The Basics of Radiant Floor Heating (Part 1)

Though the winter months can be times of joy and cheer, many homeowners are likely dreading the cold weather for one main reason – the astronomical cost of keeping their homes warm with traditional forced-air heating. For homeowners looking for a more efficient way to warm their homes, radiant floor heating could very well be the answer.

Radiant floor heating uses coils or tubes to heat the floor and consequently heat the room when dense, warm air rises from the floor. As the air rises, it warms any objects in the room, which then absorb and radiates the heat. As a result, there are no other surfaces in the room taking heat from the air, meaning the air temperature remains stable and you remain comfortable.

The stable blanket of heat given off through radiant floor heating is considered much more comfortable than the heat given off by a forced-air system, which warms the air in different layers. With radiant floor heating, the coolest air stays at the ceiling. 

Although installing radiant floor heating is relatively expensive compared to other heating systems, it can be up to 30 percent more efficient than forced-air heating – saving you money in the long haul while keeping you more comfortable.  

There are two main types of radiant floor heating that use different heat-carrying mediums: hydronic radiant floors and electric radiant floors. 

1. Hydronic radiant floors

  • Hot water is the heat-carrying medium.
  • The most popular method of radiant floor heating, and the most cost-efficient for homeowners who want the heating throughout their homes.
  • Hot water is pumped from a boiler through coils that are laid under the floor.
  • Depending on the temperature outside or how warm you want your home to be, you can adjust the amount of hot water being delivered through the tubes.
  • This method uses little electricity, which could be a major benefit for people with high electricity rates.

2. Electric radiant floors

  • Electricity is the heat-carrying medium, in the form of electric cables.
  • Usually used when confined to a single or a few rooms, such as the bathroom or kitchen.
  • One method is for mats of electrically conductive plastic to be mounted to the subfloor beneath a floor covering, such as tile.
  • This could be a good option for the homeowner who has a large mass of flooring, such as concrete, and an electric company that offers time-of-use rates. During cheaper, off-peak hours, the concrete can be heated. Once the concrete is finished being heated and the electricity is turned off, the floor can still radiate heat and keep your home warm for hours.

There are also two different types of installation for radiant floor heating. Wet installation involves embedding the tubing or cable into poured concrete. Dry installation involves cables or tubing running under the floor, either sandwiched between two layers of subfloor or attached to the underside of the floor.

Some floors are better than others for radiant floor heating. Ceramic tiles are a popular choice, because they conduct the heat nicely, and are often used in rooms where radiant heat flooring is popular – bathrooms and kitchens. If you’d like to use radiant floor heating with hardwood, it must be carefully considered, as the rising heat could be damaging. Vinyl is a great alternative to hardwood, since you can get the hardwood look without risking damage. 

Carpet should be avoided when using radiant floor heating. Though it would be nice to have warm, soft carpet under your bare feet, heat would actually become trapped under the carpet, rendering the radiant heating useless. 

The concept of radiant floor heating goes back thousands of years to the ancient Romans, who used wood-burning fires to heat their marble floors. The technology behind radiant floor heating has come a long way since then, and with the economic and comfort benefits it provides, it’s easy to see why the concept has lasted so long.

Related Article: 

The Basics of Radiant Floor Heating (Part 2)