Radiant ceiling heating panels in a kitchen

Radiant ceiling heating is an effective way to heat a room without requiring the same space considerations needed by baseboard heating or wall-mounted heat pumps.

You can install radiant ceiling heat in nearly any room with little or no structural modifications.

One of the biggest benefits of radiant ceiling heat is its lack of ductwork. This is especially helpful for people suffering from asthma, allergies, or other respiratory conditions.

Radiant ceiling heat isn’t the most popular choice in the US but it is readily available and can be simple to install. No two homes are the same.

One HVAC system might be perfect for one home and a poor choice for another. Let’s discuss if this heating system might work for you.

How Radiant Ceiling Heating and Cooling Works

Radiant heating and cooling is a system that uses radiant heaters and coolers mounted on the ceiling.

The electromagnetic radiation transfers heat from the hot air near the ceiling to the cold air near the floor.

a diagram of the mechanisms behind radiant Ceiling Heating
Courtesy of TWA Panels

Essentially, radiant ceiling heating works like the sun by heating your room from top to bottom. This heating system does not require vents or blowers.

This means you don’t have to worry about energy losses from ductwork like you would with a central HVAC system.

It can also be used in conjunction with other systems, such as air conditioning or solar panels, to provide more control over the temperature of a home or office.

You can also choose to heat one or two rooms with radiant heaters instead of your entire home. This seems to work well for homes with central HVAC systems that want a little more comfort in specific areas.

This setup also has the benefit of taking some of the strain off your forced-air furnace or boiler.

Types of Radiant Heating Systems

Hydronic Radiant Ceiling Heating

Hydronic radiant heating is a process that uses water as the heat source. This type of heating is more efficient and less expensive than other conventional heating methods.

Heated water from a boiler flows through a network of polymer tubes or pipes installed on the roof. You can use the hydronic system in commercial or residential buildings.

Hydronic systems can be expensive to install. They require a boiler to heat the water and the installation of water lines. However, these units will have lower operation costs than electric radiant heaters.

Electric Radiant Ceiling Heating

The electric radiant heating system is a heating system that uses electricity to heat electric coils installed on the ceiling.

These coils heat the air, causing it to rise and circulate in the room.

An electric radiant heating system has many residential, commercial, and industrial applications. These systems provide an additional layer of warmth that you can use alongside other heating systems.

Electric radiant heating is also environmentally friendly because it does not produce emissions or noise pollution compared to other heating systems.

Electric radiant ceiling heaters will be far easier to install than a hydronic system but they will cost you more on your utility bills. Electric heating is the most expensive type of heating on the market. 

Note: While being fully electric, heat pumps do not have the same electricity consumption as other forms of electric heat.

Air Radiant Heating

Air radiant ceiling heating is a technology that uses air to heat spaces rather than heating the area with electricity or hot water.

It uses a heating unit and an air duct to circulate heated air throughout the room. This system is helpful in homes with low ceilings and small spaces. 

The air radiant heating system is a forced-air heating system where heated or cooled air goes through ducts embedded in the ceiling. The warm air radiates into your living space, heating the air around you.

This type of heating system is the least efficient since air has a poor capacity to retain or carry heat.

This type of system may run more than the others to provide the same amount of heat. You can make it a little more effective by properly insulating your home and sealing your windows.

Pros of Radiant Ceiling Heating

  • A reduction in energy costs
  • Better indoor air quality
  • Increased comfort
  • Little to no fire risk
  • Easy installation for electric units
  • Better thermal performance than AC units
  • Quiet
  • A few structural modifications

Cons of Radiant Ceiling Heating

  • Expensive to install and maintain
  • Electric heat can be very expensive
  • Does not work well in buildings with high ceilings

Radiant Ceiling Heating vs. Floor Heating

In-floor heating is one of the most popular radiant heating options available today.

Just like radiant ceiling heat, in-floor heating can be either hydronic or electric. In-floor heating is far more common in US homes than radiant ceiling heat.

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

Radiant floor heating and radiant ceiling heating both heat the air in a room, but they do so differently.

Radiant floor heating heats the floor directly, while radiant ceiling heating heats the air near the ceiling. The heat naturally spreads throughout the room. Both of these systems provide even heating.

In-floor heating can more easily service larger spaces, but we see the same problems with in-floor heating as with ceiling heaters. Electric heat can get expensive to run.

For this reason, many homeowners choose to heat only specific areas with radiant heat (bathrooms, bedrooms, and living spaces) and not the entire house.

If you are in a position to add solar panels, this can be a great way to offset some of your electric bills.

Radiant Ceiling Heating vs. Standard HVAC Systems

The biggest difference between radiant heating and forced air is the lack of ductwork. Ducts, even those that have been sealed and air-tested, have some form of energy loss.

Forced-air furnaces are sized with this in mind but you still waste some heat energy in the duct system as it circulates through your home.

Ductwork can also cause air quality concerns as dirt, dander, and allergens build up within the ducts. As air passes through the dirty ducts, it circulates all of those pollutants through the air you breathe in your home.

This is not to say forced-air heating is bad, but that you should have your ducts cleaned regularly and test your home’s air quality.

There are several options to deal with poor air quality with central HVAC systems, from simply installing a 5’’ filter boot to setting up a whole-home air purification system.

Radiant heating (ceiling or in-floor) doesn’t have any of those problems associated with ductwork and air circulation. So that is something to keep in mind.

Ducting near the ceiling reinforced with metallic tape to cover leakage
Traditional HVAC ducting

Does Radiant Ceiling Heating Really Work?

Yes, these systems do work to heat your home. Whether you choose a hydronic or an electric system depends on a variety of factors.

Many homeowners chose to simply heat one of two spaces with electric radiant heat for maximum comfort.

This is often a great solution, as it reduces the amount of money you would spend if you were to heat your entire home with radiant heat while maintaining home comfort for the spaces you use the most.

Another big benefit of this setup is that you are taking some strain off your main HVAC system, which could actually lower your utility bills.

Multiple radiant heating panels suspended from a ceiling in a commercial application
Courtesy of Marley

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