In the latest cold snap happening around the country, temperatures have dropped 10-35 degrees below average. It makes you want to shiver just reading about it. Weeks like this make it easy to understand why home heating is a major expense, especially in cold climates.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, space heating is the largest home energy expense, accounting for 45 percent of monthly energy bills. The way you heat your home will have a major impact on how much you pay to stay warm. Choosing your home’s most cost effective heating system will depend on your budget, the availability of fuel types in your area, and your personal preferences. You’ll need to decide on the fuel that creates your heat (common choices are oil, natural gas, electricity, propane and even wood), and from there you’ll need to determine how you want the heat delivered throughout your home.
Two common choices are a forced air heating system and radiant heat — but do you know the key pros and cons of each one? Here is our cheat sheet on both to help you decide between underfloor heating or central air.
Forced Air: Pros and Cons
A forced air heating system simply refers to units that use air to carry warmth throughout a space. Homes with central heating and built-in duct work often use this system. The furnace is typically located in the center of the home or in the basement. Common forced heating models burn natural gas to produce a flame that heats the air, which is then distributed throughout the house. You can purchase electric furnaces as well.
- Only HVAC system that heats and cools
- Air filter improves air quality when replaced regularly
- Central forced air heating systems move air about the house to promote circulation
- Prone to air leakage, reducing efficiency
- Uneven air distribution can occur
- Blowing air stirs up allergens within home
- Noisy operation
But perhaps the most substantive downside to forced air heating systems is heat loss, as they are subject to parasitic heat loss. What is that? “Because the air from the furnace and air handler has to travel through a series of tubes to get to its intended room, there are many opportunities for it to leak wherever there are small openings in the ducts,” describes Michael Franco in “Which Is Better, Forced Air or Radiant Heat?,” an article on bobvila.com. “Also, the ducts for this type of system often travel through cold attics or basements, increasing the chance that heat will be lost as the warm air travels to the rooms in your home.”
Heat rises, leaving the basement and floors cold in the house. So if you need to have your basement warm for the weekend, or just your bedroom cozy at night, you need to run the furnace and heat the whole house. If your home does not have air ducts, you need to have them installed to use a forced air system or central heating system. Installing the components for a split system can also be costly and maintenance can be just as bad if you have to replace something like a condensing coil in any of your air conditioning units. And finally, transferring heat through the air isn't as energy efficient as other options.
Radiant Heating: Pros and Cons
Radiant floor heating warms a surface directly by relying on touch to transfer energy. The heat is produced by electricity, hot water or air that makes direct contact with the surface on which you choose to install your system. That heat is then transferred to people and objects in the room via infrared radiation. In most cases, these systems are installed beneath flooring (although there are a few other radiant options like baseboard heaters). Here's a video showing the installation of floor heating in an uncoupling membrane in a bathroom with tile as the floor covering.
- Adds supplemental heat to cooler rooms
- Does not distribute allergens into room
- Ideal for remodeling projects
- Quiet operation
- Energy Efficient
Radiant heat eliminates the inefficient heat loss created by rising heat, as warmth is not distributed through the air. These systems are allergy-friendly, while forced air pushes allergens throughout the house.
“In the radiant floor versus forced-air heating debate, radiant floor always wins because it provides a quiet, even heat and eliminates the allergy problems often associated with heating ducts,” Franco said in the Bob Vila article. “But there’s another reason why radiant floor heating is superior to its blowy cousin — it’s simply more efficient.”
In addition, you can adjust the heat level for individual rooms to the level that you want with a programmable thermostat. Not only does this allow you to have the ability to customize your comfort room-by-room, but it also translates into significant energy savings. After all, there's no need to heat the basement all day long if you are not using it.
- Can be expensive for whole-house heating
- Only provides heat – not air conditioning
Radiant heating is installed beneath the floor, making it harder to access for repairs or maintenance. However, electric floor heating requires almost no maintenance and with the troubleshooting tools and expertise available from WarmlyYours, the repair process isn't nearly as daunting as it once was.
Radiant Heat vs Forced Air Cost
A common concern is how do the systems compare when considering radiant heat vs forced air cost. Radiant heating is the more efficient system so operating costs will be lower and the material costs are very affordable. In addition, the installation cost is very cost effective, usually priced between $3.75 to $5.75 per sq. ft. depending on the size of the room. This is just an estimate and we suggest you contact your local trade professional for specific costs in your area.
This type of topic can be broken down in any number of ways like "floor heating vs central" or "baseboard heating vs forced air", but it all boils down to this: Although forced air heating systems are a common method for heating a home, continuing developments in radiant heat systems continue to make this a more popular option because they're typically more efficient and cost effective than forced air.
It’s hard to argue with an allergy-reducing, efficient, breezeless, quiet option for heating your home, improving your air quality, and protecting your pocketbook — at least we’d like to think so here at WarmlyYours Radiant Heating.
Are you curious about whether or not radiant floor heating can be the primary heat source in your room or project? Find out by using the free WarmlyYours Heat Loss Calculator tool. If you're curious about how much a floor warming system will cost to run in your area, use our Operating Cost Calculator.
Learn more about the types of radiant floor heating products like electric floor heating systems!
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