Heating technology has come a long way over the last few decades. In the past, homeowners had to live with only forced-air heating systems alongside their demerits.
Options like radiant floor heating mean we can now stay more comfortable even during the coldest winter months.
So, what is this technology?
This post explains everything you need to know about radiant floor heating, including the critical items to consider when deciding if this system is right for you. We’ll also tell you why they are worth it and which parts of the house benefit the most from them.
What Is Radiant Floor Heating?
Radiant floor heating is a system that deploys electric wires or hot water tubes underneath the floor to heat a home. The system’s design ensures easy heat distribution to every part, starting from the bottom. The system efficiently transfers heat via infrared radiation.
How a Radiant Floor Heating System Works
Radiant floor heating is a system of heating that uses electrical cables or water tubes to heat a home.
In the water tube system, hot water from a boiler fills the tubes lining the space underneath a floor. The hot tubes transmit heat energy to the floor above. In the electric system, the heat energy comes from your electric mains and into electric coils also underneath the floor.
This form of heat delivery is more efficient, doesn’t involve noise, and is invisible. So, you don’t need to worry about having space for it. You’ll see more of the benefits as you read on.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating Systems
There are three types of radiant floor heating systems, namely:
- Air-heated radiant floors
- Electric-heated floors
- Hydronic-heated floors
Let’s look at each of them.
Air-Heated Radiant Flooring
This type of radiant floor heating system distributes hot air into the floors of buildings via a network of pipes below the ground. A conventional furnace heats the air and sends it through pipes into the home.
However, this method is largely inefficient and supplies inconsistent heat because air loses heat after a short time, so its temperature drops. As a result, the furnace will have to work again to increase the temperature, thus consuming more energy and imposing more costs on the owner.
Solar heat energy is a better option, but it’s also less effective since the system can only produce heat during the day. Air radiant floor heating is not popular due to these downsides.
Electric Radiant Flooring
The electric radiant system of heating homes is a common one that involves laying electric cables beneath the floor to provide heat energy.
As the name suggests, the system requires electricity to function. Once turned, the system will convert the electricity from the mains to heat energy. The heated coils will transfer heat from the ground to other building parts.
Radiant electric floor systems can work on all floors, including tiled, wooden, and marble floors. Installation is cheap and straightforward.
However, the high cost of electric bills involved in running it is a significant downside. As long as the floor receives heat energy, the electricity bills will rise remarkably.
Radiant electric heat is best for those who want to heat a particular area of the house, like the bathroom or a small confined space. Heating an entire house with this system will cause an astronomical rise in your electric bills.
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating
Hydronic systems use water to supply heat. They’re the most preferred and popular radiant floor heating system across many homes in colder regions. It’s also cost-effective as it requires a small amount of electricity to work.
However, hydronic heating systems are expensive, and the installation process is complex. The installation process is similar to that of electric radiant heating, except hot water tubes replace electric cables.
The installation process places the pipes beneath the ground, and hot water flows through them from a boiler stationed outside. The hot water then runs through the tubes to emit heat energy to the floor across the building.
The hydronic in-floor radiant heating system works like a geothermal heat pump because it conserves energy in a closed system.
The hot water from the boiler serves the pipes with heat energy, which heats the floors. The hot water is constantly circulating and returns to the boiler for reheating.
In some advanced hydronic systems, you can control the temperatures within the room by using valves to control water circulation in the tubes.
Installation of Radiant Floor Heating
The installation process for hydronic and electric radiant heating is similar. Both involve laying materials under the floor (water pipes or electric coils).
There are two ways to install these materials: wet and dry installation.
It’s one of the oldest methods of installing radiant heat energy in homes and offices. Installers lay the tubes or wires on the ground before the concrete flooring process. Alternatively, the pipes or wires go inside the concrete mixture before the flooring.
Dry installation is more modern and involves laying the pipes or wires in air spaces below the floor. The process can also include drilling through metal or wooden beams that serve as floor joists to install the cables and tubes.
