A hydronic, or boiler heating system is one of the most efficient and functional options for whole house heating. Its also one of the most expensive, with average installation costs ranging from $6,500 to 11,000.
If you are building a new home or doing a major remodel, installing hydronic heating as opposed to a central furnace, will provide greater efficiency and improved temperature control throughout the home.
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We will review how this type of heating works, boiler prices and installation costs, as well as its advantages over other popular heating solutions.
What is hydronic heating?
Hydronic heat refers to a system where a liquid is used a heat – transfer medium that is delivered via piping into radiators that heat up the space.
Traditionally, hydronic systems use hot water as the medium for heat transfer. However, in recent years, modern and more advanced systems have started to incorporate the use of other liquids, such as antifreeze (glycol is a popular option). Antifreeze is beneficial to use to help prevent water from freezing and pipes bursting, as well as to increase the water’s boiling point. In some cases, mineral oil can also be used.
Much older systems use steam instead of water, as a medium of heat transfer. Some of them are still in operation today, in very old houses.
The reason why a hydronic system is so effective is because liquid is a superior conductor of heat, compared to air. In fact, air is actually considered to be a very poor conductor of heat.
Air’s thermal conductivity is 0.024 watts per meter kelvin. By comparison, water’s conductivity is 0.58 watts per meter kelvin. This means that water can absorb and transfer the heat that is produced much better than air, so you will be loosing a lot less heat, and spending less your energy bills.
How does a boiler heating system work?
The greatest advantage of a hydronic heat system is how simple and versatile it is.
Usually, a boiler ( gas or oil) is used to heat the liquid, and then its distributed through the system of pipes into either underfloor, wall or baseboard radiators. Cooled water is returned back into the boiler, is heated and recirculated again. A pump constantly circulates the water from the boiler to the pipes and back.
Water can be delivered into three different types of receptacles:
Radiant underfloor piping – this system can be installed throughout the house to provide very uniform and comfortable heating that will rise from the floor and be distributed throughout the room. It is essential to install very high quality tubing to avoid the risk of subfloor leaks, as these can cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Baseboard radiators – this is the most popular receptacle that most homeowners install. Radiators can be placed anywhere along the walls of a room, radiating heat out. There are many designs available for baseboard radiator covers that can match both classic and modern interiors. They can be made of wood, or rust-proof plastic.
Baseboard heaters require a lot less tubing under the floors, so they are cheaper and easier to install. For best efficiency, you should make sure that there is no furniture or other items blocking the radiator.
Wall and ceiling panels – these are similar to radiant flooring, these panels can be installed inside the walls and ceilings, thereby concealing the presence of the heater all together. They can also heat a very wide surface area, but great care should be taken during installation, as there is a risk of severe water damage.
Average cost to install hydronic heating
Across the US, homeowners report spending around $6,500-10,000 to install radiator heating. This system is roughly 3 times more expensive than installing forced air with a furnace in the same size home.
Your total cost will depend on:
– the size of the house
– complexity of labor
– number of circulation valves
– number of radiators
– other system parts such as ducts, pipes, etc.
This prohibitively high pricing is the primary reason why hydronic heat only accounts for about 1.5% of all heating systems installed in the US. Actually, boilers are primarily installed in Northern states, where cold temperatures last for many months.
In most cases, homes are already outfitted with hot water radiators, and homeowners stick with them. Consequently, in this case they repair or replace old boilers, pumps, radiators, pipes and other components of the system that are damaged, or old beyond repair.
To get a new hydronic boiler, radiator, or the entire system contact your local HVAC pros for free estimates.
Cost Break Down For Hydronic Heating System Parts
|Oil Boiler||$2,000 – 6,500 (device)|
|Gas Boiler||$1,200 – 4,500 (device)|
|New Install Hydronic System||$6 -12 / sq.ft. (labor only)|
|Install Standard Gas Boiler||$2,500 – 5,000 (labor and materials )|
|Install High Efficiency Gas Boiler||$6,000 – 9,000 (labor and materials)|
|Install Oil Boiler||$4,000 – 6,000 (labor and materials)|
|Boiler Repair||$300 – 700 (common issues|
|Switch from oil to gas boiler||$5,000 – 8,000 (labor and materials)|
|Circulation Pump||$300 / each|
|Radiator||$100 – 500 / each depending on size|
|Radiant Flooring Installation||$3 – 7 / sq.ft|
|New Piping Installation||$1.25 – 2.50 / linear foot|
|Replace Ductwork||$35-55 / linear foot|
|Install All New Ductwork||$1,000-5,000|
|HVAC Contractor Labor||$70-85 / hr|
Residential Boiler Prices
Installing or replacing a forced hot water boiler will cost anywhere from $3,000-7,000 or more (including labor). Your total price will depend on the type of boiler and complexity of the job. Keep in mind that a high efficiency gas boiler costs at least $1,000-2,000 more than a standard gas model. Also, an oil boiler costs 20-35% more than a gas one.
If you want to switch from an oil to a gas boiler, you should budget at least $2,000 extra for this replacement. However, often times labor charges are even higher, especially if environmental clean up is involved.
Best Gas Boiler
Here are the top gas powered boilers that HVAC specialists recommend to homeowners.
1. Elite FT Heating Boiler: high efficiency, wall-mounted gas boiler with a rating of up to 97% AFUE. It is available in 6 models of various sizes, ranging from 55,000 to 399,000 BTUs. Features a features a stainless steel fire tube heat exchanger that provides optimal heat transfer. For the past 3 years, Energy Star has rated Elite FT as the most efficient boiler. $3,000-5,200
3. Lennox GWM-IE Boiler: gas modulating condensing water boiler that can be wall-mounted. Offers a high efficiency rating of 95% AFUE. This unit has an electronic ignition control that monitors water temperature. It automatically turns the burner on, when necessary. Also features a corrosion resistant stainless steel mesh burner. Note, if you are interested in this boiler, you need to find a local dealer through the Lennox website, as these units are not available through third-party sellers. $3,000-4,500.
