There are essentially two types of heating in this world – radiant heating and convection heating, but before we discuss artificial ways of using radiant and convection heating it is important to note that good home design and other energy saving measures such as insulation are far cheaper at improving home comfort.
Radiant heating produces the most comfortable warmth – this is the heating that you get from the sun. Radiant heating systems are slower to respond to needs than convection heating and likely to be more expensive up-front. Examples of radiant heating systems are open fires, combustion stoves, in-slab heating, hydronic panels or oil filled radiators. Slab heating utilises either hot water pipes or electrical cables, both of which are cast into the slab during the concrete pour and are used to heat the whole slab.
Convection heating is basically hot air blown into a room … it’s generally cheaper to install and quicker to respond to heating needs, but not as ‘cosy’. The most common type of convective heating is a wall furnace, a ducted system or a split system.
If you’re building on a concrete slab and you can handle the expense, slab heating will produce wonderful warmth throughout the home which may be worth every cent if your home is in a cool climate, but will take time to get to the temperature that you want. Get three quotes for both the hot water and the electrical cable type-systems and see how they stack up, not just for the initial cost, but also for ongoing running costs, which will vary from location to location, and the type of fuel used to heat the wires or water (e.g. gas, solar, wind, electricity). Also, don’t forget to specify separate controls for different zones so you’re not heating areas that you’re not using.
If the cost is looking prohibitive, electric ducted heating through the ceiling (in the case of a slab) and a slow combustion stove in the living room will give you quick, cost-effective heat everywhere and cosy warmth in the most-used room.
Don’t forget that you can also keep your home warmer by designing it to capture and store winter sunshine, by insulating it well (including under floor insulation for timber floors) and by sealing up gaps around windows and doors to prevent heat escaping.