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Force air furnace, hydronic system w/forced air combo or complete hydronic system????

Ken1 Member Posts: 18
Hi Folks,

I currently have a forced air gas furnace heating system with a 26 year old furnace. This heats my first and second floors, but I have no duct work up to my third floor finished attic. I would also like to have the option to heat my basement which is unfinished, but I use. My basic question is if which of the three options I should go with for a new heating system in my house: 1) Simply replace the furnace; 2) Install a hydronic system, using an air handler to blow forced hot air through the existing ductwork and be able to bring baseboards to the third floor and later the basement; 3) install a complete hydronic system with baseboards on every floor.

Any input would be great!

For the longer story:

I'm a new home owner and want to do the best for me and my family. I live in the northeast (Boston), where it gets very cold (especially this winter) in a victorian house built in the late 1800s. I have a gas furnace with a forced air heating system in an approximately 2000 sq. foot home. My furnace is from 1985 and is running at 75% efficiency. I currently have no zones (or one zone), and vents on the first and second floors but not on our third floor finished attic. I have no insulation in my house, but will be having the basement sealed and getting blown in insulation in all the walls next month and will insulate the attic knee wall in the near future.

I am now looking into getting a high efficiency heating system and perhaps an on demand water heater. I have gotten two quotes with VERY different suggestions, and would love some help!

Quote one: install a lennox high efficiency (95%) furnace in place of my current furnace, and install an on-demand water heater. Use my current duct work, don't zone and call it a day. This is with a very reputable company that guarantees their work for the first year and then covers all parts and labor for $200 a year thereafter.

Quote two: is from an independent licensed plumber and hvac person. He has suggested that while I could simply replace the furnace and install and on demand water heater, he would suggest that I use hydronic heat and either install baseboards (more expensive, but best heating option), or install a air handler and use the hydronic system with my existing ducts for floors one and two, and run piping to the third floor for heat there. He said that he can also size out the system so that I could add baseboards to my basement, which is unfinished, but I use for a music studio and have plans to finish in the future. He said that this system will also heat the water for my house. Again, this is from an independent, small business man. As a result, he probably has less overhead and can probably give me a better price, but I guess there is some comfort in going with a big company.

Any thoughts on which heating system to go with?

Any thoughts on if it is better to go with the big company or the little (but professional) guy. Both are licensed and insured and we will be pulling permits either way. I will also be paying for this through a heat-loan program so proposals and technical details will have to be submitted either way in order to get the loan.

Thanks so much!!!


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,164
    Where angels fear to tread...

    I don't usually wander into this sort of discussion, since it depends on so many things which I am in no position to know.  The fact of the matter is that we all have preferences.  I'm not really keen on forced air heat, for instance, as a personal choice (get that out of the way up front!).  I think my personal choice on this one would probably be to go with the hydronic, using air handlers for the first and second floors (particularly if the ductwork can be split that way, giving you two zones) and installing baseboard in the attic and the basement, each on its own zone, of course.  Your air handlers, then, could have provision for air conditioning and humidification/dehumidification, if you so choose.

    However, if the draughts from the forced air are driving you bonkers -- as they would me -- then I would go with all hydronic and all baseboards.

    As you can see, my last choice would be straight forced air.  Not so much as I dislike it, but because it wouldn't answer for heating either the attic or the basement.  It doesn't do the whole job.

    As to which is better, the big company or the small independent business man... well, think of it this way: in either case, you are dealing with one or two folks who are doing the work, so there is no difference except for who answers the 'phone.  The heating system in the museum I superintend here is maintained by both -- emergency service and oil delivery is by a very large company, headquartered in Toronto.  Regular service and any repairs I can't handle myself are done by one really really good steam and oil burner man who lives reasonably nearby and is a one man shop.  I hire whoever I feel is going to give me the best job...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Ken1
    Ken1 Member Posts: 18
    Thanks Jamie!

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. It is very helpful!

    A historic museum in New England - sounds interesting! Where abouts - I'm in Boston.

This discussion has been closed.