Missoula HVAC Contractors Answer 20 Questions: Hydronic Heating vs. Electric Heating

Your favorite Montana heating pros are back with another round of 20 questions.  This time we are comparing hydronic heating and electric heating.  Let’s see why these could be a great choice for your Missoula home! Let’s define each type of heat before jumping into the game. 

What is Hydronic Heating?

If you are wondering what this new type of heating is, we have you covered.  It isn’t a new type of heating at all.  Hydronic Heating is any type of heating system that uses water in a closed loop.  This includes steam heat radiators, hot water radiators, radiant in-floor heating, hydronic towel warmers, etc.  Hydronic heat requires a boiler to heat water.  This category does NOT include electric radiators, electric in-floor heating, etc.  Electric baseboards use electricity to heat, not water, and therefore do not fall into the hydronic heating category.  Keep in mind that boilers can heat the water with gas, oil, or electricity, but the heating of the home is done by circulating the water.

What is Electric Heating?

Electric heat is any device that sends electricity through a resistor to create heat.  This can be a portable electric space heater, electric baseboards, and even heat pumps.  Electric-powered boilers use electricity to heat the water, but what heats the home is the water.  Therefore, keep in mind that any type of boiler, even electric boilers, does not fall into the category of electric heat.  Convection heaters work by creating a hot surface and the air that hits it is heated, as opposed to forced air heaters.  Electric heaters that work through convection include electric baseboards and electric in-floor heating.  Electric heaters that work through convection mirror hydronic options will be the focus of this article. 

20 Questions According to Missoula HVAC Contractors

As we compare these two types of heat, we will keep score.  Keep in mind that each house and each family has different needs and desires.  Just because one type of heat wins this game does not mean that it is the right type of heat for your situation.  Contact a Missoula HVAC contractor to help determine what type of heat will serve you best.

1.       Which Type of Heat is Less Expensive to Install?

Electric heaters are generally cheaper units to purchase, as well as cheaper to install.  Boilers are generally more expensive units and more expensive to install because the system is more complex. 

Electric Heaters get the point for cheaper installation.

2.       Which Type of Home Heat is Less Expensive to Run?

Missoula HVAC contractors are here to explain why this question is tricky.  Hydronic heating can be seen as cheaper because the hot water holds its temperature, so it has to work less to maintain a temperature.  Hydronic heating delivers more heat at a lower cost than electric heaters.  However, while a boiler can produce more heat for less money, some of the heat is lost on its way to your baseboards or in-floor system.  Hydronic heating only transfers 75-90% of the heat produced in the boiler, while electric heat works at 100% efficiency at all times.  This means 100% of the electricity going into the heater becomes heat.

For those who like numbers, here you go. On average, electricity in Montana costs 11.85 cents kWh. An average electric convection heater uses 1500 Watts per hour.  As of May 2023, Montana has the second lowest natural gas rate in the country at 9.82 dollars per 10003 feet

Some say hydronic systems are cheaper, while others argue that electric systems are cheaper to run.  While there are many factors, including the size of the home, size of the system, number of zones, etc., hydronic systems are cheaper to run.  

Hydronic heaters get this point. 

3.       Which type of HVAC System is Less Expensive to Repair?

Repair costs tend to be lower with electric heaters, according to Missoula HVAC contractors.

Electric heaters get this point.

4.       Is Hydronic Heating or Electric Heating Simpler to Install?

Let’s compare one specific type: electric in-floor heating to hydronic in-floor heating.  Both systems have to be installed in the floor. After that, your electric option just needs to be wired to electric power strong enough to support it.  With hydronic in-floor heating, you have to set up the boiler system and fill and pressurize the pipes.  

Electric heating is generally simpler to install.

5.       Which is Simpler to Repair in my Missoula Home?

Repair complexity can vary widely depending on the problem.  If a hydronic system has a leak, you could end up with water damage.  Whether electric or hydronic, problems occurring with in-floor systems can require your entire floor to be taken up for repairs.  Overall, electric systems tend to be simpler because they are simpler systems with no chance of flooding.  

Electric heating systems will get this point.

6.       Will Hydronic Heating Last Longer, or Will an Electric Heating System?

This is a complicated question because there are multiple parts to each system.  Boilers can last 20 or more years.  The in-floor portion of a hydronic heating system lasts an average of 50 years.  On the other hand, electric in-floor heating systems last around 25 years.  

Your favorite Missoula HVAC contractors agree that hydronic heating wins this point.

7.       Which Heating System is More Eco-Friendly?

Hydronic heating uses water’s excellent heat retention properties to keep your home warm. The water retains heat much longer than air, which means that it can continue to keep a room warm even after the heating system has been turned off. This helps to reduce energy consumption and prevent temperature fluctuations, as the radiant heat provided by the water stays in the room longer and requires less effort on the part of the heating system to maintain a comfortable temperature. Hydronic heating can maintain a temperature longer with less effort. 

Hydronic heating will get this point.

8.       Is Electric or Hydronic Heating More Effective in Colder Temperatures?

Winter packs a punch here in Missoula, Montana.  Hydronic heating can keep a home warmer for longer, but it is slower to get there.  Electric heat can heat quickly but will require more effort to maintain it.

