What are the ultimate heating and cooling methods for 2015?

Hello, friends! Lately I’ve been building my dream home in my mind. I’ve also been pondering the best heating and cooling methods for a home. Here are some ground rules (things that work for me, but feel free to suggest things that don’t quite meet them).

Climate: Indianapolis, Indiana. Cold winters and hot summers, yay!

No forced air heating. I had a gf back in 2009 who lived in a pretty ordinary house with one thing special: It had a boiler heating system that was perfectly silent and did not dry out the air. OTOH, that house did not have A/C. That made a big impression on me. I hate the sound of forced air heating, its going on and off, and I am very susceptible to nosebleeds, dry throat, waking up coughing, etc., when the air gets dry. (That’s one good thing about the Indiana climate to me: it’s humid but not too humid. Well, in summer it can get a wee bit sticky…)

Preferred no forced air A/C. I turn on the A/C in the house as little as possible. I hate the feeling of cold air blowing on me, and I hate the feeling of uneven air temperatures as the cold air blows around.

Preferred no use of natural gas. I think with advanced tech, we could just get along without having gas pumped into the house. It’s one less utility bill and one less thing to worry about in life.

Do consider advanced technology. I’m interested in learning about heat pumps, co-generation systems, etc.

Make it as environmentally friendly AF. Imagine LEED certification or something equivalent.

So here’s my idea so far:

• Insulate the fahoonka out of it. I lived in an apartment with thick walls 10 years ago. Pretty much never even needed to turn on the heat, even though it had a lot of window surface area. Employ modern insulation and design techniques to minimize the need for heating and cooling in the first place.

• Install effective blinds and windows to minimize the need for cooling in the summer and maximize the benefits of sunlight in the winter.

• Install a heat pump system. Here’s where you can educate me. Does a heat pump system need to use forced air in some way? Can it handle all heating and cooling needs in the Central Indiana climate?

Thanks for your insights, my peeps!

I also forgot to mention that I would like to control interior humidity, at least in the living areas of the house.

What size and style of house? How many levels? Is this a fantasy dream house where cost is no object or a house that you actually want to construct one day?

I think I do someday, but it would be expensive. I am thinking three floors, no basement, maybe 6,000 sq. ft.

In floor heat is great. Not sure how you would cool with out forced air. I wonder if any one has tried ‘In Floor cool’. Cooling water and running it through the pipes.

Doesn’t sound to me to be practical. And while warm floors are nice. Cold ones sound uncomfortable.

You mean, just hot water piped through radiators? That works for heating, but I’m not sure if that’s available for cooling.

By the way, it’s not the force air that dries the air. It’s the cooling. If you cool the air by ANY method, moisture will come out of it, because cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air. The best you can do is try to cool a LOT of air by a LITTLE bit, rather than taking a LITTLE air and making it VERY COLD and blowing it into the room. Or, if the outside air temperature is tolerable, open the window instead of using an air conditioner.

Sounds contradictory. The whole point of blowing the air around is to equalize the temperature of the room.

No advanced tech works better than gas for cooking, but I suppose that’s outside the scope of this thread…

Heat pumps designed for cooling a room (or house) are called “air conditioners.” So it’s contradictory to say you want a heat pump to cool the house, but you don’t want an air conditioner.

Radiant floor heating would be my preference, particularly as I like to walk about in bare feet. Ceramic floors are especially unpleasant when they’re cold in winter. And on This Old House, they suggested that radiant floor heating would work especially well in rooms with cathedral ceilings since the heat would mostly be down where the people are.

Traditionally in a lot of hot climates, buildings were kept cool with careful use of shade, airflow, and thermal mass. E.g. if you have a lot massive stone or concrete floors and walls, and keep the sun off, you can passively maintain an interior temperature close to the temperature of the ground or the air at night. That could be enhanced with some sort of active cooling, perhaps by circulating water cooled in a ground loop or by active chilling.

There was a bit on Science Friday a few months ago that included an interview with a professor of architecture that researches methods for controlling temperature in buildings besides forced air heating and cooling.

An approach like this would require a lot of custom architecture and non-standard building techniques, at significant expense. It probably isn’t possible in the standard suburban McMansion.

Based on my years of experience, I’d say the OP is out of luck on the AC issue. AC without air movement is called a refrigerator, and even then not really. Heat pumps, split packs and window shakers all need fans for air distribution and circulation.

We just built an ICF house (insulated concrete forms, walls are 6" of concrete sandwiched between two 2.5" layers of styrofoam.) It’s extremely efficient. We are in north Missouri, so similar climate to the OP. The house is a 1000sf basement, with 2000 sf on top of it. We are able to cool this in the summer with a 2 ton AC.

We installed radiant heat tubing in the basement, but so far have not needed it. You can hook those up to an outdoor wood furnace if you don’t want to use gas, but electric won’t work to heat the water, from my understanding. It can’t create enough btus.

We did not do this, but our consultant guy when we were building (it’s a DIY project) ran radiant cooling through the walls of his daughter’s house. It’s basically just a bunch of Pex run through the forms before the concrete is poured. I don’t know how they planned to cool the water, as we weren’t opposed to forced air and didn’t look into it much.

Anyway, I’d absolutely recommend the ICF.

I have hot water radiators and no AC at all. The only way I could air condition would be to install a large unit at the top of the steps to the 2nd floor and blow the cool air all around.

What I would like to do is replace the heating system (which uses electric resistive heating until the termperature goes below -12C (about 10F) and then switches to oil) with a heat pump using a pipe 500’ deep to use the earth as a reservoir, but that is rather expensive.

What I would suggest is go ahead with insulating out the wazoo, all the blinds and so on, and get a modern forced air system. And get a heat pump. You will pump heat out of the ground all winter and pump heat in all summer.

I think people are confusing heat pumps, which are basically just air conditioners reversed, and geothermal heating, which is big air tubes buried in the ground. Geothermal is very expensive to install, but costs basically nothing to use.


Destruction! Who wants to die?!

That’s a good way to turn your lovely hardwood floors into a Slip-N-Slide.™

A lot of people mistakenly think that forced air heat is inherently dryer than hydronic heating systems. The intuition is just that water = moist. But hydronic systems are closed loops. The same water gets heated and pumped into the floors or baseboards over and over for years. It couldn’t possibly humidify Aeschines’s house.

Forced air systems have to be designed well to minimize unpleasant drafts though. Hydronic systems can be designed poorly too but they’re not going to create drafts or gusts of hot air. Of course, if you’re building your dream home you should just make sure you get a properly designed system and not rule out forced air on that possible problem alone.

Or a mold incubator.

Would cause massive condensation in a humid climate like Indiana. Think puddles accumulating on the floors.

I think with all the OP’s preconditions, a geothermal HVAC system is the way to go. It heats in the winter and cools in the summer. Like someone posted above, it’s expensive to install (though you can often get thousands off through subsidies) but very, very cheap to run. It’s probably also the most environmentally friendly.


I grew up in (and now I am again living in) a house that had hot water pipes run through the concrete slab. It was a cozy heat (the dog knew all the warm spots to lay on) but once the pipes started leaking it was a nightmare. One day there’s a big wet spot in the carpet and the next thing you are jackhammering up the concrete floor. After a few times doing that my mom had a gas forced air system installed.
Maybe they use better piping now. If I were looking for a house now I wouldn’t consider one with pipes in the slab heating.