Closeup on an exposed cross-section of a radiant wall heating system

Radiant wall heating – often called radiant heating, radiant cooling, or radiant slab heating – is one of the popular methods for home heating. Some argue that this heating method can evenly heat a space and provide comfortable, efficient, and clean warmth. 

But, what exactly is radiant wall heating, and does it even work?

This article will explore how radiant wall heating works, highlight its pros and cons, and compare it to other forms of home heating. So keep reading for all you’ve ever wanted to know about this heating technology.

What Is Radiant Wall Heating?

Radiant wall heating is a system where water is heated or cooled and circulated through a series of pipes in the walls. The heat or cold is then emitted through vents in the wall, warming or cooling the room. In some models, electrical coils heat up to generate the energy needed in a home.

How Radiant Wall Heating Works

In a nutshell, radiant wall heating works well. In fact, it’s one of the most efficient ways to heat your home. But how exactly does it work?

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, there are two primary ways radiant wall heating can be generated—heated water and electric coils. 

Let’s explore them both in detail.

Hydronic Systems: Circulating Hot Water Through Pipes

Hydronic systems are a type of radiant wall heating that uses hot water instead of electricity to heat your home. They work by circulating hot water through pipes located in your walls. The heat from the water is then emitted through vents in the walls, warming up your home. 

Hydronic systems are very efficient and can save you money on energy bills. They are also very comfortable because they evenly distribute heat throughout your home. Additionally, unlike other heating systems, such as forced-air furnaces, hydronic radiant heating does not create noise. 

If you are considering installing a hydronic radiant heating system in your home, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • First, you will need to have a boiler installed to circulate the hot water through the pipes.
  • Second, hydronic systems require regular maintenance to prevent corrosion and scale build-up in the pipes.
  • Finally, you will need to ensure your walls are well insulated to prevent heat loss. 
A worker lifts a batt of rockwool insulation off a stack as he readies it to be applied to an attic ceiling

That said, installing a hydronic radiant heating system can significantly improve your home’s comfort while saving you money on energy bills. If you take the time to do your research and plan for the installation process, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of hydronic radiant heating for many years.

Electric Systems: Heating Coils Through Resistance

Electric radiant systems are another type of radiant wall heating, instead using electricity to heat coils located in your walls. When you switch these systems on, the coils begin to heat up and radiate infrared energy.

But how do these coils emit heat?

To understand the answer, let’s revisit the concept of resistance and how it generates heat:

In a nutshell, resistance is the property of a material that opposes the flow of an electric current. When an electric current flows through a material with resistance, some energy is converted into heat.

That’s how electric radiant heating systems work. The coils in the walls have resistance. So when an electric current flows through them, they generate heat. The heat is then emitted through the vents and absorbed by objects in the room, resulting in a temperature rise.

Admittedly, the above description is somewhat oversimplified. 

If you need to learn more about how radiant walls work, here’s a Youtube video that covers the nitty-gritty of this heating system:

Screenshot from a video explaining radiant wall heating
Courtesy of HotandColdTelevision

Electric radiant heating systems are 100% efficient, meaning that all the energy they use is converted into heat. Additionally, they provide uniform heating and can be used to supplement other heat sources. 

However, electric radiant heating systems can be expensive to operate. Additionally, they require careful installation to avoid creating fire hazards.

Radiant Wall Heating Pros and Cons

Having explored how radiant wall heating works, let’s first look at some advantages of this type of heating. After all, there must be some good reasons why radiant wall heating is becoming increasingly popular.

Advantages of Radiant Wall Heating


Radiant wall heating systems are very efficient, meaning they use less energy to heat your home than other types of heating. In fact, hydronic radiant systems can be up to 30% more efficient than forced-air furnaces.

That’s because radiant heating systems heat objects directly rather than the air around them. As a result, less energy is required to achieve the desired temperature change.

Additionally, a hydronic radiant heating system does not create any drafts or hot spots, so you can be sure it will evenly and consistently heat your home.

High Level of Comfort

Another significant advantage of radiant wall heating is that it is very comfortable. That’s because radiant heat feels like natural heat, unlike the dry, stuffy air created by forced-air furnaces.

Besides, who doesn’t love the feeling of warm, toasty walls on a cold winter day? With radiant wall heating, you can have that feeling all day long!

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

Health Considerations

Radiant wall heating is an excellent option if you suffer from allergies or asthma. That’s because this type of heating doesn’t circulate dust and other allergens through your home the way forced-air furnaces do.

Additionally, radiant wall heating systems do not create any noise, so you can enjoy the quiet of your home without the sound of a furnace kicking on every few minutes.

Uniform Heating

Another significant advantage of radiant wall heating is that it provides uniform heating. 

That’s because heat is distributed evenly throughout the room, thanks to the fact it radiates from the walls. That’s in contrast to other forms of home heating, which often leave certain areas of the room feeling colder than others.

