Hot-Water Heating vs Forced-Air Heating

Modern furnaces are forced-air heating systems whereby a fan blows and forces air over the heat exchanger and distributed into the house via the ducts.

Older houses tend to have hot-water heating systems (hydraulic heating) using boilers as an alternative to a furnace. The source of heating comes from piping which leads to a radiator.

While modern times are slowly out-phasing hot-water systems for forced-air systems, it is not a given that the latter is better than the former.

Both of them have their advantages that slightly edges the other. Which one to select for your home is really down to personal preference.

Hot water heating (boiler)

Since this has been around for ages, surely homeowners who prefer to stick to the tried and tested have their reasons?

Less heat loss

Furnaces are much more responsive to temperature settings. Once you turn it off, the air starts to cool down faster compared to a boiler.

The cast iron radiator in a boiler has the effect of better heat retention.

This means that the heat generated by a boiler will be more consistent compared to the dynamic nature of a furnace.

Less space

On the surface, a hot-water heating system will look like it takes up more space than a forced-air system.

That is an illusion.

Because what you don’t see is that the latter requires more space for the ductwork within walls and floors. The former however only requires space for piping which is much less of a hassle compared to ductwork.

Less noise pollution

Baring any defective equipment, water systems tend to be quieter than air systems.

This is because they don’t require ducts that can be noisy from expansion and contraction. And fans that will inevitably make noises while spinning.

No wind

As air systems circulate heat around the house by blowing and pushing warm air about, it can often send warm breezes into rooms and common spaces.

This can be annoying at times.

This is almost a non-issue with water systems.

Easier to upgrade

Because piping is easier to install than ducts, a hot-water system will be easier to extend when the homeowner deems that as necessary.

These circumstances can arise when a decision is made to expand the living space in the house.

Boilers also tend to be able to take on a higher capacity while furnaces might not be able to take on a heavier load.

Longer lifespan

The longevity of heating systems heavily depend on how well maintained they are by homeowners and how they are being used.

But generally speaking, hot-water heating tend to have a longer lifespan than forced-air heating systems.

Air pollution

In the event of malfunction, air systems can potentially pump air pollutants within the equipment and hiding in the ductwork all over the house.

This environmental health hazard is banish with water systems.

Forced-air heating (furnace)

With all the positivity mentioned above about hot-water heating, you might already have your decision made. 😀

But hold your horses!

Do take a look at the advantages of forced-air heating systems too.

More features

One of the main reasons people are switching to air systems is the various functions that come with them.

High end systems can be so versatile that they can not only provide heating, but also cooling, humidifying, dehumidifying, and cleaning as well.

That’s a lot packed under the hood if you ask me.

It makes perfect sense and is a great example of making full use of what is available and set up. It’s like having a television that don’t just receive free-to-air channels and cable, but can also be used as a computer monitor as well.

Lower costs

As you might expect, fabricating and installing ducts is more inexpensive than pipes.

Installation can be less chaotic too. Meaning a lesser possibility of damage during the works.

They also have more affordable maintenance cost compared to hot-water systems.

Installation flexibility

Since we are on the topic of installation, it must be said that in the midst of renovation, changes in setup would be easier to execute.

It will be simpler to relocate ductwork and warm-air registers compared to radiators.

On the other hand relocating and re-configuring piping can mean a lot of extra work. New walls might have to be intruded on while the ones that now have no piping will have to be patched up.

Faster response

Previously, it was presented that temperature can be more erratic with forced-air heating due to it’s high responsiveness.

While this can be a flaw, from another angle, it can be a perk too.

A better responsiveness will translate to faster heating up and cooling down. This can be a priceless feature when you run home one day to escape the cold of winter.

Less space

A hot-water system will require radiators or convectors to be set up on the floor of bedroom and other livable space.

This can be a hindrance when planning an area’s furniture and fittings.

Imagine ordering a dressing table with dimensions that you were careful of keeping within. Then realize that it would not fit into the space you wanted because you forgot to take the radiator into account.

Forced-air systems will definitely take up less space. Especially in the furnace room.

No fear of freezing pipes

One of the biggest blemishes of water systems is it’s potential to have it’s pipes frozen should it break down in winter.

Such an incident can cause homeowners a lot of stress while they are already freezing from the cold.

This is a non-issue with air systems.

With all that being said, the choice of which system to choose is really up to the homeowner to decide after weighing up the pros and cons of both.

It is specifically because not one system can meet the needs of every household, that more innovative systems are introduced into the market. Surely one can work for you.