What Is Hydronic Heating And How Does It Work?
Increasing in popularity for installation in Australian residential and commercial settings alike, hydronic heating and cooling systems offer a wide range of benefits, including high thermal comfort levels with lower running costs; reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased sustainability against global warming through re-use of waste heat; lower noise levels than air conditioners, and the ability to install in new or existing homes with little disruption.
We’ve rounded up the basics, along with the most frequently asked questions about hydronic heating, to give you a thorough overview of this sustainable and energy efficient approach to climate control.
This article provides an overview of:
- When was hydronic heating invented?
- What is hydronic heating?
- How does hydronic heating work?
- What are the components in a hydronic heating system?
As well as this, we’ve covered the following Frequently Asked Questions:
- Is hydronic heating safe?
- Is hydronic heating healthy?
- Is hydronic heating expensive to run?
- What are the benefits of hydronic heating?
- Is hydronic heating better than ducted?
- Is hydronic heating more efficient?
- Can hydronic heating be retrofitted?
- Can hydronic heating be used to cool?
- Can hydronic heating run on electricity?
- Can you paint hydronic heating panels?
- Is hydronic heating good for the environment?
- Types of hydronic heating systems
- Can you install hydronic heating yourself?
When Was Hydronic Heating Invented?
While you may not have encountered hydronic heating before, it is by no means a ‘new thing’.
There are many examples of hot water being used for heating throughout the ages. One of the earliest known recorded uses was way back at the end of the 14th century where a monastery in Greenland was using hot spring water to heat the buildings.
The first known record of underfloor heating was in ancient Rome using a radiant heating system called ‘hypocaust’ – ahead of their time!
Hydronic heating and cooling has come a long way since then, with many product and installation options for residential and commercial climate control solutions.
What Is Hydronic Heating?
Hydronic heating uses hot water to heat your home and is one of the most efficient and versatile forms of heating. Also referred to as radiant heating, a hydronic heating system circulates heated water through sealed pipes to underfloor heating systems, trench convectors, panel radiators, or heated towel rails.
Thermostats may also be used to direct certain temperatures to different heating zones within the home and may be programmed to switch on and off at certain times of the day. Hydronic heating is believed to be one of the most comfortable forms of heating because it heats objects in the room, rather than the air. This results in an even and consistent distribution of non-drying heat, with no cold spots or fluctuations in temperature.
How Does Hydronic Heating Work?
Hydronic heating works by circulating heated water throughout the home via a sealed pipe network. The heat in the pipes then radiates into the room through wall-mounted radiators, convectors, or underfloor heating systems.
Unlike other heating systems that use fans or vents to blow warm air around the room, hydronic heating heats objects through radiation, which results in an even distribution of comfortable heat.
How Is The Heat ‘Transferred’?
Water is an excellent conductor of heat, which is why hydronic heating is so efficient. In a hydronic system, heat is transferred into the room via thermal radiation.
Thermal radiation is the transfer of heat through the air in the form of electromagnetic radiation waves. In hydronic heating, heat emitters such as wall-mounted radiators, underfloor coils and heated towel rails emit radiant heat to warm the room. Because radiant heat is absorbed by objects, it cannot be blown away or moved.
Similarly, in trench convectors, a special panel installed inside the trench is heated by the system’s hot water. As cold air from the room falls into the trench, it is heated by the panel and rises back into the room through the trench’s grilles. As with the other hydronic heat emitters, no hot air is blown out – it is simply the hot air rising from the heated panel.
How Is The Water Heated In A Hydronic Heating System?
The entire system is powered by a boiler or a heat pump. Boilers heat water that is then piped through a closed loop system throughout the home. Different boilers will have different running and installation costs, depending on the fuel they require and their level of efficiency. The boiler you choose for your new system will depend on a number of factors, including whether your home has access to natural gas, the layout of your home, and your budget.
What Are The Components Of A Hydronic Heating System?
A hydronic heating system generally consists of five components:
- The boiler, which heats water to a thermostatically controlled temperature. Boilers can use a range of fuels, including natural gas, LPG, off-peak electricity, diesel, or wood pellets.
- The piping, which is usually made of copper or plastic, or a multilayered composite. The piping carries the heated water from the boiler to the radiators, convectors or underfloor heating coils, and back again for reheating.
- A pump, which circulates the water through the piping.
- Radiators, convectors or the underfloor heating system, which transfer the heat into the room. Several types of radiators and convectors are available. The types you install will depend on the layout of your home and your budget.
- A programmable wall thermostat, which controls the heat levels or room temperature to optimise comfort throughout the house. Thermostats can also provide zone control, meaning you can heat just the rooms you’re using and can set different temperatures across different zones.
Is Hydronic Heating Safe?
With servicing of your hydronic system as per manufacturer’s guidelines, hydronic heating is one of the safest options for climate control for your home.
The water in hydronic heating systems is always well below boiling point and surface areas on radiators and towel rails will not burn or scald little hands.
If you opt for underfloor heating or trench hydronic heating systems, the surface temperature is comfortable and controlled by thermostats. Like ducted heating, there are no electrical connections, which further reduces any safety concern.
Is Hydronic Heating Healthy?
Absolutely. The biggest health benefit of hydronic heating is that it doesn’t rely on fans, vents or ducts to transport warmth throughout your home, unlike ducted heating and cooling systems, blow heaters and air conditioning units.
Dust mites, pollens, pet and people dander, fungal spores and other airborne pollutants can spur the growth of mould, which is a serious trigger for asthma sufferers. Approximately 2.7 million Australians have asthma across all age groups and there are just as many who experience seasonal allergies.
