A homeowner installs radiant floor heating in his home

Does radiant floor heating run on gas or electric supply? Which of these systems will work for your home? Which one will save more energy?

These are some of the commonly asked questions homeowners ask before installation. The advanced infrared radiation technology continues to become a staple for newly built or renovated homes in colder US regions. 

The advanced tech transfers warmth from the floor to objects and people with minimum heat loss. As a result, homeowners consider them a highly energy-efficient alternative to conventional HVAC units. That said, the differences in the main power supply for these systems can influence the overall cost and energy usage rates. 

So, which does radiant floor heating use—gas or electric power? 

This article explains how radiant floor heating system works and their unique benefits. 

Does Radiant Floor Heating Run on Gas or Electric Power?

Radiant floor heating systems can run on electricity and gas. Hydronic radiant systems use natural gas to boil water that flows through the tubing to spread the heat across the room. Electric systems use electrical resistance to heat their core components to ensure your living spaces stay warm. 

Electric vs. Gas Radiant Floor Heating: Which One Should You Choose?

Radiant floor heating systems use electricity, natural gas, oil, or solar wind for operation. Electricity and gas are these eco-friendly heating solutions’ most common energy sources. Both units save more energy and positively impact the environment compared to old-school HVAC units. 

These systems can save around 15-30% of winter heating bills. A significant difference in the output lies in how each system operates and its type of power source.  

You should choose the system by asking the following questions, including:

  • How much budget do you have for installation? 
  • Are you ready to pay electricity bills for electric radiant heating floor units? 
  • How many rooms will connect to the under-the-surface heating pads and mats? 
  • Do you have time to take over an extensive home renovation and remodeling project? 
  • Are you aware of the hidden costs of radiant floor heating systems? 
  • Are there more cost-effective alternatives out there? 

Answering these questions can direct you towards a suitable heating system. 

Here’s a breakdown of the two primary radiant floor heating systems:

Gas Radiant Floor Heating: How Does It Work?

Hydronic (or water-based) radiant heating systems use natural gas or oil to boil water. The gas-operated boilers pump heated water around the tubing installed around the house. As the name suggests, these tubes are present beneath the subfloor. 

The waterproof tubes form a coil-like pattern with loops. This layout supports an even distribution of heat energy around the house (or specific rooms). You can place these tubes under concrete slabs, tiles, and hardwood. 

A few radiant floor heating systems can feature built-in valves. They allow you to create heating zones to regulate temperature. You can turn these valves on and off to control the distribution of warm water in specific areas. 

The pipes and valves of a hydronic radiant floor heating system are shown on the wall attached to the exposed lines spanning the floor

It’s a smart energy conservation technique. For example, you can increase the room temperature in the rooms you use frequently.

In contrast, you can turn off the thermostat or heat supply for other rooms. These include spaces like the guest rooms and drawing rooms because you don’t use them as much. 

Is It Cost-Effective and Energy Efficient? 

Hydronic radiant floor heating systems have a higher upfront cost than electrical systems. That’s because they require extensive flooring and plumbing work. Therefore, retrofitting these gas radiant heating systems isn’t recommended. 

Instead, install these heating units when you’re renovating your entire home or building a new one. Property size, installation type, and labor cost are other variables that can influence the final installation charges. 

In most cases, financial advisors predict installing hydronic systems will cost $13 per square foot

Nevertheless, these systems prove more cost-efficient in the long run. They require a minimum amount of electricity because they operate on natural gas. Kerosene and other fuel oil are alternatives for this method. They do, however, release more carbon emissions. 

Closeup of a hydronic radiant floor heating boiler and its attachments

That’s why most homeowners opt for gas radiant heating systems. 

Electric Radiant Floor Heating: How Does It Work?

Electric radiant floor systems are composed of conductive plastic mats laid into coils. These coils receive heat energy from electrical power that passes through connecting cables. 

You can install it underneath the subfloor (with wooden panels or ceramic tiles). These mats can be retrofitted inside and don’t require extensive renovation to change plumbing lines or floor work like you expect from typical installations. 

Alternatively, some contractors can install built-in heating cables within the floor instead of using matted coils. 

These coils are wrapped with water-resistant polymer to prevent electrocution or electrical outage in case of rainwater or plumbing problems.

Closeup on a spool of electric radiant floor heating wire and its application in a floor

The wires contain heat-conducting metals—copper and nichrome. Their high electrical resistance enables these metallic components to generate heat more efficiently. 

You can control these systems by installing a compatible thermostat, allowing you to regulate room temperature. It takes less than an hour for smaller rooms to become warm and cozy when you switch on an electric RFH. 

Is It Cost-Effective and Energy-Efficient? 

Electric radiant floor heating systems are relatively pricier than other radiant floor heating systems. Yet, there are ways to counter higher price points by saving up on installation and usage. They are also easy to maintain and less challenging to install. 

Your contractor should manage to complete the installation job within a day or two. Additionally, you can cut installation costs by using electric RFH for single rooms instead of the entire house. It can cost $11 per square foot, according to NerdWallet.

That’s a couple of dollars cheaper than hydronic gas-operated radiant floor heating systems. 

A technician kneeling on the floor cuts a piece of cable from a spool during a radiant floor heating system installation

Using these heating systems smartly also helps. For example, you can reduce electric utility bills by charging the system during off-peak hours. These typically begin at night, from nine to six in the morning. 

Charging the coils overnight reduces energy consumption during peak hours. Consequently, this practice reduces daily energy consumption and cost. 

What’s more? 

You can go off-grid using solar power to charge your heating mats and coils. Using solar light can significantly reduce utility costs for your electric radiant heating system. It also makes it more energy efficient. 

Due to these reasons, installing electric systems for a single room (or a couple of rooms) instead of the entire house seems feasible. 

In a nutshell, each unit has its advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, we strongly advise selecting an environmentally safe unit depending on your budget, eco-centric goals, and lifestyle. 

Final Word 

You can use electricity or gas to operate a radiant floor heating unit. The installation process and operation of each system vary slightly.

An electric radiant floor heating system uses nichrome and copper to conduct heat energy from one end of the matted coil to another. 

However, it is less energy-efficient and more costly than gas radiant floor heating systems.

Gas-operated systems are predominantly hydronic radiant floor heating tubing. They run on water boilers and pump warm water inside looped tubes embedded beneath the subfloor. 

Gas radiant floor heating systems are better because they consume less energy. Moreover, you can create heating zones by controlling which part of your home receives a specific amount of heated water with them.

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