A hydronic radiant floor heating system installed on a living room floor

Floor heating, also referred to as radiant floor heating, is a fantastic home feature and a popular trend in new homes and renovations focusing on comfortable, clean, design-led living. 

But, although there’s no denying underfloor heating is an excellent way to keep your home warm, is it worth the additional hassle and cost? 

If you’re unsure whether you should stick to conventional radiators to warm your house or install a radiant floor heating system, you’ve landed on the right page. This article explores the pros and cons of hydronic radiant floor heating to help you make an informed decision. 

But first, let’s look at how hydronic radiant flooring systems work. 

What Is Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating?

Hydronic systems are the most cost-effective and popular radiant heating systems for regions that require heating. These systems pump heated water from a boiler via tubing beneath the floor. 

Certain hydronic radiant floor heating systems use zoning valves or pumps and thermostats to control the flow of hot water through all the tubing loops. This feature helps to regulate room temperature. 

The total installation cost of a hydronic radiant floor heating system differs by location and largely depends on the size of your home, the floor covering, the type of installation, the cost of labor, and several other factors. 

Pros of Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating

There are plenty of things to like about hydronic radiant floor heating systems. 

Benefits include:

Uniform Heat Distribution

The best advantage of radiant floor heating systems is that they can evenly heat a floor and room. Forced-air heating vents use vents to distribute hot air inside a room. The placement of the vents determines which areas of the room will be warmer than others. 

On the other hand, hydronic radiant systems heat the whole floor, leading to a uniformly-heated room and an even ambient temperature around an individual’s body. 

Maximum Home Comfort

There is nothing like the comfort you get with a radiant floor heating system. Even on the coldest morning, you will look forward to getting out of bed as your bare feet will touch down on a warm, comfortable surface, and you will head to a refreshing shower in a comfortably-heated bathroom. 

Closeup from behind of a homeowners feet as she walks towards the bathroom in the morning

You will also enjoy the comfort of an evenly heated room without the temperature swings and cold spots typically experienced with forced air. In addition, your air quality will improve as your home will no longer experience the drying effect many furnaces create. 

Quiet Operation 

Imagine focusing on work with the sound of a furnace running in the background. It will be extremely tough to concentrate, right? 

This distraction isn’t a problem with hydronic radiant floor heating systems as they’re reticent. Compared to forced-air systems, there isn’t a noisy furnace that starts. Thus, you won’t hear anything as they’re working. 

Compatible with All Flooring

You can install radiant heating on all the floors. Whether wood, concrete, laminate, or stone, radiant floors work with most coverings. 

This versatility makes them a top choice for homeowners. So, whether it’s the basement, bathroom, garage, or kitchen, you can opt for a radiant floor system.

Increased Design Freedom 

Conventional heaters are large units that look unsightly in the bedroom and bathroom. You don’t have much design and space freedom with a colossal heater making noise to pump hot air inside the room. 

A conventional heater against a wall near the corner of a room

Another significant advantage of radiant heating systems is that they don’t require ductwork to function correctly. Instead, everything is appropriately tucked away and obscured inside the floor. 

Interior designers love radiant floors because they don’t reduce the square footage or create weird features to work around.

The only thing that needs to be camouflaged is the thermostat, and depending on which brand you choose, you can hide them away in a closet and control temperature using any mobile device. 

Hydronic heat and new smart house features work seamlessly for a fraction of the cost you would pay for a hot water baseboard heating system or a conventional forced-air furnace. 

Non-Allergenic 

Radiant floor heating doesn’t move around the air, meaning there’s no circulation of dander, dust, dirt, or other allergens in the room. This characteristic dramatically benefits people with asthma, breathing problems, or allergies. 

Reduced Electricity Consumption 

Hydronic radiant floor systems consume little electricity. Instead, they can use various energy sources to heat the water, such as solar water heaters, standard oil or gas-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, or a blend of these sources. 

High Energy Efficiency 

A hydronic radiant floor heating system is one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat your house. As a matter of fact, they’re considered at least 20-25% more energy efficient than forced-air heating systems.

This improved efficiency is because the heat is uniformly distributed throughout the room, so there’s no need to overheat the room to make up for cold spots. In addition, radiant floor heating is quite efficient as it doesn’t rely on ductwork that can lead to leaked air. 

The mechanisms of an electric radiant floor in a home

Hydronic heating is also energy-efficient because of its ability to operate two or more separate piping systems from a single hydronic boiler. As a result, the energy consumption of hydronic heating can be up to 70% less than other methods such as electricity-dependent heating systems.

Moreover, thanks to advanced technology, you can easily regulate a room’s temperature using a programmable thermostat. Therefore, you only heat the room when you have to and can lower the temperature when you aren’t using the space.

Consequently, you save energy and cut down on your utility bills. 

Durability

The pipes used in a radiant floor typically have a life of 25 years or more. However, the boiler or other system components may need to be replaced sooner. 

Pro Tip: Always check the warranty for a floor heating system and its parts before purchasing. 

