There are two common heat systems typical for most Colorado homes: forced air or radiant heat. Forced air supplies heat via superheated air pushed through ducts located in the ceiling or floor (or both). Radiant heat utilizes infrared and water-containing coils to heat your home from the ground up. Both provide comforting heat during Colorado’s harsh Winters, but which provides the ‘best’ heating system? For the sake of this article, we will define ‘best’ and the system that heats most efficiently. External heat losses and internal heating inconsistencies devalue the efficacy of each system.

So which heating system is best at combatting harsh Colorado Winters? Forced air or radiant heat? Let’s find out.

Forced Air or Radiant Heat: Old World vs. New School

According to the popular Bob Vila blog – and trusted industry professionals – there really is no competition when it comes to the ideal heating system.

“In the radiant floor vs. forced-air heating debate, radiant floor always wins because it provides a quiet, even heat and eliminates the allergy problems often associated with heating ducts.” – Michael Franco, Bob Vila blog.

Franco succinctly touches on the three main issues associated with forced-air heating systems.

  1. Forced air heating systems push air through the home’s duct system. Forcing all that air through a narrow duct system requires a powerful motor. Motors of this magnitude typically cannot run without some occurrence of noise pollution.  The metal nature of the duct system further amplifies this noise, pushing it into the home right along side the superheated air.
    forced air or radiant heat

    Figure 1 Courtesy: Bob Vila blog

  2. Because forced air systems use ducting, heat enters the home from the floor or the ceiling, only. NOTE: Heat rises! Therefore, pushing heated air from the floor creates a steep thermocline from floor to ceiling. Because of the incidence of an extreme thermocline, forced air heating systems are typically tasked with heating air upwards of 120+F to change the overall temperature of the space from cold to comfortable. Figure 1 illustrates the large temperature swings from floor to ceiling often seen when using forced air heating systems.
  3. Old, fitted metal pipes can collect tons of dust and allergens. Those allergens are picked up by the fast-moving, superheated air being pushed through the ducting and forced into your home. Forced air heating systems are therefore not recommended for allergy sufferers. Furthermore, those same old metal pipes lose fitting over time, allowing for precious hot air to escape even before reaching the interior of the home. This can increase the yearly heating cost up to 20% over radiant heating systems.

On the contrary, radiant heating systems are ideal for the large exterior temperature fluctuations typical to Colorado Winters.

  1. Radiant heating systems use heating coils installed in the home’s foundation to heat your home from the ground up. Because radiant heat systems use the laws of Physics (All things wish to be in equilibrium. If your interior is cooler than the heated coils, that heat will seep into the interior) rather than forcing air through a heating element, the interior of the home is heated much more evenly than with forced air.  Because of this, radiant heating systems need less heat to make the interior of the home feel comfortable. This has been shown to save up to 20% per year in heating costs comparatively to forced air heating systems.
  2. No pipes or noise-polluting motors to force heat into the home. Just quiet, passive movement of heat from the coils to the interior of the home.

There’s really no contest when it comes to which heating system peforms best during the Winter months in Colorado. Forced air or radiant heat? More like radiant heat…or nothing.