Hot Air Heating vs Hot Water Heating Systems

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hot Water Heating versus Hot Air Heating Systems

By Mark J. Donovan

I’ve owned homes with hot air heating systems and homes with hot water heating systems. Each type of home heating has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Hot Air Heating Advantages

Hot air heating systems can operate off of oil, natural gas, and propane and are ideal for a centralized home heating system. Hot air heating systems typically heat a room more quickly than a hot water heating system. Hot air can quickly be circulated throughout a room or home with a sufficiently sized blower. 

Unlike hot water heating systems, there are no risks of frozen pipes with hot air heating systems. Hot air heating systems utilize ductwork to transport the hot air, and if the installed ductwork is insulated, it can also support air conditioning.

Hot air heating systems can also be designed with multiple heating zones to provide better heating control within the home.

Hot Water Heating Advantages

Hot water heating systems can operate off of oil, natural gas, and propane as well and it is also ideal for a centralized home heating system

Hot water heating, versus hot air heating, offers its own unique advantages. Hot water heating systems use baseboard radiators or radiant panels to circulate hot water throughout the home. Though it takes longer to warm up a room or home with hot water heating systems, the temperature is a lot more measured and controlled. There are no warm or cold drafts as is the case with hot air heating systems.

Hot water heating systems require less space. There is no duct work to hang between floor joists or even worse below them, as is the case with hot air heating systems. In addition, the size of a hot water heating system is commonly smaller than a hot air system. Hot air heating systems require large plenums and fans to circulate the heat.

Hot water heating systems typically are better suited for people with allergies, as there is less dust blown around with hot water heating systems.

It is also typically easier to have multiple heating zones within a home when using hot water heating.

Simple zone valves, each controlled by their own thermostat ,can be installed near the hot water furnace to provide independent heating in different areas of the home.

Hot water heating systems can also provide potable hot water via tankless hot water heating systems that hang off the hot water heating system boiler.

Hot Air Heating Disadvantages

When comparing hot air heating versus hot water heating systems one also needs to consider the disadvantages of each.

There are a few disadvantages of hot air heating systems. First, they take up a lot of space. If you have plans to finish a basement that contains hot air heating ductwork, you may end up with some low headroom ceiling areas. Ductwork also needs to be sandwiched in between wall studs, and there needs to be heat output registers and return registers installed in floors and walls.

Hot air heating also can be drafty as warm and cool air are blown throughout the home. Hot air heating can also be dusty, as dust particles can be blown around the home. This can be of particular concern for people with airborne allergies.

Separate hot water heating needs to be included, which adds to the overall cost of providing hot air/water heating to the home.

Hot Air Heating System Furnace

Hot Water Heating Disadvantages

The major concern with hot water heating systems is the risk of burst or leaky pipes. Many homes have been severely damaged due to frozen pipes that burst.

Baseboard heating elements can consume a significant amount of floor wall space, making it sometimes difficult for positioning furniture within the home. Also, baseboard heating elements may be viewed by some as an eyesore.

Hot water heating systems take longer to heat up a room and home.

So before deciding upon which type of heating is right for your home, hot air heating versus hot water heating systems, carefully consider the pros and cons of each.

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