Choosing Between Radiant Heat vs Forced Air Furnace Heating

Shipton's Heating and Cooling in Hamilton, Ontario, discusses the pros and cons of a forced air furnace vs. a radiant heating furnace.

The holidays are upon us and so is the start of the longest and coldest season of our Canadian year – winter!

This is not the moment you want to be facing a major heat outage. Yet it happens to the best of us, and you will get through it!

What you need when you need to make a heating upgrade or replacement in a hurry is accurate information. In this post, you will learn about the pros and cons of a radiant heat system versus a forced air furnace heating system.

Forced Air Furnace Versus Radiant Heat

The first step to making the most economical home heating decision is to understand your options.

In this post, we will look closely at two of the most popular home heating options: forced air (furnace) heat and radiant heat.

1. What is forced air furnace heat?

Forced air means air is preheated and then sent to where it is needed. Typically, this happens when a furnace is connected to a system of air ducts that route the heated air to different rooms inside your space.

There are many types of furnace systems you can choose, including standalone oil, natural gas and propane furnaces and heating and air conditioning combo units.

2. What is radiant heat?

Radiant heat could also be called infrared heat. A radiant heater doesn’t actually warm the air that surrounds you. Rather, it heats you directly via electromagnetic waves.

Typically this is accomplished through radiant heat panels placed in the floor, although other configurations can work as well.

Now that you have a basic working knowledge of the two different heating systems we are comparing, let’s get to it and find out the pros and cons of each system.

Pros and Cons of Forced Air Furnace Heating

Forced air HVAC systems are still the most common choice for most households and workplaces, especially given the variety of fuel options you have to choose from. 

But if you are starting from scratch and choosing a new heating system, you will see that forced air systems definitely have their drawbacks as well as their benefits.

Furnace Pros:

  • Economical to install if you already have air ducts in place.
  • Can handle both winter heating and summer cooling needs (with a combo heating and air conditioning unit).
  • Furnace filter improves indoor air quality to some degree.
  • Enhanced air circulation can also improve indoor air quality.
  • Forced air furnace heat gives you more fuel options to choose from.

Furnace Cons:

  • Expensive to install if the air duct system is not already in place.
  • Many people find forced air systems somewhat noisy as they cycle on and off.
  • Air ducts require their own ongoing maintenance to reduce air leakage.
  • Ducts can create unpleasant (and cold!) drafts depending on air register placement.
  • Forced air can dry and promote allergies if filters are not changed regularly.
  • Can’t control heat distribution to individual rooms.
  • Less efficient due to air leaks.
  • Tends to warm the top half of the room more than the bottom half which can mean you may still feel cold inside your space.

Pros and Cons of Radiant Heating

Like forced air furnace heating, radiant heating has its proponents and its detractors. And here again, if you already have the system in place – in this case, the radiant panels – it can make smart financial sense to replace radiant with radiant.

Radiant Heating Pros:

  • Whisper-quiet heating.
  • Efficient and even heating in every room.
  • No drafts to cause drying or allergies.
  • Ability to control heat distribution to individual rooms.
  • Excellent choice to even out heat delivery or add heat delivery for add-on spaces.
  • Some types of radiant heating can also provide hot water.

Radiant Heating Cons:

  • Does not provide cooling – only heating – so you will have to install an air conditioning system separately.
  • Difficult to access if panels need servicing.
  • Radiant heat offers fewer fuel options.
  • Covering radiant heat flooring with carpets decreases efficiency.
  • Installation can be both invasive and pricey for a brand-new whole-home system (this applies to all types – air, electric and hydronic systems).

Cost to Run Radiant Heat vs Forced Air Furnace Heat HVAC

This side-by-side comparison of pros and cons highlights some common denominators between radiant heat and furnace heat. Most notably, both types of heating systems are expensive to install if there is no pre-existing infrastructure (radiant panels vs indoor air ducts).

Here in Canada, current consumer data suggests that the typical Ontario homeowner spends up to 62% of their annual energy bill on just one thing: heating.

All other factors being equal, radiant heating is generally acknowledged to be the more energy efficient choice overall.

However, the most accurate way to identify whether forced air heating or radiant heating is the most economical choice for you is to consider all factors.

This includes calculating the size of the space to be heated and whether you will also need your new system to provide cooling and/or hot water.

Contact Burlington, Oakville & Hamilton HVAC Experts Shipton’s Heating and Cooling

Need a free quote for a new forced air furnace HVAC or radiant heating system?

Shipton’s is a family-owned company with nearly a century of expertise installing, repairing and maintaining all makes and models of HVAC equipment, including central furnace and AC, heat pumps, ductless mini-splits, fireplaces, radiant heat and more.

Give us a call at 1-905-549-4616 or visit us online for expert assistance with all your commercial and residential heating needs.

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