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Your opinion please: What do customers think about boilers? Would you recommend them to a friend.

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RayWohlfarth
RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
I was asked to give a speech next month on what engineers and building owners think of boilers and why I believe they are still a great option for heating a building. While doing research for the talk, It reinforced my enthusiasm for boilers.
My question is two fold; what do your customers think of boilers for heating? If a friend was erecting a building and asked you about using boilers for heat what would you say?
Thank you in advance.
Ray
Ray Wohlfarth
Boiler Lessons

Comments

  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
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    random thoughts:

    It's a harder sell on paper. If you have a boiler and you want air conditioning, you need multiple systems.

    Everyone who comes over to my house loves the radiant heat. It's easily the most comfortable and economic way to heat a home. Install costs are obviously higher.
    There is virtually no dust in my house during the heating season at all. Only have to dust when we're in AC mode.

    Unfortunately radiant cooling hasn't made much of a dent.

    Most builders, even on custom homes go cheap on HVAC. By cheap I mean cheap out on comfort. There are many forum posts about new construction and improper heat/ac.

    Most people who have boilers, add AC with an air-handler and duct work, and more recently the ugly (to me) mini split. I can only recall a few times people gutting their homes and getting rid of the boiler/radiators.

    So to respond to your last question, I'd have them come over and experience it. They probably already know what it's like with scortched hot air in the winter.

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,924
    edited December 2018
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    I'm not in the business, but after talking to multiple friends and family that either were, or are building homes I honestly have no idea how anyone sells anything other than forced air.

    My sister and her husband are building a house and they almost ended up with forced air, but she really hates it, so luckily they went with hot water.

    But 9 times out of 10 "it's too much money, I can't afford it". They would rather granite counter tops.......

    The sad part is, best I can tell, a properly engineered and installed forced air system is far from cheap and consumes an awful lot of space, though it will work fairly good. So, from my somewhat isolated perspective, it's like comparing a poorly installed forced air system vs a properly installed hot water system. Not really fair.


    @STEVEusaPA Why is your forced air system causing dust? Undersized returns causing outside air to be pulled in?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Jellis
    Jellis Member Posts: 228
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    Hi Ray, I have read many of your blogs on the Radiant and hydronics website and enjoy them very much!
    Personally I would put a boiler in my home or building simply due to the options for expansion i would have available with it!
    with a boiler you can heat your living space with baseboard, radiators, kick space heaters and more.
    Heat your domestic hot water.
    radiant heat for areas that cannot accept radiators or baseboard.
    snow melting! this is a big selling point here in the northeast! melting the snow and ice will ensure your employees/tenants or customers are safe when entering or leaving your building, avoiding potential lawsuits and freeing up employees from having to shovel/clear snow. plus reduces the need to use harmful melting agents that damage your flooring and potentially your walkway/drive ways.

    Complaints about other systems i have heard from customers include.
    Forced hot air
    dry conditions, many customers have to add humidifiers to the whole home or certain rooms for comfort.
    dust! the ducts get filled with dust and pet hair and are difficult to clean. causing dust to shoot out of the vents upon start up.
    zoning is obviously very difficult/impossible with forced hot air systems.
    fluctuation in temp, many customers of mine with hot air systems report cold spots in the house, i don't seem to get the same reports from homes with proper baseboard distribution.

    The mini splits everybody seems to love however i find elderly customers not enjoying them as much. They say "its just not as hot"! they enjoy sitting next to a piping hot radiator or baseboard, the heat pump output just doesn't cut it.
    typically they are used to sitting next to a wood stove or big old radiator.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,967
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    My ideal system is
    Infloor radient with HW coils and heat pumps. Give the homeowner the capability of Humidifying the home & low energy bills.

    But that costs $ that most homeowners dont have or want to spend it elsewhere.

    ChrisJ
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
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    ChrisJ said:


    @STEVEusaPA Why is your forced air system causing dust? Undersized returns causing outside air to be pulled in?

    I didn't mean to imply the AC creates dust. But moving air does. With radiant, no air moving in the house.

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

    CLambSolid_Fuel_Man
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
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    @STEVEusaPA Thats a great idea Thanks for the thoughts
    @ChrisJ If no one could afford comfort Yugo cars would still be sold LOL
    @Jellis Thanks for the comments I can include a pic from a flyer I get sent for duct cleaning companies Those ducts are alwasy the worst looking
    @pecmsg That would be my ideal system as well
    Thank you all Merry Christams to you
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,967
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    Same to to you sir!
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    Those are a couple of loaded questions. I am not in the HVAC business, so I can’t speak to “customers”, but I have daily experience with three heating systems and two AC systems. My home is forced air with central AC. My workshop is in-slab radiant with no AC. The church I attend and largely maintain is baseboard with Mitsubishi ductless mini splits for AC.

