Hydronic heating uses hot liquid dispersed through pipes for a clean and energy-efficient option to evenly heat your home. For many, a hydronic heating system can be the solution for cleaner, cheaper, and warmer living.
In the heart of winter, it’s nice to curl up on the couch, drink hot chocolate, and generally just stay warm and cozy indoors. But keeping your house well-heated throughout the colder months can be a challenge—and, for many, electric bills peak during this time of year, as energy waste is at its highest.
Hydronic heating systems are great solutions for getting more consistent, more even heat across your home. With a number of options for installation and a multitude of benefits—from better health to greater monthly savings—a hydronic heating system could be the answer to cleaner, cheaper, and warmer living.
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What is hydronic heating?
Hydronic heating systems use hot liquid dispersed through pipes to circulate heat.
The term “hydronic” is a scientific stand-in for water—hydronic heating systems, then, can be more simply understood as a heating unit that uses water or steam to circulate warmth throughout your home.
Rather than heating and blowing air through ventilation ducts, like forced-air furnace systems, hydronic heating systems use a boiler to heat the liquid in the unit, which is then circulated throughout tubes and piping laid under floorboards, baseboard heaters, or radiators.
How does hydronic heating work?
It’s proven that water holds heat better than air. But how does that help heat your home?
Hydronic heat uses hot water and a heat exchanger (most commonly a boiler) to circulate hot liquid or steam throughout pipes (also known as radiant heating loops), which are generally installed beneath your floors.
The boilers don’t actually boil the water—rather, the liquid is heated and distributed through the piping to baseboard heaters and/or the radiant flooring system.
Most commonly, people have a series of heaters throughout the house that are connected by pipes to a central boiler. Boilers can be powered by several fuel sources, from propane, fuel oil, and wood to heat pumps and water heaters, making them a versatile heating alternative for many homeowners.
Key takeaway Hydronic heaters use hot liquid to heat your home, eliminating drafts and heat loss associated with forced-air systems.
The pros of hydronic heating systems
Hydronic heating systems offer health and home advantages that make them an increasingly popular choice for homeowners.
Common forced-air systems heat and blow air through ventilation ducts, which can kick up a host of dust, allergens, and bacteria. Hydronic heating systems won’t disturb the air in your home, making them a cleaner choice (and better for people with allergies).
Because hydronic heating systems circulate heat through piping, you avoid heat loss associated with forced-air systems. In the long run, hydronic heating systems can save you up to 40% on your average heating bill.
Hydronic heating systems work without making much noise, especially compared to forced-air systems.
In addition to reducing energy waste and heat loss in your home, hydronic heating systems generally require less energy to operate than other heating methods.
Easier to control
With hydronic heating systems, you can install multiple thermostats throughout your home that help you control the temperature of different rooms.
There are generally fewer risks associated with hydronic heating systems since they don’t require electrical hook-ups or exposed flames to operate.
Hydronic heating can run on virtually any fuel source and piping can be laid behind walls or under floors, giving homeowners greater agency in customizing their own heating system. Hydronic heating can also open doors for snow-melt systems, greenhouse heating, and even heating swimming pools.
Cons of hydronic heating systems
Hydronic heating systems offer several advantages over more traditional heating methods, but they’re not ideal for everyone.
Unfortunately, hydronic heating systems only account for heating your house—not cooling it. You’ll need a separate A/C system for the summer months.
Takes longer to heat up
Hydronic heating systems are slower to warm up as the liquid takes time to circulate through the pipes. For this reason, it’s better to leave your hydronic heat on a consistent setting.
Occasional system maintenance (such as draining your expansion tank) is required with hydronic heating systems—and if unexpected problems arise, addressing them can be tricky since the piping isn’t easily accessible.
Because the tubes and piping for hydronic heating systems are typically ensconced under floors and in walls, the installation process can feel invasive and messy.
Vulnerable to freezing temperatures
If you experience a power outage in the winter months, the liquid in your hydronic heating system could freeze, potentially damaging components of the system.
Installing hydronic heat in your home
Depending on your home, hydronic heating systems can be installed in a couple of ways.
If you’re in the process of building a new home, hydronic heating systems can be installed right in the foundation, beneath a thin layer of concrete.
Alternatively, hydronic heating systems can be installed using hydronic radiators or baseboard heating. The piping for these systems is usually easily hideable in walls or floor joists.
Installation costs vary widely, depending on the type of installation required as well as the system itself.
Key takeaway Hydronic heating systems can be installed at virtually any point in your home’s lifespan, but retrofitting an older home with hydronic heat may wind up being cost-prohibitive.
Are heating systems covered by home insurance?
Generally speaking, homeowners insurance only covers the cost of a heating system under certain circumstances.
For example, your homeowners insurance may cover the costs to repair a damaged HVAC system, or help cover the installation costs of a new system if your previous system was compromised by a weather event or a fire.
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