Boilers are at the core of millions of home heating systems, worldwide. They come second in North America, after forced-air heating systems (furnaces). But they come first in many European countries.
Many people love hot-water space heating and dislike furnaces and other forced-air heating systems, saying that they dry out the air and are a cause of drafts or air stratification.
And though it isn't exactly so - such symptoms are associated to problems like leaky homes, wrongly dimensioned furnaces, problems with the ducts and clogged filters - boiler systems can in fact provide a very comfortable heating, difficult to match by furnaces or heat pumps.
Hydronic systems (especially radiant floor heating) are typically more expensive than forced-air systems.
See: Boiler Prices
Hot water radiant floor heating is typically expensive – either to buy or to run.
It can provide very high levels of comfort, but the installation requires great attention to detail. It can make the difference between success and failure.
Be cautions anyway. Radiant floor heating usually doesn't make sense in temperate and mixed climates or even in cold climates, in homes with high levels of insulation. It's too costly, and its long lag-times can cause overheating problems. It's easy to spend too much for too little results...
The advantages of boilers over furnaces and other forced-air space heating systems are quite small. Issues like the quality of installation, or the size and the quality of the boiler or furnace can be more important than the type of system.
Boiler-based heating systems can provide a healthier air, and are quieter, but there are other issues that you should consider.
New boilers are of condensing type. They are able to reuse the gases that they produce in their burning, which increases their AFUEs (heating energy coefficient).
Gas boilers are becoming standard, and have some clear advantages over oil, electric or steam boilers, but American-type condensing boilers may be too expensive for very energy efficient homes, with relatively low energy requirements..
In large homes, you may want to consider individual room temperature control (zoning); you may use thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) in your radiators, and room thermostats....
Panel radiators and hot-water baseboards are now the two most common heat emitters for hydronic space heating.
Baseboards are more common in the North America. Panels are more common elsewhere. But is there any significant differences between them?
Steam heating is outdated and typically expensive to run. But some small improvements can reduce heating bills.
Clogged and undersized air vents are a source of higher energy bills in one-pipe steam systems. Replacing undersized or malfunctioning air vents can make a dramatic difference.
New thermostatic air vents can also be a good choice for oversized systems, since they control the flow of steam into the radiators, thus avoiding overheating problems.
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House-Energy Video on Hydronic Heating Systems