How do Radiant Floor Heating Systems Work, and Why Are They So Popular?
Anyone looking to upgrade their home heating system has surely heard of radiant floor heating systems. Radiant heating is an efficient and very comfortable way to heat a home. It has several important advantages, making it a popular home heating systems.
In this home heating systems guide, you’ll learn how radiant floor heating systems work and why they are so popular. Also called simply floor heating systems, they use heated water or air circulated beneath the floor. A third type uses electric cables built into the floor to heat.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating
Take a quick look at these various types of radiant floor heaters.
Air heated radiant floors – This is the least efficient type of floor heating system and so is used the least. The air may be heated by a gas or oil furnace that forces air through ductwork beneath the floor, by solar energy methods, or a combination of both.
Electric heated radiant floors – In these systems, a series of electric cables are installed beneath the floor and resistance electric heat is produced. Mats composed of electricity-conducting plastic may also be used. These systems are more efficient than air but less efficient than water systems.
They are best used where electric companies charge lower rates for off-hour use, usually nighttime hours. The floor must also be thick concrete or brick in order to hold heat longer. The floor can be heated overnight and radiate heat throughout the next day.
Water heated radiant floors – These are also called hydronic heating systems. Water is heated by a boiler that can be fired by gas, oil, wood, wood pellets, coal or other combustible solid. Hot water is used more often than steam because the systems are less complex if they don’t contain steam relief valves.
The hot water is circulated through a series of tubes installed beneath the floor. In advanced systems, the heating for the home can be sectioned into zones with a series of valves, pumps and thermostats. This makes the heating process more economical by only heating those rooms or zones to full capacity that are being used at the time.
In hydronic radiant floor heating systems, the heat radiates upward through the floor and heats the room with the use of convection – the natural effect of rising heat.
Why Radiant Floor Heating Systems are so Popular
Here are the most common reasons homeowners choose radiant floor heating.
- It is inexpensive to install: The boiler is the greatest expense but the price is competitive with other heating methods such as a gas furnace or heat pump. The tubing is affordable and long-lasting.
- It is efficient: Radiant heat can help control heating costs make your heating system perform at higher efficiency in any climate. It is more efficient in most cases than forced air heating systems and baseboard heating systems. See specifics of pricing below.
- Many types of fuel can be used: You can choose a boiler that runs on the most cost-effective fuel where you live – natural gas, propane, heating oil or wood pellet, coal or solid combustibles.
- It does not use forced air: Many people don’t like forced air systems because they blow dust around the house and can be especially bad for those who suffer from allergies or asthma.
- Some systems use very little electricity: Hydronic radiant floor heating systems fired by oil, gas or wood/coal only use electricity to run the water pump. This makes them more affordable than systems that use a large amount of electricity. They are also popular in off-the-grid homes where electricity is generated by solar or wind energy.
- It can also heat the home’s hot water: Many boilers can also be used to heat water for bathing, laundry, etc. The water heated by the boiler doesn’t go directly into the hot water tank. Rather, a tube or coil of tubing carrying the hot water heats the water within the hot water tank.
- It can be used with any type of flooring: To be most efficient, the tubing is often covered with concrete to hold the heat better. Materials such as tile offer the best heat transfer. However, the floor can be finished with any type of flooring you want, though those like carpet or linoleum that may insulate the room from the rising heat, make the system less effective.
Radiant Floor Equipment and Installation Prices
In most homes, the cost of the boiler and the materials such as water tubing, as discussed by This Old House, is typically $6-$15 per square foot installed. The larger the home, the less they cost per square foot. If you already have the boiler in place and add an addition to the home, the tubing usually costs about $1 per square foot. When compared to equipment costs for other home heating systems, it is easy to see that radiant floor heating systems are economical to install as well as to operate.