In this post, we're going to talk about Forced Hot Water Heat.


In Massachusetts, Forced Hot Water systems are still the dominant system that we see in homes today. Although most builders (finally) have cut over to forced hot air, decades of building with forced hot water means there's still lots around. This is part of a series where we look at heating systems, including distribution systems (hot water, hot air, and electric) as well as the heating units themselves (burners and furnaces).


How does Forced Hot Water Baseboard Work?

Part of the popularity of Forced Hot Water is because it is very simple conceptually, and virtually maintenance free. Water is heated and circulated through copper pipes, which are surrounded by aluminum baffles. Copper and aluminum are both excellent conductors (as we all remember from high school chemistry, right?), and so the heat in the water is rapidly transferred to the aluminum baffles.

The aluminum "fins" are packed tightly together, to leave a small air gap of about 1/8 of an inch, and that air gap is quickly heated when the aluminum heats up. The air rises out of the air gap between the fins, cool air rushes to replace it, and the convection that is started results in a warmer room. Although there is some noise when the copper and aluminum expand, (resulting in quiet pings), the water circulating through the pipes is virtually noiseless.


Advantages/Disadvantages of Forced Hot Water Systems

Forced Hot Water

Relies on water and plumbing

to heat your home.

There are several. They are very low maintenance, often requiring nothing for years at a time. They are quiet, as noted above, and they do not "dry out" a home in winter. Since the air isn't heated directly by the burner, the moisture levels in the home remain constant. Forced air systems are also very good at distributing heat consistently without cold or hot spots in houses, which helped make them popular. Forced Hot Water systems are also very compatible with on-demand hot water systems, which tend to supply more hot water than tank based systems. Most forced hot water systems have on-demand tank and/or tankless hot water as part of their setup.


The Disadvantages are that it's not compatible with A/C. Air-conditioning requires duct work, and most homes with forced hot water were not built with duct work, and they need to be retrofitted for the ducts. This is the primary reason that builders have begun to favor forced air systems in newer homes.


If A home has forced hot water does it use oil? Probably, but it's not a given. Forced hot water systems can use gas burners/boilers as well. The delivery system, forced hot water, is really separate from the heating system.  

Should I Pay More or Less for a Home with Forced Hot Water? Generally, buyers pay about the same for Forced Hot Water and Forced Hot Air when they purchase homes. The market generally discounts homes that have electric heat, which is seen as less desirable.

Do Good Things Today! Matt Heisler

*All information is posted in good faith and is assumed to be reliable, but may rely on third party information sources. Forced Hot Water Heat Systems