Introduction to Boilers & Hydronic Systems
This article has been curated and shared with us from an HVAC industry professional with over 35 years working with a wide range of residential, commercial, and industrial heating and cooling systems. We hope you enjoy and learn something new about boilers and hydronic systems!
As always, if you can't find the information you are looking for, don't hesitate to contact our team for further support.
Introduction to Boilers & Hydronic Solutions
Are you thinking you would like to know more about heating systems that use a hot water boiler and hydronic heating systems? This article will shed some light on some of the questions you may have and understand some of the options available to you.
Hydronics - From the Past to the Future
Hot water heating systems have been around for hundreds of years, used in commercial and residential applications. New equipment, technologies and designs have opened the doors to many possibilities for use in hydronic heating systems in a modern home.
BPH note: interested learn how ancient Koreans used in-floor/underfloor heating systems 5,000 years ago? Click here to learn more!
Common Types of Residential Boilers
Hot water boilers come in different styles depending on heating output requirements and efficiencies. A popular trend is the high efficient wall hung boilers. However, high efficient boilers are also available in floor mount models. Both styles can be used as a single boiler or in multiples, depending on your system needs.
BPH note: click here for a view of our full selection of boilers
Boiler Systems – Expert Input is CRITICAL
A key important component to any hot water heating system installation is to have a qualified heating design specialist or an engineer involved. This will ensure that a properly sized hot water boiler is chosen; the heating system is properly sized; proper heat loss calculations have been considered; all of the proper system components are included in the design; and the proper heat transfer units and system flow rates have been properly designed.
A properly designed system must also meet the requirements of any local codes and jurisdictional requirements in your region. Hot water boilers are available with natural gas, propane gas and electric heating sources. You can also acquire hot water boilers that will operate on fuel oil or wood, but efficiencies may vary.
BPH note: our custom designed boiler systems are professionally designed and built, ensuring your heating system is optimized for your application
Boilers – Glycol or Water Mixtures
Hot water boilers will heat your heating medium, typically water or a water/glycol mixture and circulate this through heat emitters of various types.
BPH note: we typically recommend a glycol/water mixture for Canadian homes, if not a complete glycol solution. Glycol has a much lower freezing point than water, significantly reducing the risk of damages from burst lines/pipes if your home goes without heating unexpectedly in the winter.
Heating a Home or Apartment with a Boiler System
There are a range of different approaches to use the heat from a boiler system to heat your home. This section will present some of the more common solutions in use in homes across Canada.
In-floor Radiant Heating:
In floor heating systems are also a popular means of utilizing hot water heating systems for space heat. These systems are usually embedded in the floor or just below the floor structure. As the heating medium is circulated, heat is transferred to the structure and the heated floor warms the space.
Central HVAC with Hydronic Furnace
Another option growing in popularity is to use a hydronic furnace with an existing or new central HVAC system. This could be any type of fan driven heating unit such as a dedicated hydronic furnace, air handling unit, or even a gas fired furnace or a fan coil unit that has a hot water heating coil in it.
A fan coil unit, having a fan and a water coil in it, utilizes indoor space air, blows this air across the coil, picking up heat provided by the boiler and distributing the heat to the structure. A system such as this can then also allow for the installation of a central air conditioning or heat pump system as it already incorporates a forced air fan and ductwork. As an example, some installations may have in floor heating in the basement floor and a forced air heating system.
BPH note: you can learn more about hydronic furnaces here
One such example of heat emitters would be baseboard radiation. This type of heat emitter or heat distribution consists of piping with element fins on them installed in decorative cabinets. These cabinets can mount to a wall or are available in floor mount designs, and are typically installed along exterior walls. As natural air currents pass across the radiation elements, heat is distributed into the space by gravity air currents.
Baseboard radiation elements are available in many different designs giving you options for appearance as well as effectively heating your space. Some owners favour this type of a heating system over forced air heating as there is no fan circulating the heated air.
Ceiling Radiant Heat Panels
Another method could be with the use of radiant heat ceiling panels. When installed as part of a ceiling system, as hot heating fluid circulates through these panels, heat is projected downward into the space. Using this type of heating panels could eliminate the installation of baseboard radiation and cabinets along the walls or floors.
A Further Look at In-floor Radiant Heating
Although in floor heating systems can be used in commercial and residential applications, we will focus on residential systems in this article.
In floor heating systems in residential applications can be installed as a whole heat system, embedded in or just below all floor levels in the home, or perhaps just the lower floor level such as a concrete basement floor. Here, the proper heating piping is laid into the concrete floor.
For spaces with a flooring other than concrete, there are manufactured panel systems available that allow for the heating piping to be laid into them and later covered with a flooring material. You can also install a heat distribution the mounts to the underside of the floor surface.
The type of flooring material to be used over an in floor heating system must be properly considered as it may affect the heat distribution capabilities or damage the flooring materials. (Example: plush carpet and underlay could “insulate” the floor surface hindering heat transfer; hardwood flooring may be affected by the heat).
In floor heating systems have other optional capabilities as well, such as extending these heating systems to other areas of the structure. A couple of examples of this could be to utilize an in floor heat system in a garage or a sun room keeping the floor warm and dry.
Tip for In-floor Radiant Users
If your in-floor heating system and the forced air system have separate thermostats, one thing to keep in mind with a combination system such as this, is that if an air conditioning or heat pump system has also been installed, remember to adjust your in floor heat system thermostat or to turn your in-floor heat system off during air conditioning season. Otherwise you could have your cooling system operating to cool your space and your in floor heating system sensing that heat is required, generating unnecessary energy costs!
BPH note: this may sound trivial, but we have even seen this happen ourselves! More than once... You can resolve this problem by using a modern, smart thermostat that is also dual-fuel compatible.
Brief Introduction to Zoning with Hydronic Systems
With a lot of hot water heating system designs, a favourable option is to have different heating zones controlled by their own thermostats. With these zones, you can have certain areas controlled separately at different temperatures to suit your needs or comfort. So, you can heat your basement at one temperature, main floor at another, and even your garage – all from a single boiler system!
A Bright Future for Hydronic Systems
With a range of boiler systems and combinations available, including providing domestic hot water, exterior snow melt systems, or even heating pools and hot tubs, high efficiency boiler systems are expected to remain a mainstay in the residential HVAC market for a very long time.
A high-quality boiler, either gas or electric, in a properly designed system for your application needs, will efficiently heat your home for years to come!