A homeowner with a puzzled look on his cell phone ponders how to install a radiant wall heating system

Homes and commercial spaces use various types of heating to keep their inhabitants comfortable during the cooler months. The vast majority of these spaces have opted for central HVAC systems.

However, there are several other forms of home heating available. Let’s take a look at radiant wall heating.

If you’re planning to invest in a radiant wall heating system, it is crucial to understand how they work and their pros and cons.

What is Radiant Wall Heating?

Radiant wall heating is a unique method of heating embedded in walls. This system uses a network of wires or pipes to heat the wall panels, which then radiate heat into the room.

This type of heating provides a pretty consistent, even temperature to the rooms it services.

Some types of radiant wall heating systems use a resistance wire that heats up and warms the wall panels.

Others use pipes containing warm water to produce the same effect. Depending on your needs, you might favor one of these types over the other.

History of Radiant Wall Heating

Radiant wall heating may sound like a futuristic heating solution. However, this technology has existed for thousands of years.

Wealthy individuals in the Roman Empire used a primitive form of radiant wall heating that channeled heat from fires into slim chambers between the home’s interior and exterior walls.

Technology has come a long way since then and radiant wall heating can be found in numerous homes today.

An old school radiant flooring system partially covered by wood panel flooring
An old school radiant flooring system

Advantages of Radiant Wall Heating

Quiet Operation

These systems don’t contain any moving components that would produce noise in your living spaces. If noise is a concern for you, a form of radiant heating could be your perfect solution.

Even Heating

Radiant wall heating systems excel at providing even heating thanks to their design, that ensures the “heating element” heats uniformly across the wall panel’s surface. The result is that the room is heated well from end to end.

An eco panel heater mounted low on the wall of a home

Quick Heating

Electric systems can reach their programmed temperature in under 20 minutes. However, hydronic systems may take a bit longer due to the time it takes for the boiler to heat up water and circulate it through your home.

High Efficiency

Radiant wall heating systems are roughly 30% more efficient than forced-air HVAC heating systems because they don’t experience duct loss, which refers to heat loss inside air ducts.

Radiant wall heating channels heat directly into wall panels and then into the room itself. This whole setup ensures minimal heat loss, and the room stays warm for longer.

Disadvantages of Radiant Wall Heating

Intrusive Installation Process

Radiant wall heating systems are embedded inside wall panels.

This feature means your existing walls will need to be removed or demolished during installation.

This installation can be more intrusive than setting up a forced-air system or a mini-split, as it doesn’t require you to remove an entire wall.

Exposed lines of a radiant wall heating system in a stone wall

Homeowners thinking of setting up radiant heating should understand how this installation process works because they won’t be able to use the space until it has been completed.

So if you were planning to purchase and install a radiant wall system in a commercial building, you would need to move your business operations elsewhere until you had implemented the system.

High Installation Costs

The wall heating inserts typically cost $6–$7 per square foot. However, this doesn’t factor in the labor costs for the installation. You will also need to pay to have your walls plastered and painted after installing the inserts.

If you intend to set up a hydronic radiant system, you must invest in a suitable boiler. This component can set you back thousands of dollars alone.

Closeup of a hydronic radiant floor heating boiler and its attachments

Minor Issues Can Damage Your Walls

A radiant wall heating system’s embedded nature can lead to many issues. For example, if one of the pipes in the heating system develops a leak, it could spread water inside your walls.

This moisture can then create mold and make the entire room unlivable.

As a result, homeowners or commercial space owners will need to monitor their radiant heating systems frequently to ensure that issues are not occurring.

If you do happen to develop a pipe leak at some point, it is essential to have the problem repaired immediately, as it will likely get much worse in a short amount of time.

Electric vs. Hydronic Radiant Wall Heating

Radiant wall heating can be either electric or hydronic (boiler).

Reasons to Choose Electric Over Hydronic Radiant Wall Heating

Simple System

Electric radiant wall heating uses a simple system that consists of a network of resistance wires controlled by a thermostat. 

These wires are typically arranged into a special mat before being embedded in the wall. They do not require an additional boiler, which is needed for hydronic systems.

Less Space Required

The boiler hydronic radiant wall heaters used can take up a fair amount of space. If you live in a small apartment, you might be unable to fit such a boiler in your living space. 

Electric radiant wall heating systems don’t need a boiler, so you should be able to install them in compact spaces with limited room.

A radiant panel heater installed above a desk where a homeowner sits
Courtesy of Warmly Yours

Less Chance of Mishaps

Electric radiant wall heating doesn’t utilize water, so there’s no chance of your system springing a leak and damaging your walls. If the wires in the system become damaged, the system will simply stop working.

They shouldn’t cause damage to your home.

Faster Heating

As mentioned, electric radiant wall systems heat up quickly because the wires start heating as soon as they receive electricity.

These wires are in direct contact with the wall panels and quickly transmit this heat through them using conduction.

Hydronic wall heating systems take longer to reach the desired temperature because a boiler must heat the water.

This heating process can be slow, so you will likely need to wait a while before your room heats up.

Reasons to Choose Hydronic Over Electric Radiant Wall Heating

Hydronic systems may take longer to heat up but deliver more energy at a lower operation cost. As a rule, electric heat sources will be more costly to operate than gas-fired heat sources.

The pipes containing warm water also retain heat better than electric wires do.

As a result, you won’t need to run this system as often to maintain the room’s warmth.

Is a Radiant Wall Heating System Worth It?

Radiant wall heating offers several advantages but there are a few drawbacks as well. Installation will be costly if you need to remodel an existing home.

Often, it is better to go with another form of heating that has similar cost-effectiveness.

Remember, electric will have higher operation costs than gas, except in the case of heat pumps.

If you set on radiant heat and are looking for something to lower your utility bills, a gas-fired hydronic system will be the better choice. It might also be a good idea to take a look at in-floor heating.

If you live in an area that receives electricity from renewable or green sources, a fully electric system might be something to consider.

Radiant heaters don’t use fans to circulate air so they don’t spread allergens and contaminants through the air. However, that might mean you don’t have adequate air circulation in your home.

There are pros and cons to every HVAC choice. What works for you is going to be a result of your home setup, budget, and personal preferences. Make sure to look at all HVAC options before committing to an installation.

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