Overall, hydronic heating is more effective in colder temperatures.

9.       Which type of HVAC System is More Customizable, Hydronic or Convection?

Both types of heat can be set up with separate zones.  You can set up your bedrooms on one zone, your kitchen on another, and the living space on another.  A favorite specialty zone with hydronic in-floor heat is the bathroom!  With hydronic heating, you will have one central boiler and piping to various parts of your home. With electric convection heating, you will typically just install a radiator, baseboard heater, or in-floor unit individually and wire it for power in that room.  Both can work with WiFi-enabled smart thermostats. 

We will call this a tie.

10.   If I Put in an Addition to my Missoula Home, Which System is Simpler to Add Sections To?

It is not a super complex process to add piping to a pre-existing boiler system, depending on how much you want to add.  Depending on how large of an addition you want to include, you may end up needing a larger boiler.  On the other hand, with electric heating options, you can add new sections of convection heaters without much thought to the previous sections.  

This point goes to electric heaters. 

11.   Which type of HVAC system will Make My Missoula Home Less Dusty?

Because there is no air blowing around ductwork in either of these systems, air quality will not have much impact by either of these systems.  

This one is a tie.

12.   Will Hydronic Heating or Electric Heating Have Better Heat Distribution?

Hydronic Heating will have better heat distribution, according to Missoula HVAC Contractors.  

Hydronic heating gets this point.

13.   Will Convection eaters or Hydronic Heaters Take up Less Space in my Montana Home?

Convection heaters literally only take up the space of the heaters themselves.  Whether baseboards or in-floor, that is all you need to make space for.  For hydronic heating, you have the baseboards or in-floor tubing, as well as a boiler somewhere in the home and piping between all of the rooms.  

Electric convection heaters require less space in your home and get this point.

14.   Which Type of Heat is Better to Add as an Auxiliary Heat Source in My Garage?

If you are looking for simplicity, adding an electric heater in your garage is a great option.  If you are looking for something to connect to the rest of the home in a streamlined system using the power source as the rest of your home’s heat, hydronic is the way to go.  

Generally, we would say an electric heater is a more common choice and will receive this point.

15.   Is Hydronic Heating or Electric Heating a More Visually Appealing Option?

Both hydronic and electric heating can be visible and invisible in the home.  In-floor options are available in both hydronic and electric and are completely unseen as you walk through a home.  Keep in mind that in-floor heating is recommended to be used with a hard floor and not carpet.

Radiators and baseboards are also available in both hydronic and electric, and these will be visible in both. Keep in mind that putting furniture and curtains in front of or near baseboards and radiators is not recommended. 

If you like carpet, baseboards will get the point. If you want full wall space, in-floor will get your point.  This one will be considered a tie.

16.   Which Type of Heating is Impacted Less by Décor?

Furniture in front of baseboards or a thick rug over top of an in-floor system can make it harder for the system to heat the space.  If you want floor-to-ceiling bookcases or to rearrange your furniture with any frequency, baseboards will get in your way.  

This will be a tie.

17.   Will Hydronic Heat or Electric Heat Give My Missoula Home Better Air Quality?

Hydronic Heat has no airflow, thus reducing dust and allergens. Convection heaters also have no airflow.  While most agree that this creates better air quality in homes, some point out that the inside air may get stale.  In this case, one may need to open a window for ventilation, but that lets heat out. One could opt for an air purifier.  You could go down the rabbit trail but the bottom line is that both hydronic and electric convection heat have the same neutral effect on air quality. 

This is a tie.

18.   Which type of HVAC System is Better as an Auxiliary Heat in My Missoula Home?

This depends on your priorities.  Hydronic Heat is typically the main heat source in a home.  If you want to add a towel warmer in your bathroom as an auxiliary heat source, that can add a luxurious feel to your home.  On the other hand, a convection baseboard heater is very simple to install, bring a lot of comfort with very little stress.  

This is a matter of opinion, but we are going to give this point to electric heat.

19.   Is Hydronic Heating or Electric Heating Easier to Retrofit on My Missoula Home?

Electric Heating is easier to retrofit into a home because it does not require extensive piping and can be installed in individual rooms as desired.  

Electric heating gets this point.

20.   Will Convection Heat or Hydronic Heating Make My Missoula Home More Comfortable?

While this is largely a matter of opinion, let’s do a quick exercise.  Picture waking up on a snowy winter morning.  You want to go to the kitchen and get a cup of coffee to drink while you sit on the couch watching the snow fall through the living room window.  You step out of bed onto a warm floor because you went with radiant in-floor heat.  Or did you step on a soft rug because you chose baseboard heat?  

The choice is yours.

Missoula HVAC Contractors Give a Final Tally

Electric heating has 9 points.  Hydronic Heating has 5 points.  A whopping 6 questions were a tie.  For our game of 20 questions, electric heating has won today.  Keep in mind that your home and lifestyle have many variables.  What works best for you may not be what works best for the next house over.  Give Garden City Plumbing and Heating a call at 406-728-5550 or contact online for more information about what heating option is best for your Missoula home.