With the onset of winter, many Americans find themselves turning up their heating systems to stay cozy. Unfortunately, this may not actually be helping, and may actually be hindering, our efforts to stay comfortable through the season. Many of the ails that make us so uncomfortable in the winter months, things like cold feet, dry, cracked skin, and irritated sinuses, are actually our own fault. Most homes in the United States rely on forced air heating systems to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature, and these heating systems can actually exacerbate many of the discomforts we associate with wintertime.
Forced air heating systems work by heating air with a furnace and pumping it through a duct system where it comes out of vents and filters through the house. Unfortunately, these heating systems also dry out the air that they circulate, which causes mucus membranes like our sinuses to be dry and irritated and can chap our lips and hands. They have also proven to be very inefficient at maintaining a constant ambient temperature in a room, because they rely on heated gasses, which as we all learned in elementary school, tend to rise. This means that, while the air around face level might be a comfortable 70 degree Fahrenheit, the air down at the floor may be as cold as 50 degrees, and as high as 100 degrees near the ceiling. This leads to cold feet and a lot of wasted energy.
For those homeowners who are looking for a more comfortable, efficient and cost effective way to heat their homes, there is an answer: hydronic heating. Hydronic heating systems use pipes of heated water that run beneath the floors of a home radiate heat upwards from the floorboards. This has a number of advantages over forced air heating systems and even other alternative heating systems such as geothermal or solar heating.
1. Consistent Ambient Temperature - As mentioned above, forced air systems tend to cause warm air to pool at the ceiling, leaving cold air around your feet. Hydronic heating systems circumvent this problem, although it may not be apparent at first glance. Logic tells us that heat rises, so any heating system would have a similar problem.
That is not the case with hydronic heating. Rather than using convective heating like forced air or baseboard heaters, hydronic heaters use radiant heating, warming the floorboards and the walls, which then radiate heat, the same way the Sun warms the Earth. That means comfortable temperatures near the surface without wasting energy.
2. Energy Efficiency - Hydronic heating systems have two important properties that make them more efficient than standard forced air systems. First of all, by using radiant heating, hydronic heating systems waste no energy heating the volume of a room that does not get used, namely those few feet between your head and your ceiling. Secondly, since there is no ductwork involved, no heat is lost in the transfer between the furnace and the rooms you are trying to heat. When hot air is passed through a duct, as much as 30% of the energy is lost before it reaches its destination.
3. Relative Expense - Geothermal and solar heating systems have received a lot of press as of late. While they are indeed "green" technologies, they also represent a massive upfront investment from the homeowner. Hydronic heating systems can be installed for a fraction of the cost of either of these systems, while still consuming less fossil fuels than a standard forced air heating system.
If you are looking for a luxurious, consistent heating alternative for a fairly affordable price, a hydronic heating system may be right for you.