    I will offer mainly my own opinion, but it is shared by a number of others who attend my church and are familiar with my home.

    The least comfortable system is the fin-tube baseboard and mini split. The baseboard is slow to respond so setbacks are tricky. And everyone has cold feet in the winter as the floors are cold as the church is above unheated crawl space. And the mini splits cause noticeable drafts that bother the older folks in the summer. We run the church on the warm side in the summer as the complaints are many if we cool below about 76 degrees.

    My house is the most comfortable overall, but only because the basement is finished and heated so the only cool floors are in the basement, but they are moderated by being on ground temps and the floors are mostly carpeted which also masks the coolness. It has a very well designed forced air system that is not drafty during either heating or cooling seasons, the HRVs provide fresh air and the high efficiency filters control dust.

    The in-slab radiant is fantastic to work on and you simply can’t beat the physics of having a more uniform temperature distribution that floor heat provides. However, it is extremely slow to respond so setbacks are just not feasible and overshoots are common. Today, for example, it hit 55 in northern PA just a day after it was 14. My shop went to 62 well above the 58 setpoint as you simply can’t make the energy stored in a 5” concrete slab disappear in 12 hours time.

    So, I see every system having advantages and disadvantages and lots of mythology surrounding forced air systems that comes from playing 40 year old tapes. Things like “it dries the air”, “it makes dust”, it is noisy and drafty, etc., are simply not issues in a modern, well-designed forced air system. The main issue is the undersirable vertical temperature profile, but this can be mitigated as I propose below.

    The only regret I have in my home is that I didn’t put radiant heat in the basement slab. That was a major mistake. If I was building another new home today, it would look like this:

    A full basement with in-slab radiant heat. The house would have forced air, with HRVs (I am talking from a northern perspective here), central air, high efficiency filters and I would probably also add a central humidifier. If I didn’t have a basement, I would put radiant panels under the lowest level floor, and any uppper level bathroom floors, and then proceed as above. I would use the radiant just enough to maintain floor level comfort and keep a more uniform vertical temperature profile. I would use forced air for its fast response and good integration with the HRVs, air filters and humidity and central AC. This all assumes a well designed and properly installed forced air system with sufficient registers and returns, properly flow balanced and zoned. I think this would use the strengths of each technology to overcome the limitations of each alternate technology. It is, however, not an inexpensive solution.

    That’s my $0.02 and worth everything you paid for it. 🙂
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,959
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    I spent some time this evening at a customer's 9100 sq ft home, they invited me over for steak and dumplings. This is a full 9100 sq ft slab I designed and built. They're both in their 50's and this is both their second marriage, both have lived all over the US in the past. I had to ask, and they were quite literally beside themselves at how comfortable the place is. Had nothing but praise to sing. I myself used to work out of town a lot and rented a lot of rooms in other peoples' homes, ranging from 100 year old farmhouses to brand new specs, with a variety of heating systems. Personally built 4 new homes for myself and tried different things. There is no comparison to radiant heat IMO, whether high or low mass, I will never again build even a doghouse without it. Scorched air is for the birds
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
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    @Voyager Thank you very much Your opinion is worth twice as much. LOL I appreciate your take on the systems.
    @GroundUp Thank you very much I have forced air on my first floor and baseboard on my second floor (It was an addition) and the 2nd floor feels better in winter than the first.
    Something I also noticed is the hydronic portion feels warmer than the forced air part.
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • SuperJ
    SuperJ Member Posts: 609
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    I enjoy the steady glow of my radiators, run a tight odr and constant circ means that there is never any cold times inbetween run cycles. It also means my whole house can be microzoned, so that bathrooms are nice and toasty and my basement office is still snug and warm even after the rest of the houses doesn't need heat any more.
  • DZoro
    DZoro Member Posts: 1,048
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    Combination for my customers in WI. Most new homes around my area all have basements. Most customers want full use of the basement and radiant is the only way IMO, to provide quality control and comfort.
    What many don't realize is that it also provides nice even comfort on their main level. With the constant even heat coming throughout the basement, is also coming up to the main level. (provided non insulated subfloor). What I find is the 5* temp difference. When the main floor forced air is off, and basement is set at 70* the main floor will always be 65*. Therefore the main level forced air furnace (or any type of heat) only has to make up 5*.
    Point is there is more constant comfortable heat on main level even though it's supplied by F/A.
    We like our A/C so most go with forced air anyway.
    Also like the 2 heat sources, nice to have back up, especially for the snow birds ;)
    D
    Voyager
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    DZoro said:

