Radiant Floor Heating—Is It Right for You?

Radiant floor heating is a newer form of heating a home. It’s popular in newly constructed housing and renovations, especially those with a concentration on energy efficiency and clean, comfortable living. With radiant floors, there’s no ugly ductwork or radiator and no noisy vents blowing out forced air. If that’s not enough, you’ll be thankful for toasty toes when you wake up on a cold morning!

How does it work?

There are two basic ways of supplying radiant floor heating: hot water and electricity. Electric radiant heating uses zigzagging loops of resistance wire and is usually retrofitted to one room, like a bathroom or kitchen. Hot-water—or hydronic—radiant heating uses water from a boiler or water heater circulating through loops or ½” polyethylene tubes. These can be installed on top of the subflooring in or embedded in concrete, then covered with most types of flooring, including hardwood and tile.

How is it different?

With conventional forced air heating, the air temperatures can become stratified and uneven pretty quickly. Once the thermostat registers the temperature you set it for, it obviously shuts off. Since hot air rises, it may be that temperature up near the ceiling, but your feet may still be freezing. With radiant floor heating, the warmth is immediate on the floor and rises evenly. The cooler air stays up near the ceiling, where it’s not needed as much. This means it’s more efficient than traditional heating methods, and while it may cost a bit more up front, it will save you money on monthly energy bills.

What are some pros?

There are many pros to radiant floor heating, including the energy efficiency and money savings we mentioned above. People who have certain allergies and need cleaner air benefit from radiant heat as well since it doesn’t distribute allergens like forced air does. Hydronic systems are able to work with little electricity AND the hydronic version coupled with a high efficiency gas boiler costs 75% less to operate than electric versions! They can operate on a variety of energy sources like standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, and solar water heaters. Since radiant floor heating covers the entire floor, there are no cold spots to be found, making for a cozy environment throughout the home. Radiant floor heating is inconspicuous since there’s no need for a radiator or ductwork to work around. Finally, radiant floor heating is easy to install, especially when it’s part of a renovation or a new build.

What are some cons?

One of the biggest cons of radiant floor heating is installation cost. It’s safe to estimate about $10 to $20 per square foot depending on which type of system you use. As stated above, however, you can make up for installation costs easily with the savings you’ll see on your energy bill. Underfloor heating systems can also increase the floor height by an average of less than half an inch. If you place insulation boards under the heating equipment, you can expect the floor height to go up by about an inch. This won’t be much of an issue for most people, but if it is, take notice before you decide to go with radiant floor heating.

It’s completely up to you to decide whether or not radiant floor heating is right for you in your home. If you’re building a new home or know you’ll be living in your current home for many years, the pros outweigh the cons by a lot. The energy savings alone you see will ensure the decision is worth it.

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