I am in a situation now where I am having to choose between hydronic heat distribution and forced warm air heating.

There are many factors to evaluate and this question is not about the plusses and minuses of forced air heating/cooling vs hot water pipes and radiators.

For a reasonable sized home for a family of four, well insulated to low energy loss (not passive), what is the usual difference between the cost of the piping/radiators/installation (water) vs cost of ducting and venting (air)?

Are there differences in the types of duct? I notice some websites show rectangular ducts, some circular, sometime different materials it seems.

From what I have seen so far, the air ducting system looks like it could be much cheaper, as rectangular ducts can be run around the ceiling to avoid space loss, masked as beams, or installed in a suspended ceiling (which I might end up having anyway).

Any advice much appreciated!

UPDATE: The system would not include A/C at this point but might be added in the future. We are told warm air heating would make things dusty without filters, so some kind of dust protection would be good, though HEPA filters and anti-allergy not necessary. Recuperation would be good. Suspended ceilings would most likely be in place. There would be 2 showers and one bath with possibly 2 showers in operation simultaneously. There would be a dishwasher and other appliances that might need hot water. Energy source most likely mains gas with possibility of heat pumps. Wood burner also an option. Construction/recon here not of the best quality, will need to expect thermal bridges and mould build up. Temperatures range from -30C to +40C around the year. Low noise essential - eg: Bosch hydronic air handler, recuperation with heating, low noise fans etc

  • VTC as costs are off-topic here – mmathis Sep 12 '17 at 15:22
  • What will be the fuel for your heating system? – Jim Stewart Sep 12 '17 at 18:36
  • @Jim Stewart: Most probably mains gas, with a possible fireplace /woodburner optional. – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 20:27
  • Where are you located? Wood burning makes a lot of air pollution. There is a new type of wood-burning stove now available in the US called a pellet stove which burns wood waste formed into pellets. – Jim Stewart Sep 12 '17 at 21:50
  • @Jim Stewart Right on the Czech/Austrian border in a forest village where typical heating is still based on traditional fireplaces and stoves – Sentinel Sep 13 '17 at 3:55

Real pricing would depend on the actual type of installation of each system you would choose to install. For example; Hot water systems could be as simple as a series loop system or as costly as a zoned system where every room had it's own thermostat to control the temperature of that area. Simple and cheap would be finned tube baseboard radiation. More costly would be convectors, wall mounted or recessed into the wall, to the very expensive cast iron baseboard or cast iron radiators. Forced air would also have many options, including zoned or a non zoned system, the use of different types of filters, including electronic air filters, humidifiers, ultra violet lights to kill bacteria.,standard or designer registers and grills, insulated or non-insulated ducting, choice metal thickness for the duct-work. Lastly would you also like air-conditioning with that. So, my suggestion would be to consider the actual type of system you would want and have contractors give quotes for your chosen system. Just asking for a price comparison of hot water vs. forced air is similar to asking how much a vacation to somewhere would cost. Answer is " it depends" I hope this gives "food for thought".

| improve this answer | |
  • I understand there are a million options. My question is specifically about the installation of the ducts and vents vs either radiators or underfloor heating with water pipes. Zoning is out on both. A/C, humidifiers, filters have no bearing I think on the duct work. – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 13:06
  • The question for me has no merit since there are no set parameters or specifications. You have to compare things that have actual set parameters. – d.george Sep 12 '17 at 14:03
  • I understand. Would you be willing to spend the time listing a few things I could add to the OP to narrow things down? Obviously, no problem if not. – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 14:12
  • If you can write down what type of system you want and just what your finished product will be or what you would want it to be, I can make suggestions based on your needs and wants. Ideas would be, I need air-conditioning and a good filter system since one of my children suffers from allergies/ asthma. I spoke with my wife and we would like this--- etc. – d.george Sep 12 '17 at 14:35
  • I added an update, if that helps. – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 20:33

Yes, forced air is much cheaper to install. That is why developers in the US use it almost exclusively.

If you do not consider the pros and cons of both systems (especially comfort), and you base your decision entirely on price, then you already have your answer.

The only way to know for sure what the ballpark prices would be, is to get several competitive bids for both systems on your particular house.


| improve this answer | |
  • Thx and do you or anyone happen to have any comparing bids for a single property? Would love to see examples of the difference. – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 8:45
  • I always thought that forced air HVAC became popular because of the adoption in the US of refrigerated air conditioning. If one is only going to have heating, then hydronic heating would be the first choice I would think. You have to be very regular with changing the filter. Forced air can be noisy. The ductwork takes a lot of space and is a dust collector. Modern "flex-duct" is vulnerable to rodent damage and is used because it is much cheaper to install. – Jim Stewart Sep 12 '17 at 18:30
  • @Jim Stewart - Space for ducts not really a problem in my case - and the practical space a lot less than with radiators. Underfloor heating with hydronics is too slow to take effect , we have experience of it. But many sites seem to suggest installation costs with HVAC much less - would love to confirm this is the case or not. If recuperation is needed, would this affect your decision? – Sentinel Sep 12 '17 at 20:36
  • I have always lived in the hot southern US. When I was a child in the late 1940s and the 1950s we had a kind of natural gas furnace called "floor furnaces". In the early 1950s we started getting window air conditioners, but there wan't one in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. I can remember sweating in bed on summer nights. In 1960 we moved into a new house in Dallas with central hvac which we could keep at 72 F (22 C) in the blazing sun of the open, worn-out farmland where new construction was sprouting. For 39 years my wife and I have occupied a tract house w/ forced air hvac. – Jim Stewart Sep 12 '17 at 21:44
  • Obviously you need to find out what hvac systems are being installed where you are. – Jim Stewart Sep 12 '17 at 21:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.