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Hydronic Heating 101

Hydronic heating is a heating system that uses water to move heat from a heat source to the heated space.

Hydronic systems use cast iron radiators or tubing in the floors, ceilings or walls to circulate heated water and radiate the heat to the living space.

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What is hydronic heating?
Why would I want to use hydronic heating?
Hydronic heating is more comfortable
Hydronic systems are more efficient
Hydronic systems offer more versatile installations
How can I find a contractor who will put in a hydronic system properly?

Typical boiler piping diagram 

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What is hydronic heating? 

The most common system is often called "hot water base board heat" because most of the hydronic heating systems installed in the United States use hot water running through baseboard heating units to heat the living spaces of the home.

Why would I want to use hydronic heating? 

Hydronic heating has three advantages over other types of heating systems. These advantages are comfort, efficiency, and versatile installation.

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Hydronic heating is more comfortable

Since hydronic systems rely more on radiant heating, they offer more even heating of the living space.  In a hydronic system, there’s no air blowing around the room, so there are virtually no drafts to make people uncomfortable. And because the hydronic system is heating people and things via radiating surfaces rather than hot air, the air is not getting dried out as much as with a Forced Air System. By not overheating the air, a hydronic system makes it easier to maintain a comfortable humidity level during the heating season. And note that the thermostat can be set to a lower temperature degrees and the room can still feel comfortable.

Hydronic systems are more efficient

Water is a great carrier of heat. Ask a scuba diver why he needs a wet suit when the water he’s swimming in is 80 degrees F. He’ll tell you that water conducts heat twenty times faster than air and, without the wet suit, he’d loose body heat too fast under water. The same goes for heating systems. Air is a good insulator but not the best heating medium.  Notice that storm windows work by having a dead air space between the two windows. Water, on the other hand, can move a lot of Btu’s from one place (where they are produced) to another place (where they can be used) very efficiently. Also, note that because more of the heat is being radiated to the living space rather than blown into it, there is less heat loss through the cracks around doors and windows than there is with a forced air system, therefore fewer Btu’s need to be produced to keep the living space comfortable.

Hydronic systems offer more versatile installations

With hydronics, you can move 40,000 Btu’s through a 3/4" copper pipe through walls and between floors - or anywhere you need the heat - quietly and efficiently. A forced air system requires a lot of duct to move that much air with that many Btu’s into a room. This means that zoning is easy for a hydronic system. A typical home with a heat load of 160,000 Btu’s (that’s a pretty big home) needs only four little 3/4" pipes to move all the heat it needs to four different areas of the home. You can divide that heat into bedroom zones, living areas, recreation areas, etc. simply by dividing the heat coming from your heat source into little pipes.

Talking about versatility...the hydronic heat source is usually a boiler in the basement.  Boilers are tried, true and very safe. But hydronics can take heat from any heat producer, such as a solar coil, ground source heat pump or a co-generation plant. Any water-cooled equipment is a potential heat source for a hydronic system.

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Typical Boiler Piping Diagram

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Click to enlarge


Contact for all your hot water, steam or radiant heating questions! 

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Phone: 440-323-2869
633 Broad Street
Elyria, OH 44035
Phone: 440-323-2869
Phone: 440-233-8548
300 Artino St.
Oberlin, OH 44074
Phone: 440-775-3311
885 West Liberty
Medina, Oh 44256
Phone: 330-723-9032
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