A system like this will require reflective insulators to convey the heat upward. Also, the heat source or radiant heat hardware typically goes beneath subfloors and, thus, will demand higher temperatures to radiate the heat energy upwards.
The use of prefabricated radiant panels is a dry installation method when breaking the ground to fix pipes is not an option.
Important Considerations For Installation
While radiant heat systems can work on all types of floors and buildings, you have to consider certain factors. These systems are best installed in new buildings to ensure they integrate into the flooring process.
If your building is old, the installation will involve breaking the ground, and you can imagine the cost of breaking the entire floor of a building. It’ll be expensive and complex.
Alternatively, you can pick critical areas of your home to install radiant electric heaters, like the bedroom and bathroom. For hydronic systems, you’ll choose between gas, kerosene, and solar-powered boilers as hot water sources.
Of course, the size of your house also counts. For more robust buildings, a conventional water heater won’t work. Instead, you’ll need to install a boiler.
The tubes in hydroponic systems can be made of different materials that vary in price. These tube types will influence installation costs greatly, among other factors like the ground’s texture and the size of the home.
Best Places To Install Radiant Floor Heating
Some of the best places to install radiant floor heating in your home include:
Bathrooms tend to have colder temperatures due to the flooring and wall materials. Thus, when it’s winter or fall, the temperatures can be unbearable.
Imagine stepping out of the tub after a hot water bath onto cold tiles. Naturally, the bathroom is one of the best places to use a radiant floor heating system.
You spend the better part of the night enjoying the warmth and comfort of your bedroom. So if any place after the bathroom needs a sustainable heating solution like radiant heat energy, it’s the bedroom.
Even heating guarantees stable temperatures in a way that forced-air systems may not match.
Their below-ground position makes basements colder than other areas, especially in winter. Having a radiant heater down there will make your basement a warm and comfortable hideout when above-ground temperatures get too low.
When not at home, you spend the rest of your day at the office (for those office workers among us). Any office can benefit from the heating solution that a radiant floor heater offers. If you own it, a one-time investment in this heat source can yield long-term benefits.
Benefits of Radiant Floor Heating
Radiant floor heating systems have many advantages. Whether you choose the hydronic or electric option, you can enjoy the following benefits, including:
No Impact on Aesthetics and Noise Levels
The wires or tubes are beneath the ground, so you don’t see or hear them make big engine-like noises. As a result, they don’t interrupt or change the aesthetic designs of your home. They also don’t consume spaces like radiators or more conventional HVAC systems.
Little or No Maintenance
Radiant floor heating means you no longer have to spend much money on maintenance work. These systems don’t need a lot of maintenance after installation because they don’t have too many moving parts like other HVAC systems.
However, if you own a hydronic system, you’ll still need to schedule maintenance for the boiler system at least once a year—typically before the winter season.
Electric radiant heating options are easier to install than their counterparts, and a DIY installation is an option if you’re serious about it.
You can lay the wires in the ground while flooring and connect them to a power source. It’s that easy. The hydronic system needs more professional expertise, but the installation process is also straightforward.
They Consume Less Energy
Hydronic systems use less than traditional heating or radiant air heating systems that require more energy to convey heat. Less energy equates to a smaller electricity bill.
It takes less energy to raise the temperature of the water and send it via tubes in the ground to heat the house. Water is also a better retainer of heat than air.
No Ducts Required
Air ducts can consume significant space in your house. You will need to create space for them within your ceiling and floors, which is not always practical.
The ducts also retain some of the generated heat. However, radiant heating systems don’t need air ducts to spread the heat across your home, so you get the bulk of the generated heat.
Compatible With Various Floors
Another highlight of radiant heating systems is that you can install them on all floor types. The only inconvenience with the installation is breaking the floors if you’re installing after flooring.
Radiant systems work for all, from wooden and laminate floors to their tiled, stone, and concrete counterparts.
This has to be one of the best advantages of a hydronic heating system over others. It allows you to set multiple temperature zones across the house to control the heat.
