Is Radiant Heat Cheaper Than Forced Air?

When it comes to heating your house in the colder months, you’ll likely be choosing between two options: radiant heat and forced air.

Both are effective ways of warming up your space, but there are pros and cons to each, including efficiency and price.

According to industry professionals, while forced air heating has a cheaper installation cost, radiant heating systems are more efficient and therefore save money on energy bills in the long run. The cost of radiant heat installation and operation will vary based on the size of your space.

While radiant heat is indeed cheaper, there are other factors you should consider before installation, such as the differences between the two, the full price of set up, and the various pros and cons of each system.

Below is a full guide to answer all of these questions and prepare you for your heating needs!

Radiant Heat vs. Forced air: The Costs

The monthly energy cost of radiant heat is much cheaper than that of forced air.

However, the cost of installing a radiant heating system is very high in comparison to the installation of forced air. This will be examined in the following sections. 

The Costs of Forced Air 

According to Improvenet, installing a forced air system from scratch can cost anywhere between $930 and $4,010.

If you are DIY’ing your installation and using a cheaper furnace, you’ll only need to pay the cost of the furnace and any extra tools or supplies.

However, professional labor will set you back an extra $1,000 to $1,200.

Furnace prices can range between $700 and $2,600, depending on the quality and functionality.

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Additionally, renters or homeowners with a forced air heating system can expect to pay around $100 per month in energy bills, according to Business Insider.

If you’re a homeowner, you’ll need to pay extra for the maintenance and upkeep of the system.

The Costs of Radiant Heat

Installing a radiant heat system costs almost ten times the amount of a forced air system.

According to Home Advisor, installing radiant heating for a typical 2,400 square foot home will cost between $14,000 and $48,000 for hydronic heat and $19,000 to $36,000 for electric heat (read more about the various types of radiant heat further along in this article).

These installation cost estimates include labor and supplies.

Just like a forced air system, you can install a radiant heat system yourself if you’re experienced and would like to save money.

Radiant heating installation is a cheaper option, with hydronic heating costing around $2 per square foot and electric costing roughly $6 per square foot. 

Despite a steep installation cost, operating a radiant heat system is cheaper per month than using forced air.

Once installed, your radiant heat energy bill will cost around $50 per month, depending on usage and square footage.

The bigger the room and the longer you operate, the more expensive it will be.

However, it is widely acknowledged that radiant heat operation is cheaper on a month-to-month basis.

Note: While you can perform an installation on your own, it’s smarter to consult a professional unless you’re an experienced HVAC technician.

Radiant Heat vs. Forced Air: Which is Better?

Deciding whether forced air or radiant heat is better is a personal opinion; however, we can determine that radiant heat is objectively more efficient and will save the consumer money in the long run.

As forced air circulates through the home, the space warms and cools inconsistently, going from boiling one second to freezing the next.

This can result in unnecessary toggling of the thermostat, which in turn turns on and off the furnace, costing more monthly in gas or electric.

Air can also leak out of the ducts, resulting in less heat in your desired area.

There is little heat loss with radiant heat, as there is no need for the heat to travel before reaching its destination.

When your home stays at a consistent temperature, there is no need to continually adjust the thermostat and waste energy and money. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Radiant Heat and Forced Air?

One way to decide whether radiant heat or forced air is better for you is by analyzing the pros and cons of each system.

While radiant heat is overall more efficient, there are reasons why one might choose to go with forced air instead.

Perhaps you don’t have the initial budget for radiant heat, or you aren’t interested in a sub-floor installation.

Below are the various pros and cons of the two systems to assist in your decision-making process.

A professional HVAC technician will be able to answer any questions you might have as well.

Radiant Heating Pros and Cons

The main pro for radiant heating is its efficiency in using energy.

Because radiant heating systems only need to be heated to around 84 degrees to run, less energy is consumed, and therefore, bills are lower.

Some other radiant heating pros include:

  • Little to no maintenance
  • Better air quality
  • No dangerously hot radiators
  • Works under most floors

However, radiant heating isn’t a perfect solution. The main con associated with radiant heating is the installation cost, which as stated above can be quite pricey.

Some other cons of radiant heating include:

  • Long installation time
  • Increased floor height

Forced Air Pros and Cons

The biggest pro of a forced air system is the quick heating time. Because the air is directly heated, it takes very little time to flow throughout your home.

Other forced air pros include:

  • Cheaper installation process
  • Easy to install

Lastly, the biggest con associated with forced air is the inefficiency.

Heat is not distributed throughout your space evenly and therefore results in constant toggling of the thermostat, causing energy to be consumed far more than necessary.

Other cons include:

  • Operating noise
  • More likely to breakdown
  • Potential risk of mold

How Does Radiant Heat Work?

Radiant heating supplies heat directly to the floor and sometimes the walls.

Radiant floor heating has several different types but depends heavily on the process of convection to warm the surfaces in your home.

  1. Electric Radiant Heat

Electric radiant heat systems consist of electric cables attached to the underside of the sub-floor.

Heat is generated through electrical resistance and is most efficient under ceramic tile or other floorings that easily allow heat to seep upwards.

  1. Hydronic Radiant Heat

Hydronic systems, which are attached either in concrete under the house or the underside of the sub-floor, consist of tubing that pumps heated water through a boiler.

Hydronic radiant heat is considered both the most popular and cost-effective of the different types.

  1. Air-Heated Radiant Heat

The last type of radiant heat system is air-heated, in which a furnace pumps hot air throughout the floors, similar to a hydronic system.

However, air-heating is not very cost-effective and therefore not popular in residential areas.

How Does Forced Air Work?

Forced air is a common heating system that uses air to transfer heat through ventilation.

This heat is supplied by a gas-powered or electric furnace that is controlled by a thermostat.

Air is either heated by gas ignition or electric coils before moving throughout the ventilation system to warm your home. 

While forced air is common, it isn’t necessarily cheap or efficient. 

Final Thoughts

While both heating systems are certainly costly, radiant heat has proven to be cheaper and more efficient in the long run.

When choosing solely based on your budget, radiant heat is the way to go.

However, after analyzing the pros and cons of each, you may decide that forced air heating is the right choice for you.

Be sure to research both before installation, and always consult a professional in moments of uncertainty!

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