person walking barefoot on hydronic heating installed in home

Are you considering hydronic heating for your home? Hydronic heating is an unfamiliar, often misunderstood central heating option. Hydronic heating is one alternative to forced-air heating systems, such as furnaces that utilize ductwork. Hydronic heating is a form of radiant heating; heat radiates from the heat exchangers to warm everything in the home.

Hydronic heating systems heat and circulate a hot liquid, typically water, through pipes to the heat exchangers, which distribute the heat. Radiant flooring, hot water baseboard heaters, and radiators are three types of hydronic heating systems. Hydronic heating is not a new concept, but because it’s a unique heating system, many misconceptions exist.

Myth #1 - Hydronic heating is a trend.

Radiant heating has been around for thousands of years. According to Robert Bean, a registered engineering technologist, the ancient Romans burned fires to warm air inside chambers beneath floors and behind walls. A Civil War field hospital included radiant floor heating, and the 1950s community of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was noted for its radiant systems.

Hydronic heating is a form of radiant heating. Although hydronic heating standards and radiant flooring systems are relatively new, hydronic heating is not a trend. Steam radiators, for example, have been around for decades.




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Myth #2 - Everyone knows heat rises.

Heat does not rise; hot air rises. Heat is a form of energy, and energy radiates in all directions. Whether radiant heating is installed in floors, walls, or ceilings makes no difference. The heat radiates out in every direction, warming floors, walls, furniture, people, and the air. The heated air rises, but the heat coming from the system does not.

On the other hand, the heated air from forced-air systems does rise. The furnace’s heat is transferred to air inside the furnace and blown through the vents. Hot air is more buoyant than cold air, so it rises toward the ceiling. Cold air sinks toward the floor.

hydronic heating illustration vs furnace heating

Myth #3 - It takes a long time to heat.

Hydronic heating systems generally take longer to heat homes than forced-air systems, but the heat transference from the system is instantaneous. The amount of time it takes to heat a house is determined by the system’s type, the room sizes, and in the case of radiant flooring, the floors’ construction. It could take as little as 15 minutes to heat a house with a hydronic system. Radiators heat homes quickly, while radiant flooring heats homes slowly.

Myth #4 - It only heats the floor, not the home.

Hydronic heating systems, including radiant flooring, are designed to heat the house as the primary heating system. Supplemental systems for heating bathroom floors or cold areas of homes exist, but these systems are typically electric and installed in addition to a primary system, such as forced air.

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Myth #5 - It can damage floors.

Hydronic heating does not damage flooring, including hardwood flooring. Hardwood floors are prone to damage from moisture, not temperature. The fluid in a hydronic system exists in a sealed system and does not come in contact with floors.

Myth #6 - Not all types of flooring can be used with hydronic heating.

In the past, radiant flooring was only installed under concrete, tile, or stone, never wood or carpet. Today, radiant flooring can be installed under virtually any surface. Although each surface has a difference in thickness and insulation capacity, heat can radiate through the surface.

hydronic heating installed under wood flooring

Myth #7 - They are too expensive.

The cost of installing a hydronic system varies. Although hydronic heating can be more expensive to install than other heating systems, the cost primarily depends on the type of system and whether it’s installed in a home under construction or an existing home, which would require walls and floors to be torn up.

According to InterCounty Supply, hydronic baseboard heaters are affordable, costing $5,000 to $10,000. Radiant floor systems are expensive and can cost $20,000 to $40,000.

Myth #8 - It is only suited for kitchens and bathrooms.

Hydronic heating components can be installed in every room of the house as the primary home heating system, including radiant flooring, which can be installed under flooring type. Some homeowners only install radiant flooring in their bathrooms, but these are supplemental electric systems installed for comfort rather than space heating.

Myth #9 - Hydronic heat does not offer precision control.

Hydronic heating offers more control over temperatures than forced-air heating. A single thermostat in a living area controls most forced-air systems. One central thermostat leads to temperature differences across the house’s rooms. Living areas tend to be warmer. Bedrooms and rooms with many windows or exterior doors tend to be colder.

Hydronic systems can control temperatures in every room of the house with separate thermostats. Individual rooms can be kept warmer or cooler according to the occupants’ preferences.

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Myth #10 - Hydronic heating is all about energy efficiency.

Hydronic heating systems are generally more efficient than other types of heating systems, but there is more to love about them. Greater efficiency results in lower energy bills, but the heat might be the best thing about a hydronic system. The heat radiating from the system warms everything and everyone in its path and creates even temperatures throughout the house, from floor to ceiling.


Although hydronic heating is a less common heating system, it is an option to consider for your home. Hydronic heating is the latest incarnation of centuries-old radiant heating, but it's gaining in popularity for good reasons.

Hydronic heating is often touted for its energy efficiency, but benefits like lower energy bills, even temperatures, precision temperature control, and warm floors are enticing. Refrain from being deterred by falsehoods that it can only be used in certain rooms and with specific flooring. Hydronic heating is a whole-house heating option.

Hydronic heating systems heat homes slower than forced-air systems and are generally more expensive to install, but don’t discount hydronic heating until you have researched and weighed the pros and cons.


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