3. Bosch Greenstar: a gas condensing boiler with an efficiency rating of 96.1% AFUE and helps reduce nitrous oxide emissions. Can be installed as a heat only or combination boiler. It is available as a floor or wall-mounted device. $2,400-3,000
4. Westinghouse Combi Boiler: modulating condensing gas boiler that has a built-in water heating option. The wall-mounted unit offers efficiency of up to 95% AFUE, while the floor-mounted unit, offers efficiency of up to 93.2% AFUE. Features a ceramic fiber burner, with high combustion efficiency and low NOx emissions. $2,100 – 2,300
5. Slant-Fin Sentry Boiler: gas boiler with an efficiency rating of 84.4% AFUE. It is available in 5 sizes, with input ranging from 34-150 MBH. Offers cutting edge thermal targeting technology that monitors heat demand, saving you money on fuel. $1,500-1,800
Top Oil Boiler Brands
Here are the best oil fired boilers that HVAC pros trust and recommend to homeowners.
1. Firebird Condensing Oil Boiler – FB P90 HYDRO: a unique unit because it is one of the few truly condensing boilers on the market. It features extra heavy insulation, delivers 95,000 Btu’s and efficiency of 91.5% AFUE. Such a high rating is comparable to that of a wall-mounted, high efficiency gas boiler. $3,300
2. Burnham PV8H4WT-TBWF Water/Steam Oil Fired Boiler: this none-condensing boiler features a sectional cast iron design, multiple oil burner options and an intelligent control system. It offers 85.3% AFUE efficiency and 141,000 BTU output. $3,700
3. Buderus G125BE/21 Logano 63 MBH: this a top of the line, condensing model, that offers 90.7% efficiency and an output of 63,000 BTU. This boiler features an innovative design burner that burns at a lower temperature and recirculates combustion gases. The result, is a more complete burn with very low nitrogen oxide emissions, and almost no soot.
4. Slant-Fin Steam Oil-Fired Boiler TR-30-PZ: a none-condensing boiler that features cast iron construction, 84.15% AFUE efficiency rating and 101,000 BTU output. This unit features more BTU’s per section than ordinary boilers. $2,300
5. Weil-McLain P-SGO-3 Steam Oil Boiler: this is a none-condensing boiler that offers 83.8% AFUE, and 85,000 BTU output. Simple cast iron construction and readily accessible panel, make this unit easy and fast to service. $2,100.
Is hydronic heating more efficient than forced air?
if you are looking to improve the energy efficiency inside your home and to lower your monthly heating costs, a hydronic heating system offers the greatest advantage.
The US Department of Energy recommends radiant hydronic heat over other conventional heating systems for a number of reasons:
– more efficient than baseboard heating, as well as forced hot air heating
– there is no energy loss through air ducts
– can operate on a variety of energy sources
– create a uniform distribution of heat across the floor, which is a lot more comfortable
– offers the greatest efficiency in homes that have smaller size rooms and lower ceilings
– using an Energy Star rated programmable thermostat to control the system can help you save hundreds of dollars a year.
– there are no dust particles, so you have a dust free, allergen free home environment.
How to make your hydronic heating system even more green?
While hydronic heating on its own offers superior energy efficiency, you can improve it even more! This can be done by installing either a solar water heater on the roof or a geothermal heat pump.
Both of these solutions will heat water via natural means (sunlight or thermal heat from the earth). This way, your usage of oil, gas, or electricity to heat the water will be significantly reduced or eliminated all together.
Not only is this a green option, it will also basically heat your water for free, after you have paid for the installation and the cost of the system itself. This can be a viable option if you are planning to live your house for at least the next 10 years.
Can hydronic heating be used for cooling?
It turns out that modern hydronic heating systems are designed to also be used for cooling. They work the same as when heat is needed, except cold water is used as the transfer medium. There are some systems that only do heating, so if you need air conditioning as well, make that you are installing the appropriate system.
Interestingly enough, many homeowners have no ideas that hydronic systems can cool their homes, and do it in a more efficient way than forced air systems. This is because the majority of people install these systems for their heating advantages, because other systems don’t provide nearly the same level of comfort and efficiency.
What types of flooring are best suited for radiant heat?
Many homeowners looking to replace their old heating system with hydronic heat, worry about which flooring material they should use. Replacing an unsuitable floor costs a lot of extra money, and people want to avoid this expense. The good news is that the majority of flooring materials work just fine with radiant heat, and do not need to be replaced.
Hardwood floors, as well as bamboo and engineered wood are a good option, especially because this wood warms up quickly and is a wonderful heat conductor. This means that your wood floors will be very pleasant to the touch. HVAC pros recommend that floating hardwood floors work the best with hydronic underfloor heating, and are preferred over planks that are glued or nailed.
Other flooring materials, such as laminate, ceramic or porcelain tile, as well as natural stone such as slate, marble or travertine all work perfectly well with radiant floors. You should keep in mind that stone will take a lot longer to heat up and transfer heat outside compared to other materials. At the same time, once it has warmed up, it will retain heat for a lot longer, compared to other floor types.
Installing a thick carpet may not be the best choice, since carpet is a very strong insulator and it will prevent a lot of the heat from entering the room.
If you are installing radiant floor heating along with new flooring, make sure that both contractors are aware of the work that is going on, so that they can recommend the best materials to use.
$3900 - $5600
$4800 - $6700
$2100 - $3500
See costs in your area Start Here - Enter Your Zip Code