The radiant heat vs. forced air debate is one as old as time. As two of the most popular heating systems out there, it’s no surprise that many people have a hard time choosing between them.
Both radiant and forced air systems have a bunch of perks, and they both have downsides. But before we give a final verdict on which of the two you should use, let’s look over how each system works.
Radiant Heating Vs. Forced Air – How Do They Work?
Radiant heating systems work by heating your home’s surfaces. They use a network of pipes heated via electricity or water to heat your home’s floors, walls, or ceiling panels. The heat is then transferred to you and other objects in your room through infrared radiation.
On the other hand, forced air systems heat air and blow it to warm your home up. Forced air systems are very common and often integrate heating and cooling into one mechanism. These systems are often connected to ductwork that transports the heated or cooled air to the farthest parts of your home.
Radiant Heating Vs. Forced Air – Types
Both radiant heating systems and forced air systems have several types, and understanding these types is crucial if you want to find out which of the two options is better for your home.
Radiant Heating Types
There are three types of radiant heating systems. The difference between the three is the medium that the system uses to transfer heat from the heat source to your home.
- Electric Radiant Heat:
- Hydronic Radiant Heat:
Hydronic heating systems use a network of tubes and pipes that run under your floor and heat your space by carrying warm water from a boiler to other places. This system is considered the most popular and cost-effective of the three.
- Air-Heated Radiant Heat:
Air heating radiant heat systems are not very common since the system is not very cost-effective or efficient. In this system, a furnace warms up the air and pumps it through tubes to the rest of your home.
Forced Air Types
Forced air systems have two popular types, and both often come up in the debate of radiant heat vs. forced air.
- Heat Pumps:
Heat pumps are fairly popular in many parts of the country, where temperatures are moderate all year around. These systems can provide heating and cooling by either pushing warm air into your home or pulling heat from your home and transferring it to the outside. Heat pumps have many different types, and the style you pick will depend on your home design, need, and space.
Furnace systems use a heat exchanger and generate heat by burning oil, liquid propane, or natural gas. This heat is then used to warm circulating air, keeping your home warm. Unfortunately, furnace systems tend to be less efficient than heat pumps, but advancements in technology have curbed this issue to some extent.
Refer to this guide for a more detailed comparison between heat pumps and furnaces.
Now that we have all the basics of both heating systems covered, let’s get to the pros and cons of both.
Radiant Heating: Pros and Cons
Take in account all the pros and cons of radiant heating before taking a final decision.
Pros of Radiant Heating
- Higher Efficiency
Radiant heating systems are very efficient since they reach the required temperature quickly and cool down slowly. Hydronic radiant systems are estimated to be around 25% more efficient than forced heating systems. This efficiency can be further increased through technology such as dual zone thermostats.
- No Maintenance
Radiant systems require little to no maintenance and upkeep. There are no mechanical elements in these systems that can break down. There is an acute chance of the pipes bursting with hydronic systems, but the odds of that happening are low.
- Out of Sight
Unlike other heating systems that require some external equipment, radiant heating systems are pretty discrete—the pipes or cables that provide heat run under your floor or behind your walls and ceiling.
- Noise Free
Radiant heating systems are so quiet that you’ll often forget you even have them on! Their no-noise operation makes them ideal for places where disruption by sound would be troubling.
Since radiant heating systems do not use fans and do not require external sources of heat, their chances of carrying allergens to your home are negligible.
- Even Heating
A radiant heating system heats a room very evenly, unlike forced air heating systems that create cold or warm spots through the uneven distribution of heated air.
Cons of Radiant Heating
- Costly Installation
Whether you install a radiant heating system in the floors, walls, or ceiling, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny since you’ll have to redo an entire section of that area. This issue is the biggest downside of these systems when discussing radiant heat vs. forced air systems. However, if you plan on remodeling your home, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- Not Suitable for Whole-House Use
As a primary heating system, radiant heating systems might not be the most affordable option. This is especially true for electric radiant heating systems since electricity is expensive.
Forced Air: Pros and Cons
Forced air systems are pretty popular, and there are several reasons why.
Pros of Forced Air Systems
- Purifies and Conditions Air
As air passes through a furnace or heat pump, air filters installed in the system can purify the air. Some systems also have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which can help you maintain ideal humidity levels in your home.
- Rapid Comfort
Forced air systems can heat or cool a space almost instantly, and some systems come with a turbo heat or cool option that can make this function even quicker.
- Low Installation Costs
Since forced air systems are pretty common, most homes already have the necessary equipment to make the use of these systems easy. In other cases, the houses are framed with this understanding, and installing the needed system will be easy and cheap.
Cons of Forced Air Systems
- Relatively High Maintenance
Forced air systems need regular maintenance to stay in top shape. These systems are mostly mechanical, and there are multiple opportunities for equipment failure. Regularly maintaining your HVAC system can help prevent costly repairs in the long run.
- Noisy Operation
Forced air systems use a fan, which generates a significant amount of noise. Additionally, outdoor units can also be very loud, and if they’re close to your living space, they can disrupt your peace. Air rushing through will also add to the noisiness if you use ductwork with your system.
- Mold, Mildew, and Allergy Issues
Since forced air systems use equipment that pulls in air and then pushes it out, there are chances of allergens and other common pollutants being distributed throughout your home every time the system is on. There is also the possibility of bacteria accumulating in your ductwork that the air can carry over whenever it passes through them. While air filters can reduce this issue significantly, they can’t eliminate these threats.
- Low Efficiency
Air traveling through ductwork can leak out through gaps in the ducts. This issue can lead to a significant loss of heat and will drive operating costs up. Furthermore, since forced air systems rely on the warm air to heat your home, this air escaping from your room through open doors or windows can also bring your home’s comfort down.
When talking about radiant heat vs. forced air systems, there are several factors that you’ll need to consider before you make a final decision. First, while radiant heating systems cost a lot upfront, they’re far more efficient than forced air heating systems. They also offer quieter operations than forced air systems. However, forced air systems offer more instant comfort in terms of heating and cooling. Overall, the final decision will depend on what your preferences are.