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Is a Radiant Floor Heating System Right for Your Space?

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radiant floor heating system

You probably have heard of radiant heating, but if you’re like a lot of people it remains a mysterious heating concept. Truth be told, forms of radiant heat graced ancient Rome before Julius Caesar ran his empire. Though a radiant floor heating system may have originated with Greek and Roman hypocausts, which circulated hot air under flooring, progressive innovations still render it as a cutting-edge method of heating your home or business.

What’s to like about a radiant floor heating system?

If you are building a new home or renovating your castle, a radiant floor heating system is not seen or heard! That’s right, there are no radiators clanging in the middle of the night, no unsightly vents disrupting your quiet with blasts of air and no ductwork to churn out allergens and dust.

Radiant heat does not dry out the air – a plus for those with sensitive sinuses.

A radiant floor heating system provides you with a blanket of steady heat resulting in more consistent temperatures and comfort than many traditional heating systems. A radiant floor heating system facilitates a more uniform heating approach because it does not fade away, but it radiates from the floor. It warms up any objects it makes contact with and these heated objects also radiate heat. If you are familiar with the more common forced air systems, you know that the hot air rises, often leaving you with cold feet.

Because the hot air is not rising to the ceiling and escaping out windows and doors, a radiant floor heating system is a more energy-efficient way to heat your home or business. Experts estimate a radiant floor heating system is roughly 30-perent more efficient than forced air heat. Radiant floor heating systems typically enjoy a long life span, which is another benefit.

What’s NOT to like about a radiant floor heating system?

The cost for installing radiant floor heating is more expensive than other types of heating systems, but when considering the radiant floor heating cost, temper it with your savings on energy bills. A radiant floor heating system only addresses your heating needs. You will also need an air cooling system. Though radiant cooling systems are available, they are impractical and usually not cost-effective to install.

Common types of radiant floor heating

Electric radiant floor heating

An electric radiant floor heating system is an electric-based system that is commonly used as a supplemental system because of relatively high electric user costs. Typically, electric radiant floor heating system are installed in bathrooms, kitchens and additions.

The electric cables are fastened to a subfloor. An electric radiant floor heating system matches up well with stone or ceramic tile. Radiant floor heating pads are a popular choice for installation under laminates.

Hydronic radiant floor heating

Hydronic radiant floor heating, which is water-based, is a growing choice for a full-house installation and a wise selection for a new home or business. A hydronic radiant floor heating system utilizes a boiler/hot water heater to heat water and features tubes that circulate the hot water under the floor. This type of system works well with most types of flooring.

Other technology

Air heated. Though air-heated radiant floor systems are available, these systems are not commonly installed because of lower efficiency levels. Sometimes an air-heated radiant floor system is coupled with solar heat.
Warm boards. Warmboard, a leading radiant heat system manufacturer, produces sub-flooring that contains tubing, which has made radiant heat system installations all the more easier. The company makes 4X8 radiant panels generally used in new construction and 2X4 panels normally used in renovation projects.

Radiant floor heating system: where it works

The installation of a radiant floor heating system is the latest and greatest in luxury homes and trendy new building construction because of the unparalleled consistent comfort and achievable energy savings. Aesthetic and health considerations also make it a popular choice because it is quiet, invisible in your living space and provides for a dust and allergen-free conveyance of heat.

As stated before, hydronic radiant floor heating systems are an excellent choice for an entire home and new construction. For about the past 20 years, crossed-linked polyethylene tubing has been commonly used. Polyethylene tubing has made it easier to install and are relatively leak-free. The mid-century modern hydronic systems of the 1950’s and 1960’s featured copper pipes that were prone to leaks as years passed.

The expense of electricity makes electric radiant floor heating better suited for supplemental heating or individual rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens. Electric radiant floor heating lends itself to retrofitting. Programmable thermostats that set air and floor temperature limits are recommended to reign in electric costs.

Radiant floor heating system: where it doesn’t work

Though a radiant floor heating system can be installed in most buildings, if you have a sustainable, highly insulated “green” home or building with a tight thermal envelope, a radiant floor might be subject to overheating. If your building/home has a high rating from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) you won’t derive a significant energy savings benefit from a radiant floor heating system because your building is so well insulated.

A radiant floor heating system can be installed under wood, but some installers recommend engineered/laminated wood rather than solid wood because solid wood does not handle moisture and temperature changes as well and is prone to warping and cracking.

A radiant floor heating system is compatible with most flooring. Ceramic tile is a great choice for flooring with a radiant floor heating system because it is a heat conductor and promotes thermal storage. Thick carpeting and padding should be avoided because it will act as an insulator and diminish the efficiency of your radiant floor heating system. If carpets are a non-negotiable part of your interior design plan, try to minimize its floor coverage and choose a thin carpet.

The radiant heat retrofit

Radiant heat can be retrofitted to existing buildings, but installation costs will be more expensive than in new construction. Retrofitting will require access to the first floor subfloor through a basement of crawl space where installers will attach tubing to the bottom of the subfloor. If you are doing a full blown, large scale renovation and planning on replacing your floor, you should consider putting the tubing on top of the subfloor for better efficiency. If you want to supply radiant heat to any level above the first floor, it will likely require opening the ceiling up on the floor below to gain access to the bottom of the subfloor.

Other radiant heat possibilities: floors and ceilings

Just so you know when you are exploring the installation of a radiant floor heating system, there are other radiant heat possibilities. Radiant heat can be attached to just about any surface including walls and ceilings. Walls are seldom outfitted with radiant heat because of decorating considerations. Paintings and furniture cannot be placed up against these walls once radiant heat is installed. The installation of radiant systems in ceilings is more common in businesses that have computer technology and underground wiring underneath flooring.

Radiant heat costs

The cost of radiant systems ranges from $6 to $15 per square foot depending on the type and materials you install and whether you are dealing with new construction or retrofitting. Though a seasoned do-it-your-selfer can take on a radiant heat project, a consultation with an HVAC professional before the project is initiated is highly recommended. A professional can help you decide what system and materials are right for your space and review all aspects of a radiant heat project.

Radiant floor heating maintenance

Just like with traditional heating, a radiant floor heating system needs routine inspections and maintenance. You should make an annual appointment with an HVAC professional to inspect your system. A technician will check the pressure in your system; making sure it is consistent, and inspect pipes for leaks.

The professional will also check the pump for proper operation and clean it and check the pressure and reducing valves, which are vital to your system’s smooth operation.

Learn more: Love Your Radiant Floor Heating? Don’t Neglect Maintenance

Surely once you install a state-of-the art radiant heat system, you will want to ensure its optimal operation. A professional HVAC company, like Arista Air, can supply you with radiant floor heating maintenance as part of an annual HVAC preventative maintenance contract. Find out more: HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.

Refrigeration Preventative Maintenance Contracts