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 cooler months. The vast majority of these spaces have opted for HVAC heating. 

However, a particular form of heating known as radiant wall heating has also been growing in popularity. Radiant wall heating has existed for many decades but fell out of favor due to issues present with early designs.

Modern radiant wall heating systems have largely eliminated most of these problems, making this method an excellent choice for people seeking an efficient and even heating solution for their homes or commercial spaces.

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. This guide will discuss different aspects of radiant wall heating to help determine whether this heating solution is right for you.

What is Radiant Wall Heating?

Radiant wall heating refers to 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 this heat into the room. The result is that the air in the room gets warmer.

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.

An American architect named Frank Lloyd introduced the first modern iteration of radiant heating in the United States in the 1900s. He learned about this heating method after seeing it used in Japan. 

Lloyd began incorporating radiant heated floors in the buildings he designed, including many prominent buildings such as the Dwight D. Martin House and the Price Tower.

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

Radiant wall heating then emerged a few decades later. Electric radiant wall heating systems became popular across the US, and thousands of households enjoyed the sustained and even warmth they provided.

However, rising electricity costs made such systems too expensive for many Americans, and forced-air heating systems replaced radiant wall heating.

Radiant wall heating regained popularity in the 1980s after many manufacturers began supplying water-based or “hydronic” radiant heating systems. These systems have been steadily gaining traction in homes across America for their high efficiency.

Advantages of Radiant Wall Heating

Many favor radiant wall heating because it offers numerous advantages over forced-air HVAC systems.

These benefits include:

Quiet Operation

Radiant wall heating systems are known for being incredibly quiet. After all, they don’t contain any moving components that would produce noise. For example, electric radiant wall heating systems transmit electricity to their wires to produce heat. 

Hydronic radiant wall heating systems transmit warm water through their pipes, but this process is relatively silent. The solid wall panels also shield any noise that hydronic systems produce.

By contrast, forced-air HVAC heating systems produce high noise because they rely on a fan “forcing” air through the vent system. 

This air must also be forced at high velocities to ensure it reaches rooms at the far end of the house or building. As a result, HVAC systems tend to be quite noisy, which could be problematic for people who would like to enjoy the warmth of indoor heating in silence.

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

Forced-air HVAC systems struggle to provide even heating due to how they work. These systems produce heat at the furnace and force warm air through the vents using a fan.

This characteristic often results in the rooms closest to the furnace and fan receiving the warmest air. Conversely, rooms farther from these components receive the least amount of hot air. 

As a result, homes that use forced air HVAC systems often have uneven heating. 

Quick Heating

Radiant heating panels are known to offer 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. 

Both these systems are faster than HVAC heating because their heating element is located directly beneath the wall panels. As a result, they can heat the panels quickly using conduction, which is faster than the convection forced-air HVAC systems rely on.

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. 

The improved efficiency and heat retention also mean you will likely save on your energy bill by setting up a radiant wall heating system in your home or commercial space. 

Such systems make excellent choices for people who reside in colder states and regularly rack up high heating bills.

Disadvantages of Radiant Wall Heating

Radiant wall heating has a few disadvantages compared to forced-air HVAC systems. 

Drawbacks include:

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 simple HVAC system 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 have implemented the system.

High Installation Costs

Radiant heating might offer better efficiency and even heating when compared with forced-air HVAC systems. However, these systems tend to be more expensive to install.

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. However, once this installation is complete, you will start saving money thanks to the radiant wall heating system’s lower operating costs.

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

As mentioned earlier, radiant wall heating systems can be categorized as either electric or hydronic. Each system offers advantages and drawbacks, so you should understand them both before choosing one.

Reasons to Choose Electric Over Hydronic Radiant Wall Heating

Some reasons to choose electric radiant wall heating over hydronic radiant wall heating include:

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 usually needed for hydronic systems.

Less Space Required

The boiler hydronic radiant wall heaters use 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 stop working. However, there is no threat of this problem spiraling out of control. 

Faster Heating

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

These factors make hydronic radiant wall heating an excellent choice for large rooms that require a more heavy-duty heating solution.

Is a Radiant Wall Heating System Worth It?

As you can see, a radiant wall heating system offers many advantages over forced-air HVAC systems. If you’re willing to put up with the high installation cost, these systems can help you save a lot of money over time.

Electric radiant wall heating systems can be an incredibly great choice if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of running a forced-air system with a furnace that burns fossil fuels.

This benefit is even more significant if you live in an area that receives electricity from renewable or green sources.

Hydronic radiant wall heating systems could be an excellent choice if you can spare some space for the boiler. This system will help keep your home or commercial space warm for long periods without racking up a high energy bill. 

So consider investing in a radiant wall heating system if the above benefits appeal to you.

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