Q: What should we consider when selecting a heating system for a Cape Cod home near the water? We must use oil since gas is not available. We fear hot air is neither healthy nor comfortable, and we like cast iron radiators if they're not cost-prohibitive. We would like some centralized air conditioning as well. Where can we obtain all the information on the right home heating system for us? We want long-term economy and optimum comfort. — Gloria, Garden City, NY

A: Richard Trethewey replies: In a climate like yours, with cold winters, I would use some sort of hydronic heating system, which uses water to convey heat. Once you install a boiler, you can deliver heat through baseboards, radiators, radiant floor heat ,or even hydro-air.

Hydro-air is a relatively new option that I would recommend in the second floor sleep zones. It requires an air handler that is a blower unit with an automobile radiator coil inside the unit through which hot water circulates. Air from the rooms is blown across this coil, heated or cooled, then sent out through ductwork.

On the first floor, radiators or baseboards can go in traditional rooms. Vaulted spaces like great rooms and the kitchen might be candidates for radiant floor heating. A stand-alone cooling system would be possible for the first floor.

For resources, you might try to find the This Old House Guide to Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (Little Brown) at the library. When you have a better idea of your options, ask around to find a knowledgeable HVAC contractor in your area.

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