What’s a good heating system?
A system that is noiseless, energy efficient, easy to install, doesn’t spew dust and allergen all over the place, and, most importantly — gets the job done. A good heating system should feel like a warm blanket of heat, almost as if you are standing in the sun on a cold morning.
The concept of a radiant floor heating system isn’t new. However, until recently, you would need to make the call to install radiant heating before building your home. But modern technologies mean you can make the addition to your existing floors anytime you want. Some manufacturers make it even easier that you don’t even have to rip up your floor covering.
But is it worth it to invest in a radiant flooring heating system? What are the pros and cons of a radiant floor heating system? This article will discuss everything you need to know to decide whether a radiant floor heating system is right for you.
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How Does Radiant Floor Heating System Work?
Radiant floor heating is arguably the most comfortable and efficient home heating system. It is invisible and doesn’t make any clanking or hissing noise — you cannot even tell it is there except for the blanket of warmth it provides. Other than aesthetics, it is a highly efficient way to warm up your home.
The traditional forced air heating system that you can find in most houses works by blowing out hot air that circulates around the perimeter of the room and eventually settles at the top. So, while you feel a gush of warmth around your head, your feet remain cold even after running the heat at 70 for hours.
In contrast, the heat comes from the electric wire or hot water tubes buried underneath the floor covering in the case of radiant heating. It warms up any object it comes in contact with, capturing the heat and radiating it to warm up the entire room. Radiant heating warms the solid objects around the room instead of the air. It captures the heat better and distributes it evenly throughout, making it more comfortable as you don’t feel the ups and downs of temperature. In this case, the warm air still rises but evenly over the entire floor so that the coolest air remains near the ceiling.
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Types of Radiant Floor Heating Systems
Radiant floors are heated in two main ways — either by electric resistance cables or hot water tubes running across the subfloor.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating System
Electric radiant heating uses zigzagging loops of resistance cables to heat rooms. It is usually used as a supplemental heating source and retrofitted into a single room. Electric heating is not suitable for the entire house but is ideal for kitchens or bathrooms. The cables are installed and embedded over the subfloor in a thin layer of mortar.
Tiles are most popular with an electric system as they best conduct heat. Depending on the manufacturer, radiant electric floor heating pads can be installed under laminate, hardwood, engineered, and other floating floors. With these types of installations, the process is even simpler. All you need to do is roll out the pad and fasten it to the subfloor using tape before covering it with a floating floor and making the electric connection.
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Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System
A hydronic radiant floor heating system circulates hot water from a boiler or a water heater to heat the entire house. This system uses one or two inches of thick flexible polyethene tubing to circulate the water. The tube can be installed in several ways. They can be embedded in poured concrete, stapled under subflooring, installed over the existing cement slabs, or fitted inside channels of subfloor panels designed specifically for running the pipes.
Hydronic heating works with pretty much any floor covering. However, it is recommended to avoid carpets with thick insulation with any underfloor heating systems as they reduce the efficiency of the system. Hydronic is more costly to install compared to other heating systems. However, they surpass forced-air heating systems by 30 percent in energy efficiency, which makes up for the large upfront costs.
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Pros of Radiant Floor Heating System
Traditional radiators can be heated as high as 165 degrees Fahrenheit just to raise the temperature level of the room to 70 degrees. The radiant heating system only needs to go up to 84 degrees Fahrenheit to warm the entire space. It is 20-25% more energy-efficient than a forced-air heating system. Its efficiency can be further improved by insulating the duct to prevent heat from escaping below the subfloor.
Since the heat is radiated through the floor and furniture rather than a gush of wind, the heat is spread out more evenly through the space. The heat comes from a lower level, so the warm air rises and spreads across the floor to make it cozier.
No visible ducts or grills
Underfloor heating systems are built to be the most discreet compared to the other options. It makes them the most preferred choice for living spaces — combining aesthetics with heating.
One large downside of the radiator or forced-air-based heating system is the clanking or the vents whooshing that can disrupt your sleep at night. Whether you get an electric or hydronic system, radiant heating is completely quiet. In hydronic systems, the boiler or water heaters are usually installed in the basement, so you cannot hear it from above.
As the radiator raises air temperature, it impacts the oxygen saturation and decreases the oxygen level in the air. Also, the circulation from warm air rising and falling as it gets colder moves dust around in circles, which concerns those with allergies and lung issues. A radiant floor doesn’t heat the air or spread around dust and debris, which preserves indoor air quality.
Works with any flooring materials
Radiant floor heating works with any flooring material, including vinyl, ceramic tiles, and hardwood. One flooring material to avoid with in-floor heating is heavily insulated carpet.
Cons of Radiant Floor Heating System
Even though the radiant heating system is very efficient and can save you on electric bills in the long haul, you need to consider the upfront cost of installation. Hydronic radiant heated flooring costs between $6 to $20 per square foot for installation, while electric-based radiant floor heating runs between $8 to $15 per square foot.
Requires removing the existing floor covering
Apart from a few electric radiant systems, most require removing the existing floor covering to install the heating directly on the subfloor. This is why installing a floor heating system during a renovation or in the construction phase is more feasible. However, in the case of tongue and groove floating floors, this is less of a concern.
Raises floor level
The added height from the radiant floor heating system varies with manufacturers. Some heating systems add no height to the floor, while others can add close to an inch to your floor. Also, you might need to add insulation that contributes further to the floor height. So, you might need to consult a professional to ensure that the space between the existing floor and doors and fixtures is sufficient to accommodate the radiant floor heating system.
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Is Radiant Floor Heating System Right for You?
Radiant heat is the best available heating system in the market, without any doubt. The increasing energy prices make it worth investing in floor heating systems. If you are building a new home or renovating the floor, then it is absolutely the right choice for you. Before investing in radiant floor heating, you should also consider the boiler and if you have sufficient space for it.
However, if you don’t want to rip up your existing floor, you can still enjoy the benefits of radiant heating by retrofitting them below the subfloor. In a retrofit, the heating pipes are attached to the underside of the subfloor. Insulation is added to prevent the heat from escaping below. On the first floor, the subfloor can be accessed easily from the crawl space or basement. But for higher floors, the ceiling of the floor below needs to be removed to access the subfloor. However, this installation can be less efficient, costlier, and require more tubing.
Cost of Radiant Floor Heating System
Radiant floor heating system costs more than typical radiator-based heating systems. The cost varies depending on your location, material and labor. A house with around 2,000 square feet will cost approximately $20,000 for one zone using an existing boiler. For two zones and with a new boiler, expect to pay about $28,000. For three zones, additional insulation and a new boiler can cost you as much as $35,000.
Hydronic radiant heated flooring costs between $6 to $20 per square foot for installation, while electric-based radiant floor heating runs between $8 to $15 per square foot — to give you a per-square-foot estimation. The running cost is similar for both systems, varying between $1 to $5 per day.
Do you have any questions about the radiant floor heating system? Comment below and let us know.