Cons of Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating

Hydronic radiant floor heating systems have a lot of perks; however, they aren’t without drawbacks. 

Increased Heating Times

Even though water absorbs heat better than air, the heated water travels through the entire system to heat your home. This process can be time-consuming, and you will have to wait even longer to get the warmth.

Because of this problem, hydronic radiant floor heating is a better option for mild climates or when you need to maintain consistent temperatures. 

Maintenance Requirements

All closed-loop water heating systems require an expansion tank for safety purposes. These tanks need to be drained occasionally to work efficiently. Since this is the only maintenance required by radiant floor systems, it’s easy to look past them, leading to efficiency problems.

A homeowner adjusting the valves on his radiant floor heater's expansion tank

Space Requirements

Hydronic radiant floor heating systems even require a network of pipes to transfer heat to various areas of your house. Unfortunately, these pipes can take up a tremendous amount of space.

Nevertheless, the space required is about an inch which is still considerably lesser than the space air ducts take up. This might not be a problem when building a new home, but installing this system on an existing property might require you to tear up the flooring.

In addition, you might want to place insulation boards beneath the heating equipment to maximize efficiency by ensuring all the heat goes up. Unfortunately, insulation boards will increase the height by nearly an inch. 

Difficult to Access Piping 

With hydronic radiant floor heating systems, there’s a slight risk that pipes in the system might burst or leak. While this is quite an unlikely scenario, it still presents a risk to the system and your home.

Additionally, the pipes are hidden away underneath the floor, making such repairs challenging and costly. 

Looking down at a crosssection of and exposed radiant floor at left and a section of the wood flooring covering it to the right

High Upfront Installation Costs

Installing a hydronic radiant floor heating system into an already-constructed house can be expensive. You must hire professionals and require access to your floor joists.

The other thing you can do is remove the floor and then reinstall it with the system. If you’re planning to renovate your house or are constructing a new home, installing it won’t be that costly. 

When it comes to cost, a hydronic radiant floor heating system costs between $6-$20/square foot, with a total cost of around $19,000-$48,000. In contrast, an electric radiant heating system costs between $8-$15/square foot, with a total cost ranging from $19,000-$36,000.

No Ductwork for Cooling

Because radiant cooling isn’t a vastly efficient or popular system, many people only opt for hydronic radiant systems for heating. Thus, if you reside in a region where you would need central air conditioning, going for hydronic floor heating systems isn’t a good idea. Moreover, installing two individual systems for cooling and heating is quite costly. 

Possibility of Water Freezing 

If you reside in a region where temperatures can go below the freezing point, you’ll have to worry about ice damaging the components during power outages or while you’re away.

However, you can overcome the second problem if you have a mini-split coupled with a smart AC controller that can prevent your pipes from freezing even when you’re out. 

Objects Can Be a Hindrance

Hydronic radiant floor heating warms objects by radiation. However, things such as thick carpets can work as insulators and compromise the heating potential of the system. 

Poor Ventilation 

Since hydronic radiant floor heating systems don’t allow air circulation, you will soon have stagnant air filling your home. This can lead to foul odors and pollutants getting trapped inside.

To enhance the indoor air quality of your house, you can open up doors and windows to allow sufficient home ventilation. 

A homeowner opens a set of exterior-leading plastic windows

Is a Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System Worth It?

Despite the high initial installation costs and other drawbacks, a hydronic radiant floor heater is an excellent option for people looking for uniform heating and energy efficiency. These systems offer several additional benefits, such as clean and quiet heating and minimal power consumption. 

All in all, we recommend you get this system, mainly if you reside in a region that requires consistent temperature throughout the year. 

Best Places to Install Hydronic Radiant Floors

Floor heating systems are designed to be controlled per room, making them an energy-efficient option for primary or supplemental heating. You can significantly maximize your energy savings by only heating the spaces you’re using while you’re using them. 

Bathroom 

Bathrooms are a great place to install a radiant floor heating system because no one likes to step out of the shower onto a freezing floor.

Regardless of where you live, tile is always cold. Bathrooms typically have tiled floors, humidity, and damp towels, making them cold—particularly during winter and fall. 

However, a hydronic radiant floor keeps your bathroom comfortable all throughout the year. 

Kitchen 

Kitchens typically have cold tile flooring. Consequently, they can get cold during winter and fall, making hydronic heated floors a great option to consider. 

Bedroom 

Everyone loves a warm and cozy bedroom, and nothing makes a room comfier than toasty temperatures. A radiant floor is an incredible way to keep your bedroom warm without switching on the HVAC or resorting to unsafe options such as space heaters. 

Last Few Words

Even though it is costlier, hydronic radiant floor heating is a popular option because it offers higher levels of comfort than most of us experience in drafty, older, poorly heated houses.

A properly-operated radiant heating system and a programmable thermostat can help you save hundreds of dollars on heating costs. Moreover, several states offer financial incentives for upgrading your home to enhance energy efficiency. 

If you’re constructing a home, a hydronic radiant floor heating system is something you should definitely consider. 

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