Forced-Air or Radiant Heat: Which Is Best?

Central Air Vs. Forced Air

When the time comes to install a new heating system, you have a few options. You can go with a forced-air system, a radiant system, electric baseboard heat, and a number of other options. You can even opt to have just a heat pump if you live in a mild climate. Here are some reasons you might choose forced-air over a radiant system or vice versa.

Forced Air

Forced-air systems are used in the majority of homes in the United States. They work by heating air in a central location and then forcing it through ducts to various regions of the home. Heat can be supplied by natural gas, heating oil, electricity, or even wood. The benefits of such a system are that they can easily be zoned to give individual temperature control over a variety of rooms, provide ducting that can be used for air conditioning as well as heating, and allow for quick changes in temperature to suit individual needs (e.g. you could install a “smart” thermostat that changes temperature based on the time of day or the day of the week). These systems also tend to be the cheapest.

The biggest drawback of forced air is that it tends to dry out the interior of your home. While humidity control can be installed to eliminate this problem, it adds to the cost and complexity of the system. Other drawbacks include the circulation of dust and allergens throughout the home and the fact that ducts take up space and need to be cleaned periodically.

Radiant Heat

Radiant heat can be provided by either hot water or electric resistance. Hot water systems are the most efficient, with the potential to save you 30% on heating costs over forced air systems and substantially more than that compared to electric radiant or electric baseboard heat. Radiant heat of any kind tends to provide the most uniform heat, doesn’t circulate allergens through the air, and doesn’t dry the air in your home. Radiant heat was traditionally provided through bulky radiators. Today, either small radiators can be installed or radiant heat can be circulated under floors and through walls or ceilings to free up floor space.

The drawbacks to radiant heat that relies on water are that it is more complicated to install and that you can’t quickly adjust temperatures. In general, you set the temperature you want and then forget about it. Electric systems have neither of these problems, but are expensive to install and so are often only used in bathrooms and other areas that are heated for limited periods of time and where quick heat is required.

Which Is Right?

Which system is right for you will come down to your particular preferences. If you want air conditioning and don’t want to go with ductless systems, then a forced-air system is probably the best solution. If you want even, constant heat and more floor space, then a radiant system is probably right. Visit a few places that have each system and spend a little time experiencing them to really determine what suits you best.

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