    Combination for my customers in WI. Most new homes around my area all have basements. Most customers want full use of the basement and radiant is the only way IMO, to provide quality control and comfort.
    What many don't realize is that it also provides nice even comfort on their main level. With the constant even heat coming throughout the basement, is also coming up to the main level. (provided non insulated subfloor). What I find is the 5* temp difference. When the main floor forced air is off, and basement is set at 70* the main floor will always be 65*. Therefore the main level forced air furnace (or any type of heat) only has to make up 5*.
    Point is there is more constant comfortable heat on main level even though it's supplied by F/A.
    We like our A/C so most go with forced air anyway.
    Also like the 2 heat sources, nice to have back up, especially for the snow birds ;)
    D

    Yes, that is almost exactly what I was describing. If you start at the basement and keep it warm, the rest of the house gets much easier.
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    GroundUp said:

    I spent some time this evening at a customer's 9100 sq ft home, they invited me over for steak and dumplings. This is a full 9100 sq ft slab I designed and built. They're both in their 50's and this is both their second marriage, both have lived all over the US in the past. I had to ask, and they were quite literally beside themselves at how comfortable the place is. Had nothing but praise to sing. I myself used to work out of town a lot and rented a lot of rooms in other peoples' homes, ranging from 100 year old farmhouses to brand new specs, with a variety of heating systems. Personally built 4 new homes for myself and tried different things. There is no comparison to radiant heat IMO, whether high or low mass, I will never again build even a doghouse without it. Scorched air is for the birds


    If your air is getting scorched, then you have a seriously defective furnace. LOL.
  • mikeg2015
    mikeg2015 Member Posts: 1,194
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    Cost more, but equipment and components last a LOT longer. Comfort and precision is higher. Easier ot zone.

    Ultimately it was only replace by forced air because 1) FA is cheaper 2) requires little design and less skill to install 3) is faster to install on new construction. 4) even a poor installation still work OK and most customers dont know the difference

    Radiant heat is far superior. I can adjust temperatures in each zone simply by adjusting a radiator vent. Could easily be zoned with battery powered TRV’s if there were more on the market.

    One of the greatest benefits to high mass hot water systems is all the storage. About 500BTU/gallon per degree F.
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    mikeg2015 said:

    Cost more, but equipment and components last a LOT longer. Comfort and precision is higher. Easier ot zone.

    Ultimately it was only replace by forced air because 1) FA is cheaper 2) requires little design and less skill to install 3) is faster to install on new construction. 4) even a poor installation still work OK and most customers dont know the difference

    Radiant heat is far superior. I can adjust temperatures in each zone simply by adjusting a radiator vent. Could easily be zoned with battery powered TRV’s if there were more on the market.

    One of the greatest benefits to high mass hot water systems is all the storage. About 500BTU/gallon per degree F.

    In my opinion, this is the main reason that FA systems have such a bad rap. I consider it much harder to properly design and install a forced air system. Hydronic is simple by comparison, from a design and installation perspective. Hydronic is more complicated from a maintenance perspective in dealing with water quality, potential freeze-ups during winter failures, etc. FA is much simpler to maintain.

    A properly designed FA system isn’t any cheaper than hydronic, not if you use motorized dampers for zoning, a properly designed bypass duct, properly designed registers and returns to balance and control air flow to minimize noise and drafts, properly ducted HRVs, etc. If most hydronic systems were designed like most FA systems, they would have a single zone, radiators that were too few and too small and connected in series and thus required water that is too hot and 15 ft/s flow rates to get the heat output required at the distant radiators. You probably would have noise due to flow velocity being way too high, etc. Poor design will make any system suck and FA suffers from poor design far more frequently than does hydronics.

