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Cost Comparison

jim ack
jim ack Member Posts: 3
Which system would be more cost effective to operate in a home with a heat load of 58,700 - forced air heating and cooling, or hydronic heating and forced air cooling?

Is there a ballpark figure to use when considering the "payback period" of a hydronic installation versus forced air?


  • Uni R
    Uni R Member Posts: 663
    Comfort Comparison

    With the forced air heating and cooling where would you be placing the vents? Up high where cooler air is more comfortable during the AC season or down low where the air would make it more comfortable while heating?

    You'd definitely be more comfortable with warm toes in the winter from radiant and then keeping a cool head from high vents in your AC system in the summertime.

    Warmed air rises so start it low and chilled air drops so start it up high. Better to work with physics than against it.

    Payback would be very difficult to guess here. Is this new construction or a retrofit? If it is a retrofit, what is the current system? How well will it accommodate any new plumbing or ductwork? Will payback be calculated amortizing the assets or not? Will it include fuel savings? How do you even compare fuel costs if with a forced air system you need it 3° higher in the winter to get the same level of comfort and 5° cooler in the summer but your head still feels warm and your feet feel cold? Very tough to ballpark a comfort question on the basis of cost.
  • jim ack
    jim ack Member Posts: 3
    cost comparison

    This will be new construction - natural gas forced air vs natural gas hydronic; electric ac either way. Aren't there some standard guidelines/conventions/opinions on operation costs of one versus the other for an ignorant homeowner to start some decision making with?
  • Uni R
    Uni R Member Posts: 663
    Cost Comparison

    It's still really tough Jim. What is the layout of the house and where is it located are two big missings. If you are somewhere where you heat much more than you cool, and if you have an open design for your house you probably couldn't do better in terms of simplicity than a single zoned reverse return cast iron baseboard with TRVs where needed supplemented by a split ductless AC unit. That AC will not be able to cool anything down much behind any closed doors but a house without ducts will make it hard for the mold to stake any claims. Even this would likely cost twice as much as a forced air air system with an add on AC.

    Operational costs. Burner needs an annual inspection either way.

    - fuel usage efficiency hit 5-20% more maybe (i'm guessing)
    - need to buy blower filters
    - need to have ducts cleaned
    - can call blower motor replacement and circulator replacement costs a wash
    - if heat exchanger cracks you can die
    - more vaccuuming to offset dust
    - blower would typically use more electricty than pump

    HWG+Split Ductless
    - filter on AC is cleanable and reusable
    - savings on fuel
    - more to install (probably double), less cost per year
    - cast iron rads are zero maintenance
    - Plus the option of using an indirect water heater tank
    - uses high efficiency of boiler for DHW
    - another circulator to worry about
    - only one burner to maintain instead of two
    - lower operational cost (add $1-2K for the install)
    - only one flu instead of two

    I'll consider this to be s straw man post. Those more in the know can feel free to add on or add flame as required...
  • DIY Homeowner
    DIY Homeowner Member Posts: 48
    Cost of being uncomfortable

    Even if it will cost several thousand more dollars, separate heating and cooling systems are the way to go.

    Trying to both heat AND cool through the same duct work will result in a compromise of both efficiency and comfort.

    My in-laws have forced heat and central AC. In the winter, it is always too cold downstairs (where you want it warm), and too hot up stairs (where you want it cool). Same in the summer - too hot up (hard to sleep) and too cool down.

    When you are doing new construction, don't cut corners on your mechanicals. Two systems for comfort and efficiency.
  • Joe_13
    Joe_13 Member Posts: 201
    Bigest cost savings

    is to put hydronic in now with duct AC. You get the best heat and it costs you the least amount of money now then a retrofit later. A good boiler will normally out live a furnace. What's another 10K added to a morgage. Go for the best now or you'll regret it later.
  • Dale
    Dale Member Posts: 1,317
    Canadian govt. studies

    Findings from Canada show no difference with comparable effeciencies of furnace and boiler. While the boiler itself will probably last longer it costs more up front. Modern furnaces are over 94% effecient and have very low electric use DC or ECM type blower motors. So, decide how much the comfort is worth to you, if you're going to stay in the house awhile I would go with a boiler.
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468

    Forced air is cheap and hydronic is expensive to install. As much as some will tell you they can make hydronic heating as inexpensive as forced air, it can't happen. I seriously doubt there would ever be a monetary "payback" on a beautiful hydronic system. Oh, but the comfort! We are amazingly adaptable creatures. We tolerate the ridiculously uncomfortable, inefficient and just plain ugly mechanical systems we all see because we get used to them. But hey, it's cheaper than a boiler, right?

    If you have ever stood back and watched a Vitodens perform it's magic, this discussion would not ever come up.

    Elitistly yours ;-)


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  • steve_26
    steve_26 Member Posts: 82
    Hydroair high velocity

    check web site (The UnicoSystem.com).zone with equipment.You can put the outlets just about any place but not over your head.Tremendous heat ouput.and cooling.when sized properly and installed the same way,no hot or cold spots. 9yrs. not one complaint.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,832
    Jim, where are you located?

    The further North you go, the more you need a great heating system.

    When you build, do everything you can to make the house as energy-efficient as possible. Insulate, caulk, install the most efficient windows and doors you can get etc. This way, whatever heating system you decide on can be smaller and use less fuel.

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    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • jim ack
    jim ack Member Posts: 3

    catching up on a few responses... The house is at 6300 ft elevation, outside Salt Lake City, South facing. What is meant by retrofit later? Retro fit to....?
  • Joe_13
    Joe_13 Member Posts: 201

    Some people spend 10's of thousands extra converting from hot air to hydronics. I've never heard of anyone saying rip out that radiant floor system and give me drafty hot air heat! While the walls are stil open, you are looking at a hydronic upgrade at its lowest price point. You need heat and you need AC. Put the best infrastructure you can now while the cost is minimal.
  • Uni R
    Uni R Member Posts: 663
    Salt Lake City & South

    Passive solar options for you are good there aren't they???


This discussion has been closed.