Unlike a single thermostat that regulates the temperature of the entire house, you can customize the temperature to suit your room’s heating needs.
You can decide to lower your room’s temperature, increase it or leave it somewhere in the middle with a customized thermostat.
Radiant floor heating systems also work with smart thermostats. With the thermostat, you can control the temperatures of various rooms using a smartphone app.
Installing Radiant Heating for Commercial Buildings
While residential buildings are usually the focus of radiant heating conversations, commercial buildings can benefit significantly from radiant heating systems.
The benefits of using radiant heat in commercial buildings include:
Reduced Energy Bills
Using radiant heating on some floors can significantly lower the winter heating cost. Commercial central HVAC systems won’t have to work too hard overall, and you can maintain better control over the heating in individual rooms.
Lower Maintenance Costs
Standard commercial central heating systems require regular maintenance—sometimes up to twice a year. The costs can add up quickly. Radiant heating systems don’t require regular maintenance.
Electric systems can function for years without breaking down, and the hydronic variants require routine annual checks. The high-grade PEX pipes and the electric coils in use in these systems require no maintenance since they are corrosion-free.
Other benefits like invisible hardware, noiseless heat emission, lesser space, and zero allergies are more reasons why commercial buildings can use radiant heat.
Radiant Floor Heating vs. Traditional Heating
Radiant heating systems are superior to traditional furnace-based or HVAC systems. Energy efficiency is the main talking point.
Still, radiant heated floors are better than conventional options in other ways. These include:
Forced-air heating systems can’t maintain a specific temperature consistently and evenly around the home.
Air is not a reliable carrier of heat, so the air delivered via ducts will get cooler as it travels through the house. Forced-air heating systems heat buildings faster, but the temperature drops with time since air can’t hold much heat for long.
On the other hand, a radiant heated floor saves you from these inconveniences and temperature fluctuations. Radiant floor heating solutions take some time to heat your home, but when they are up and running, the temperature stays the same for as long as the system is working.
Noise and Allergies
Traditional heating options consume space, create more noise and lead to allergies. They use gas or electricity as energy sources to blow hot air through ducting, often laced with environmental allergens within vents. Some dust, pollen, and other particles will get through even with filters.
On the other hand, radiant heated floors emit nothing but heat in a silent, energy-efficient way. Thus, cases of allergies with radiant heated floors are rare.
Space heaters are cost-effective, easy to use, and consume less space. However, they can be hazardous. This is especially true for gas-powered systems. It only takes a leak missed by the carbon detector for too long to spark a fire.
With radiant floor heating systems, there are no such risks. The coils in electric variants are not powerful enough to trigger a fire, and the hot water in the hydroponic variants can’t burn your home either.
Is Radiant Floor Heating Worth It?
Radiant heating systems are worth it, considering their long list of advantages. They are energy-efficient and guarantee even and consistent heating across the home. They’re also low-maintenance units that can last a long time.
However, you have to consider the unique demands of these systems before deciding if they’re the right choice for you. Remember, you may need to break up your floors for the installation.
This consideration makes them impractical in rented apartments. Even in your own home, the cost of breaking up floors may be prohibitive.
Line up the pros and cons and make the best decision for your unique situation.
Radiant heating is one of the most efficient home heating units. The dynamics of these systems make them super practical.
They beat forced-air and space heating systems in many areas, but you still need to weigh your options before settling for one carefully. In large homes, radiant heating systems may be just as expensive as forced-air alternatives.
Speak with your local HVAC contractor to determine what will work best for your home.
- US Department of Energy: Radiant Heating
- How Stuff Works: How Radiant Floor Heating Works
- Warmup: Radiant Floor Heating Systems Buyers Guide
- This Old House: Radiant Floor Heating: Why It’s Worth It
- Cielo WiGle: Radiant Floor Heating: Efficient Solution for Your Heating Problems
- Steele Bros Heating: FAQ About Hydronic Heating
- InterCounty Supply: Everything You Need to Know About Hydronic Heating