    I understand this forum is hydronic focused and that is one of the reasons I came here was to educate myself before installing my workshop in-slab system, but many of the comments about forced air are almost entirely from ignorance of what a modern, properly designed and installed FA system looks like. And that is understandable as you don’t need to spend much time learning about forced air when you are a hydronics professional. And the hydronics folks here know their stuff, but I think I can safely say that many here haven’t experienced a properly designed FA system. I think it is safe to say that 9 out of 10 FA systems are poorly designed and/or poorly installed. I think the hydronics world enjoys a much higher rate of systems that are well-designed and competently installed.
    GroundUpChrisJ
  • ChaseNP
    ChaseNP Member Posts: 2
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    I only sell oil boilers when I absolutely have to.
    It's a great option when you have a large heat load and or need to satisy a high domestic hot water demand. when you pair it with an indirect water heater boiler systems are hard to beat.
    Boilers generally have a lot less moving parts to break compared to condensing boilers and water heaters. Manufacturer Warranties are usually longer and servicemen are easier to find.
    Zoning hydronic baseboard or runtal systems is also a cost effective way to heat a home.
    Boiler efficiency has also greatly improved over the years. The design of the boiler saves you money on top of its controls, the 3 pass flueway design allows the boiler casting to scavenge almost all the heat it produces(borderline condensing). Most 3 pass systems have their own weather responsive controls to save you even more without sacrificing comfort.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,924
    edited December 2018
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    @Voyager That's kind of what I said.

    Almost all forced air systems are designed and installed terribly.

    So the pricing we see is typically comparing a poorly executed forced air system to usually a very well executed hot water system.

    I've been in quite a few houses with forced air and mine (air conditioning only) is the only one that doesn't have any change in performance or pressure if the bedroom doors are open or closed.



    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    Voyager
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
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    @SuperJ Thanks Good point
    @DZoro Good point
    @Voyager Depends what your version of scorched is I guess
    @mikeg2015 you are correct You can have every room a different temperature
    @ChaseNP Thank you for the input
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,333
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    Multi unit residential usually has a boiler or boilers. Eventually the owner will be angry with his boiler.

    The old BIG sectional CI may last forever but when the owner hears how inefficient....

    Steel firetube boilers eventually need to be retubed. One or twice and then sheet too far gone to roll in new tubes. Welding can only be done once. Then owner hears that he has to pay the scrap guy to cut up and remove. Unhappy and angry.

    Those steel watertube boilers really upset owner when tubes plug up. Contrary to sales talk it's difficult to replace those plug in tubes.

    In the seventies there was a fashion to replace boilers with "trains" of cheapo boilers. Owners like stuff that is relatively inexpensive to replace. But even small house boilers are not that inexpensive anymore.




    EzzyT
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    @Voyager Depends what your version of scorched is I guess

    What is your definition?
  • Henry
    Henry Member Posts: 998
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    Here any condo or the rare apartment block over 10 units, uses tempered water heat pump technology. Each apartment has a heat pump. Hot water is normally by a central boiler and in cheaper units electric tanks.
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,601
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    I grew up with both steam and forced air. I currently have both steam and forced air (we wanted AC) and depending on outside air temp, both are good. But, I was invited into a house in Quebec while under construction ,no sheetrock yet, ,but heated, with floor radiant heat. I could see the PEX tubing laid out on the floor. it was -20 outside, with deep snow outside , and a very comfy 72 inside. If I had a choice, radiant floor heating.
    Voyager
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
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    @jumper Interesting take. Apartment owners are sometimes cheap.
    @Voyager I make a living fixing messed up forced air systems. I have heard any forced air system called scorched air as kind of tongue in cheek
    @Henry We had many water source heat pump systems installed here in the 80's That seems like a way of having simultaneous heating and cooling
    @SlamDunk I am going to install staple up radiant heat in my house this summer. I love radiant heat.
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,646
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    Nah! Throw some RTU's up there, you get it all!
    * low efficiency (non condensing)
    * heatloss from 2" of fiber glass inside the sheetmetal
    *ducts blowing down on your head from above
    * fresh air dampers that stuck up snow in the winter
    * big ol metal boxes and potential leak points on the roof
    * and the best one for us (which work on them) having to go up on the roof and either shovel snow or sweat to death to get them going again!

    My vote is for a boiler in a nice well lit dedicated room with a wash sink, floor drain, and access from outside, all on ground level of course. That's the absolute best IMO. Radiant is just the icing on the cake for the customer.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
    DZoroGroundUpVoyager
  • scrantch
    scrantch Member Posts: 38
    edited December 2018
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    My dad's home is slab on grade with forced air built in the 60s. There are returns in every room, so a lot of ducting in the slab which keeps the floor warm. A neighbor's new home just has one large grate to return the cold air which is noisy also. Dad always brags that his floor is just as warm as my radiant set up. I always thought using wood stoves messes up comfort in radiant set ups when not enough zones are used. The wood stove keeps the boiler from coming on, so parts of the home get cold. Spoiled Americans!!!
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    @Voyager I make a living fixing messed up forced air systems. I have heard any forced air system called scorched air as kind of tongue in cheek.

