Differences Between Radiant Heat and Forced Hot Air

forced hot air_radiant

Differences Between Radiant Heat and Forced Hot Air

Want to know the difference between forced air and radiant heating systems? Wondering about the costs and benefits of radiant heat?

We have you covered.

In this article we’ll talk about the main differences between radiant heat and forced air, including important differences in efficiency, cost, and for your health. So let’s get to it!

Differences Between Radiant Heat and Forced Hot Air

Here’s how radiant heating systems compares vs forced air systems:

How they work: Radiant heaters work on the principle of thermal radiation to transmit generated heat throughout your rooms. Forced hot air heaters, on the contrary, rely on the principle of forced convection.

Installation Cost: Since you’d have to set aside the floor’s top layer to expose the subfloor for their installation, radiant floor heaters’ installation cost is many times higher than that of forced air systems that will just sit atop the floor.

Operating Cost: Want to know why so many people prefer radiant heaters over forced hot air ones? Their per unit heat generation costs is less than half that of forced air heaters (we’ll explain why below).

Efficiency: A radiant system will be much more efficient than its forced air counterpart. That’s because they don’t have the ductwork and the subsequent heat leakage problems that are almost a given with forced air heaters.

Health Issues: A radiant system will pose no health issues whatsoever. This makes them different from forced air heaters, which are known to introduce allergens and dirty air.

That being said, forced air systems have their own benefits. Here are some of the main pros and cons of a forced air systems.

Forced Hot Air: Pros and Cons

Forced air heating systems are easy to install. They won’t force you to hire an electrician to get them up and running and promote air circulation by moving the air. They are also cheaper to install than radiant heaters, especially if you decide to couple them with existing HVAC air conditioning systems.

You can also count on these systems to heat your rooms quickly. That’s due to the fact that they are very efficient at distributing warm air throughout open spaces.

On the flip side, these systems are plagued with ductwork problems. This exposes them to issues like heat leakages and low efficiency. These systems might also harm your room’s air quality. Pollutants can enter their ductwork via leaks, before riding on air to spread throughout your house.


– Easy to install

– Work with existing ductwork

– Less expensive than radiant heaters

– Heat open spaces pretty quickly


– Harm indoor air quality

– Are less efficient than radiant heaters

Radiant Heat: Pros and Cons

Radiant heating has been gaining in popularity, and with good reason

First of all, radiant heating is exceptionally efficient. This is mainly because it doesn’t utilize ducts, which contribute to heat leakages in forced air heating equipment.

The bottom line? Lower monthly heating bills.

Radiant heat is also much better for your health. Forced air heating, due to leakages in their ductwork, may end up introducing allergens to your air. Radiant heaters, on the other hand, don’t leak. So if you or anyone in your family has problems with allergies, we’d strongly recommend a radiant heat system.

Having said that, not everything is great about radiant heating.

While it has lower running costs and is great for your health, it is expensive to install. The installation cost of a standard radiant floor heater is about $600. And it may take some time for your radiant heat system to heat your house.


– Minimizes heat loss

– Great for preventing allergic reactions

– Frees up space

– No maintenance cost


– High installation costs

Now you know the benefits (and drawbacks) of a radiant system. It’s also important to know that there are a few different types of radiant heating systems, and they all work slightly differently.

Here is a brief overview of each.

How Baseboard Heaters Work

Baseboard heaters work on a well-known principle. They reside in the middle of your room, suck cold air from their surroundings and raise the air’s temperature. They do this by passing cold air through a series of fins turned hot by the passage of electricity.

Once cold air passes through the fins, they will transmit their heat to it. The resulting hot air will then rise due to a sudden drop in its density, before leaving the heater and increasing the temperature of your room. You can control the temperature of that air via a thermostat on the heater’s panel.

The best hydronic baseboard heaters are easy to install, are silent, and are easy to clean and maintain. The last two benefits are why most people decide to use baseboard heaters in bedrooms.

However, we would think twice about using electric baseboard heaters for whole-home heating, as these heaters consume a lot of energy.

How Radiant Floor Heating Works

Radiant floor heating works on the principle of thermal radiation. It generates heat by burning a fuel – mostly natural gas – or heating wires via electricity. The generated heat is then transferred to the floor in diffused form, which then warms the entire room.

Electromagnetic waves of heat interact with the floor, as well as nearby objects, after leaving the heater. These waves contain energy which are released upon hitting an obstacle. This impact is responsible for warming your room.

One of the benefits radiant floor heating provides is even heat distribution. But you should still invest in a radiant floor heating thermostat to ensure your floor is not overheating.

Want to learn about radiant ceiling heat? Read this article to learn more.

How Radiators Work

Radiators work on the principle of forced convection. These hot water heaters generate heat by sucking cold air at the bottom, warming up the air by passing it over their fins and releasing the hot air through the opening at the top.

Most radiators that you may see on the market are made from metal. That’s because metal is an excellent heat conductor and transmits the maximum percentage of the heat generated to the air. The hot air then goes up and heats up your room.

Those of you who ever had the chance to look at a radiator might have noticed that their fins aren’t exactly straight. They are heavily folded and have a bunch of creases. This is done to increase the fins’ surface area, thereby letting hot metal come into contact with more cold air.

Radiant Heating Costs

Radiant heating costs depend on the type of radiant heater you intend to install:

Hydronic Radiant Heating: The cost of a hydronic radiant heater ranges between $10 and $16 per square foot – or about $600 for a standard remodeling project. All the other types of radiant floor heaters have higher installation costs.

Radiant Air Heating: The cost of radiant air heaters, which use solar energy to heat the air during daytime hours, ranges between $14 and $20 per square foot. That doesn’t include the price of solar panels, whose initial and installation cost varies state by state.

Radiant Electric Heating: Radiant electric heaters, which raise the temperature of living spaces by conducting electricity either through loose cables or mats containing electric cables, cost about $16 to $25 per square foot.

Forced Hot Air Costs

Forced air systems cost between $3,500 and $4,000. That includes the price of the furnace (typically about $2,600), supplies (almost $200) and labor (between $1,000 and $1,200, in most cases).


We hope you are now more informed of the differences between radiant heat and forced air systems. While a radiant heating system will cost more to install, it will be cheaper over the long run and is healthier overall for your family.

All things being equal, we recommend radiant systems. But at the end of the day, your family has their own individual needs, and in some cases a forced air heating system might be better.

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