What Special Maintenance Items Do Hydronic Systems Require?

Once common in almost all homes, hydronic heating systems are now viewed as an expensive luxury. Typical new homes use forced air heating that doubles up with a split unit central air system to provide both heating and cooling. Forced air systems require annual inspections to ensure that they are in good working order, but these inspections often focus on the ductwork, blower motor, and other elements that are irrelevant for a hydronic heating system. While hydronic systems can overcome some of the disadvantages inherent to forced-air heating, they require their own unique maintenance routine.

Baseboard, Radiator, or Radiant

Modern hydronic systems fall into one of three categories: baseboard, radiator, and radiant (or underfloor) heating. As their names imply, radiators and radiant heating systems are similar in concept. In fact, household radiators are just another form of radiant heating. Both radiators and underfloor heating systems work by delivering radiant heat to directly heat objects in the room, while baseboard heaters use convection to heat the air.

From a maintenance standpoint, these three systems are relatively similar. In each case, hot water is used to provide energy for the heaters located throughout your home. This hot water is delivered by a boiler, which may be powered by oil, electricity, or natural gas. All three systems offer similar potential for leaks in piping, and all three require minimal maintenance in the heated rooms themselves.

Boiler Maintenance

Boilers are relatively similar to furnaces, with the primary difference being the heat transfer medium. In a furnace, heat is transferred to the air, while a boiler transfers its heat to water. Older boilers typically work by converting water to steam, while newer boilers heat the water and pump it throughout the house in liquid form. If your home has old-style cast-iron radiators, then you may still have a steam boiler. Modern baseboard heating and underfloor radiant heating typically use a water heater with a pump.

If your home has a steam boiler, then it is imperative to schedule annual maintenance checks. Although newer steam boilers are safe, they still deal with extremely high amounts of pressure. Annual inspections can help to ensure your boiler and its various safety systems are functioning correctly. For non-steam boilers, it is still important to schedule regular inspections to confirm that the boiler is working as it should be and that water pressure and temperature are within its operating specifications.

Additional Maintenance

Your annual inspection will include a few checks beyond the boiler, as well. For non-steam systems, the pump that circulates water requires periodic lubrication and should be checked for proper operation. Baseboard heaters and radiators must also be bled to remove air from the system, and the water should be drained completely and refilled once every 4-5 years. These steps help to ensure that the system can heat your entire home evenly and efficiently.

For more information about heating system maintenance, contact a local HVAC company.