If you’re building a new home or performing a major renovation, installing a radiant heating system with a boiler is a great way to ensure your house in New Britain, PA stays warm and comfortable in the winter. Most homes have forced-air heating with either a furnace or a heat pump. While forced-air heating is extremely effective, it does have its drawbacks and isn’t always the best choice. This is partly because it can be expensive to operate and also makes the air feel much drier. Radiant heating, on the other hand, tends to be more energy efficient and also works to maintain a more even temperature. In this article, we’ll explain all you need to know about how boilers and radiant heating work and also the different types of boilers and radiant heating options.
How Boilers Work to Provide Heating
Boilers are very similar to water heaters. The difference is that they heat water to a much higher temperature and supply either hot water or steam to radiant heating systems in a closed loop. This means that the water in the radiant heating system is continually reused so that there is no water wasted.
Conventional boilers have a hot water tank where the water is heated before being pumped out into the radiant heating system. As the water moves through the system, it slowly starts to cool down and eventually gets pumped back into the boiler’s cold-water tank.
Radiant heating is extremely efficient and more effective than forced-air heating. Forced-air heating systems work by heating the air in the building. Radiant heating systems also technically heat air, just not directly. Instead, heat continually radiates out of the radiators or underfloor coils and raises the temperature of the surrounding surfaces, including the walls, floors, and any nearby furniture. The heat then continually flows out of the surfaces to raise the air temperature in the entire area. This keeps the entire area at a more consistent temperature since all of the surfaces stay warm and continue putting heat out into the air for long after the boiler has shut off.
With forced-air heating, all of the rooms quickly start to cool down soon after the system shuts off. This is partly because the walls and floors never absorb much heat and tend to stay cooler than the air. The other reason is that the hot air coming out of the system rises and ends up at the ceiling. This leads to the upper part of the room always staying much hotter and the lower part near the floor staying colder.
The fact that radiant heating raises the temperature of both the surfaces and the air means that the temperature tends to remain much more consistent. A boiler will still turn on and perform multiple heating cycles in an hour to ensure that the water in the radiators or underfloor coils stays hot. However, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate nearly as much with radiant heating as it does with forced-air heating since heat continues to be released even when the boiler isn’t running. The only real issue with radiant heating is that it works much more slowly. This means you generally never want to turn the heat down too low or else it will take several hours for the system to bring the temperature back up to where you want it to be.
Comparing the Different Types of Boilers
There are three main types of boilers: conventional, system, and combination. All three types can run on natural gas, heating oil, or propane. Any of the three can also be electric, but electric boilers aren’t as common since they usually cost quite a bit more to operate.
Conventional and System Boilers
Conventional boilers work to supply hot water or steam to only the radiant heating system. This means that there also needs to be a separate water heater that supplies hot water to the plumbing system. System boilers and combination or combi-boilers are different, as they supply hot water to both the radiant heating and plumbing systems.
A system boiler is quite similar to a conventional boiler and works the same way. The difference is that system boilers have a separate hot water cylinder that stores water for the plumbing system. This tank is connected to the boiler so that it can supply hot water to it, but it isn’t connected to the hot water tank in the boiler used for the radiant heating system. However, it is connected to the cold-water main in the plumbing system. When hot water is used or the water in the cylinder starts to cool off, water is pumped through the boiler and then heated and pumped back into the cylinder.
Combi-boilers are quite different as they don’t have any storage tanks and work in the same way as tankless water heaters. In a combi-boiler, there are two sets of pipes that come into and out of the unit. One set is for the radiant heating system and is a closed loop where water circulates through the radiant heating system and back to the boiler. The other set is the cold-water intake pipe from the plumbing system and the hot-water outlet. This is important for preventing the two different water sources from mixing, as the reused water in the radiant heating system isn’t potable.
Combi-boilers only heat on demand and use a heat exchanger to quickly raise the temperature of the water as it flows through the unit. When the radiant heating system calls for heat or you turn on the hot water in any plumbing fixture, the unit will automatically turn on and start heating. When the unit starts, water begins flowing into it and moves through a coiled pipe that wraps around the heat exchanger. If the radiant heating system needs to run, the water in it will be pumped back to the boiler and the hot water will flow back out into the system. If you’re using hot water in your sink or shower, fresh water will flow into the boiler.
A combi-boiler always prioritizes providing hot water for the plumbing system. If it is currently heating the water in the radiant heating system and you turn on your shower or faucet, the water from the radiant heating system will immediately stop flowing. The boiler will also stop producing as much heat since the hot water for your plumbing isn’t nearly as hot as the water for the radiant heating system.
Radiant Heating Options
There are a few different options you can use for radiant heating. Older homes with radiant heating typically have one or more metal radiators in every room. Radiators are fairly effective, but they take quite a bit longer to heat the parts of the room that are farther away from them.
Some systems instead use radiant heating panels that are installed inside of the walls or the ceilings. These panels tend to be more effective than radiators since you would usually have them in every wall or across the entire ceiling. This ensures that the entire space heats up slightly more quickly and more evenly than it would with radiators.
The most popular option for radiant heating in newer homes is underfloor heating coils. Underfloor heating is definitely the most effective option since all of the heat that the floor absorbs slowly emanates out and rises to heat the air in the room evenly.
The main issue with underfloor radiant heating or wall and ceiling panels is that there is always a risk that the system could start leaking and cause extensive water damage. If the system does leak, you’ll then need to have the floor in the surrounding area torn up or cut a hole in the wall or ceiling so that the leak can be repaired. Radiators can also leak, but leaks are much easier to spot and easier to repair.
If you’re considering radiant heating for your home or you need to replace your existing boiler, TCS Heating and Air Conditioning is here to help. We offer the full range of boiler and radiant heating services, and we also work on forced-air heating and air conditioning systems. We handle the complete range of installation, maintenance, and repair. To receive more information or schedule any heating or cooling service in New Britain or the Doylestown area, give us a call today.