Ducted systems can filter the air to a degree, but ultimately because it is using fan forced air to warm your home, there will be airborne dust particles, pollens and other pollutants circulating. Dust also builds up inside air ducts and can be costly to properly clean, unlike with hydronic systems where you simply wipe over the unit with a damp cloth.
Dirty air ducts and vents can result in people getting headaches, respiratory issues, asthma or allergies worsening, general lethargy and skin rashes including eczema and sinus issues.
Another potential health risk with ducted heating systems is carbon monoxide poisoning. When ducted systems are not serviced regularly or are faulty or damaged in any way, there is the possibility of large volumes of carbon monoxide being produced and leaking into the home, which is not good news. The best thing to do is ensure you have it serviced regularly (as advised by the manufacturer).
Is Hydronic Heating Expensive To Run?
A hydronic heating system can be 35 percent more cost effective to run in comparison to ducted systems.
While the initial installation cost for a hydronic system may be a higher investment than a ducted system, the ongoing running costs for hydronic are lower and a big reason it is chosen over ducted systems. In either case, it pays to have quality insulation throughout your home.
There are a number of factors to take into account when costing the installation of a hydronic system, including:
- Size of your home
- Which hydronic heating products you want to use
- If you are wanting underfloor heating, what kind of flooring (in existing homes)
- If it’s a new build, extension or retrofit
The best option is to get a free consultation and quote from experienced industry professionals.
What Are The Benefits Of Hydronic Heating?
Compared to other home heating and cooling systems on the market, hydronic heating wins points on the following over competitors.
- Healthier – no fans blowing air borne pollutants around the home
- Safer – zero fire risk
- Lower running costs – 35% cheaper to run than ducted systems
- Better for the environment – lowest greenhouse emissions of any home heating
- Quieter – no motor for fan blowing, you won’t hear a peep.
Is Hydronic Heating Better Than Ducted?
This question is a matter of ongoing debate for some, but realistically there are benefits to both home heating systems. While initially a bigger investment to purchase and install, ultimately hydronic heating comes out on top for health and safety, running costs and ongoing expenses.
Is Hydronic Heating More Efficient?
Hydronic heating can have ‘thermal efficiency’ of up to 90%, compared to forced air options, which can be below 50%.
Extra energy efficiency heating points are scored by using a condensing boiler, which extracts heat that would generally escape via water vapour. The heat is recycled to pre-heat the water before it makes its journey back to the boiler.
Can Hydronic Heating Be Retrofitted?
Yes. There might be different installation techniques employed, particularly for underfloor heating, which can be installed on top of the existing floor, but ultimately all hydronic heating and cooling systems can be retrofitted with minimal fuss.
Can Hydronic Heating Be Used To Cool?
Most commonly associated with heating, hydronic systems can also provide efficient and effective cooling for your home. Hydronic products including underfloor, trench systems and wall mounted fan coils offer both powerful heating and cooling in one product. A great example is the Galletti ART-U.
Can Hydronic Heating Run On Electricity?
Generally speaking, most ducted heating is gas run, but also uses electricity for the fans. It also depends on the choice of heat source which can be gas powered or electricity powered.
Can You Paint Hydronic Heating Panels?
Many hydronic wall radiators can be custom painted to match existing decor or designs in your home or commercial space. Your best bet is to check the product specifications of the radiator panels you are considering to ensure ‘Colour Options’ are available prior to purchase.
Is Hydronic Heating Good For The Environment?
Compared to other home heating system options, hydronic heating is hands down the best choice when it comes to caring for everyone’s home – mother earth.
On average, 40% of the energy we use at home is for heating and cooling – and this doesn’t include heating hot water. Your choice of heating system will have a large impact on your home’s carbon footprint.
Hydronic heating offers the lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other home heating system options, and lower energy bills to boot.
Types Of Hydronic Heating
Home owners use one or more of the following hydronic heating products for their home climate control.
A great way to warm every area of your home, including your bathroom! Underfloor heating can be installed into new properties on the ground floor within the foundation slab, or to existing floors with a range of installation options to choose from. There are considerations to keep in mind before installing heated floors to ensure you make the best choices for your property.
Wall Heating or Radiator Panels
Suitable for any home, there are wall heating options that can work for every room in the house, including your bathroom.
Also known as radiators or radiator panels, products come in a wide range of sizes and configurations offering flexibility for installation locations. Gone are the days of a standard radiator, there are also many designer radiator options on the market that can act as a style feature for your home.
Hydronic wall heating offers a host of benefits, which explains the surging popularity of their installation in homes, child care and aged care settings and health care environments in Australia, with specifically designed wall heating products for safety critical settings.
Perfect for homes with floor to ceiling glass facades and limited wall space, trench heating is flush with the floor level and operates through a shallow trough that runs the perimeter of the space, covered with a grille. There are a range of design options available to suit the design of your home.
Heated Towel Rails
Can You Install Hydronic Heating Yourself?
While the installation cost might be an outgoing you want to avoid, or if you consider yourself pretty handy on the tools, it is still highly advisable that you don’t embark on hydronic heating installation as a DIY weekend project.
By engaging with trained professionals with specific experience and training in hydronic heating installation, you’re protecting your investment and will get the best performance from your system.
Finding Smarter Ways To Heat Your Home Since 1982
Since 1982, Hunt Heating has been providing Australian households with stylish, safe, and comfortable heating and cooling solutions. As exclusive stockists of premium hydronic heating products, we ensure that all homes can enjoy the benefits of low carbon, energy-efficient systems.
Hunt Heating systems provide flexible climate control options at a lower cost, making us the smart choice for heating and cooling your home. We stay committed to product innovation so that you can enjoy the best heating and cooling solutions right here in Australia.
Contact the team to discuss your home climate control needs.