As a result, you won’t have to worry about hot and cold spots in your home. Instead, the system will evenly and consistently heat every room.


Radiant wall heating is also cost-effective. That’s because it’s a highly efficient way to heat your home. As mentioned, radiant heating is up to 30% more efficient than other forms of home heating.

That means you can save money on your energy bill every month. In fact, you may even be able to save enough money to offset the cost of installing a radiant heating system.

Disadvantages of Radiant Wall Heating

Despite the many benefits of radiant wall heating, there are also some drawbacks you should be aware of. 

The most significant ones include:

Expensive Installation

One of the most significant drawbacks of radiant wall heating is that it can be expensive to install. That’s because radiant heating systems installations are not do-it-yourself projects.

Instead, you’ll need to hire a professional to install the system. Additionally, radiant heating systems often require specialized equipment and materials, which can drive up costs.

Access and Repair Can Be Difficult

Another potential drawback of radiant wall heating is that access and repair can be difficult because the heating elements are hidden behind the walls.

So if something goes wrong with the system, you’ll need to hire a professional to fix it. Additionally, if you ever need to replace any parts, it can be challenging to do so yourself.

May Require Some Changes to Your Home

If you’re considering installing a radiant wall heating system, you should know that you may need to make changes to your home first. This possibility is because they require special insulation and vapor barriers.

A vapor barrier installed in a wall before the insulation and drywall is added.

Without these, your home may not be able to properly hold in the heat, which can lead to increased energy costs.

Hydronic Systems Are Prone to Water Leaks

If you’re considering a hydronic radiant wall heating system, you should know that these systems are particularly prone to water leaks.

That’s because the system relies on water to function, and any breaks or leaks can cause significant damage to your home.

Electric Systems Are Expensive To Operate

If you’re considering electric radiant wall heating, you should know that these systems are expensive to run. That’s because they use a lot of electricity to function, and the cost of electricity is only going up. 

However, the high efficiency of these systems means they can still save you money in the long run.

Radiant Wall Heating vs. Other Heating Options

Now that you know more about radiant wall heating let’s explore how it compares to other forms of home heating.

Radiant Wall Heating vs. Radiant Floor Heating

Radiant floor heating is similar to radiant wall heating because it uses infrared radiation to heat your home. But instead of radiating from the walls, the heat radiates from the floor. That can provide some distinct benefits, such as improved heating for rooms with high ceilings.

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

However, radiant floor heating can also be more expensive to install than radiant wall heating, especially if you need to retrofit your home to accommodate it.

Radiant Wall Heating vs. Convection Heating

Convection heating is another home heating option. This system uses hot air circulated by a fan to heat your home.

One of the main benefits of convection heating is that it’s less expensive to install than radiant heating. However, it’s also less efficient since some heat is lost as the air circulates. 

Additionally, convection heating can be less effective in rooms with high ceilings since the heat will rise and escape before it can circulate.

Radiant Wall Heating vs. Traditional Heating

Traditional heating systems, such as forced-air furnaces, heat the air and circulate it through your home with a fan.

Closeup on a propane furnace in a basement

One of the main benefits of traditional heating is that it’s less expensive to install than radiant heating. Additionally, these systems are more common, making them easier to find and repair.

However, traditional heating systems are less efficient than radiant heating since they rely on convection to heat your home. That means hot air rises and cold air sinks, creating drafts and uneven temperatures.

Tips for Choosing a Radiant Wall Heating System

If you’ve decided that radiant wall heating is the right choice for your home, you should keep a few things in mind when choosing a system.

Here are a few tips:

  • Select a system that’s the right size for your home. If you choose one that’s too small, it won’t be able to heat your home effectively. If you go with one that’s too large, it will be less efficient and will likely cost more to operate.
  • Choose a system designed for your climate. If you live in a cold environment, you’ll need a unit to handle the cold weather. The reverse is also true – if you live in a warm climate, you can choose a less expensive system since it won’t have to work as hard.
  • Check the warranty before you buy. Most radiant wall heating systems come with a warranty, but it’s essential to check the terms before you buy. For example, some warranties only cover parts, while others also cover labor.
  • Ask for referrals. If you know someone who has radiant wall heating, ask for a referral. They can tell you about their experience with the system and help you choose a reputable company.
  • Check reviews. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, check online reviews to see what other customers say about the company and its products.

The Bottom Line

Radiant wall heating is a home heating method that uses infrared radiation to heat your home. This system can be an excellent option for people who want to improve their home’s energy efficiency because it’s more efficient than traditional heating.

The caveat is that these heating systems can be more expensive to install and operate than their traditional counterparts. But with enough research, you can minimize unnecessary installation and operational costs by choosing the right radiant wall heating system for your needs.


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