    OK, I was just curious as to your take. I have actually heard a number of people claim that forced air is bad because the gas flame “scorches” the air and burns all of the moisture out making forced air systems very dry compared to hydronic. It is amazing how many people don’t understand how heat exchangers work.

    Then there are the claims that forced air systems “create dust” unlike hydronic systems. I have to chuckle when I hear some people, who have no understanding of heating or even basic physics, compare heating technologies.

    I suspect you make a good living. I think at least 95% of forced air systems are poorly designed and/or poorly installed so you should never want for work.
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    scrantch said:

    My dad's home is slab on grade with forced air built in the 60s. There are returns in every room, so a lot of ducting in the slab which keeps the floor warm. A neighbor's new home just has one large grate to return the cold air which is noisy also. Dad always brags that his floor is just as warm as my radiant set up. I always thought using wood stoves messes up comfort in radiant set ups when not enough zones are used. The wood stove keeps the boiler from coming on, so parts of the home get cold. Spoiled Americans!!!


    That is interesting. I have ducts under my basement slab also, but not nearly enough to warm the floor appreciably. And, unfortunately, the first HVAC company I hired was incompetent and I had to fire them as they were not getting work done at a pace that allowed the rest of the subs to keep on their schedules. The designer from the second company, which was very competent, took one look at my basement and said, “Well, you have almost half as many registers as you should have had.” At that point, the slab was done so no easy fix. The basement stays about 5 degrees colder than the first floor as there just isn’t enough airflow. However, the pellet stove I added easily makes up the different.

    Knowing what I know now, I would have put pex in the slab. I do not recommend to any of my friends that they omit that to save a few bucks. They can buy the rest of the system later, but at least get the pex in the concrete as the marginal cost of that isn’t all that great and the long-term benefit is huge.
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,646
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    Yes, I would never sell equipment as "not drying out the air". It is just plain physics, warmer air can hold more moisture, but in a forced air situation all the moisture which goes into the return comes out in the supply. Water (humidity) does not go anywhere, same logic as a wood stove drys out a house.

    What drys out a space is infiltration. Think about a building with a 100% tight envelope with true vapor barriers (not retarders) any and all moisture/humidity given off by people, cooking, showering, drying clothes inside can go nowhere. If you heat up that space with whatever you want and the relative humidity may drop because the space is warmer, but there is still the same about of moisture in the space, and it must be exhausted.

    One could make the arguement for one pipe steam that it releases moisture into the air at the same rate that you add makeup water to the boiler. That's the only exception. As long as the byproducts of combustion are vented to the outside and the combustion air also comes from outside (sealed combustion) then the means for heating an area has no bearing on the indoor humidity.

    As for air movement from forced air, well it doesn't make dust, it redistributes it! I like my dust on the floor thank you!
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,924
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    > @Solid_Fuel_Man said:
    >
    > As for air movement from forced air, well it doesn't make dust, it redistributes it! I like my dust on the floor thank you!


    How does it do that?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,646
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    By blowing it around. With radiant heat the lack of air movement is not moving the dust that has settled on the floor to the Christmas decorations which are on the shelves.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    By blowing it around. With radiant heat the lack of air movement is not moving the dust that has settled on the floor to the Christmas decorations which are on the shelves.

    Yes, that is the issue, but it is greatly exacerbated by improperly designed systems. The airflow out of the registers at my last home (a cheaply built home with a primitive and poorly designed FA system) was almost like that at the exhaust of a jet engine. OK, slight exaggeration there, but the airflow was robust.

    My current home, with a pretty well-designed system, has only gentle airflow coming out each register. Every room has at least one air return and the flows are quite well balanced so that doors don’t slam shut when the furnace comes on as in my last home. The dust issue is scarcely worse than a baseboard system as the airflow is just not that great. And the electronic filters capture much of the dust.
    ChrisJ
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,555
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    @Voyager The majority of commercial buildings here use packaged rooftop units as much as I would prefer boilers. My best investment has been an air capture hood. I usually see 30-50% of the air lost through duct leaks. If a hydronic system leaked that much, the owner would be screaming.
    Thank you all I learn something new everytime I come on the site
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
    Solid_Fuel_ManErin Holohan Haskell