiser and happier consumer. Take the time to learn all that you can about your home heating system!