Home heating is a major expense, especially in cold climates.

In the latest cold snap happening around the country, temperatures have dropped 10-35 degrees below average for early January. 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 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 system and radiant heat — but do you know the key pros and cons of each one? Here is our cheat sheet on both.

Forced air heating systems are prone to heat loss.

Forced Air

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.

Pros: Central forced air heating systems move air about the house to promote circulation.

Cons: Heat loss is the major downside to forced air heat, as these systems 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. 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

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.

Pros: 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.”

Cons: Radiant heating is installed beneath the floor, making it harder to access for repairs or maintenance.

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 is 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 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 floor heating can be the primary heat source in your room or project? Find out by using the free WarmlyYours Heat Loss Calculator tool.