How Does Radiant Floor Heating Work? Pros and Cons
While the concept might be new to some, it dates back to ancient times. The Romans, who were unbelievable engineers, would burn wood fires under elevated stone floors, thus inventing the first “heated floor”. The concept would be reworked over time to finally perfect the current system of electric/hydronic heated floors.
Traditional heating systems force air through a series of vents to distribute it throughout a room; this means areas around the vents will be warmer than areas where vents are not present. Not only do heated floors solve this problem by uniformly heating the floor, they do it while being 25% more efficient. This type of system does not allow heat to escape because everything is at the same temperature!
Don’t forget that while a forced-air system allows heated air to rise to the ceiling, it eventually returns down as cool air. This helps explain why you might still be cold even when the thermostat is set at an optimal temperature.
Radiant heated floors offer much more appealing features than traditional heat methods. Forced-air systems are notorious for being loud, roaring through your ductwork. On the contrary, heated floors are completely silent.
Over time, the ductwork will accumulate and distribute dust throughout your home which can lead to problems for individuals with allergies or breathing problems. Completely non-allergenic, heated floors do not disturb any existing dust and allergens.
Additional benefits of heated floors include their relatively easy installation, the small amount of maintenance required to keep the system running, and the consistency of the temperature (helping prevent scenarios that may lead to you needing to unfreeze your water pipes during the winter).
There are two types of radiant floor heating systems, electric and hydronic; both take slightly different approaches to ultimately achieve the same result.
Heating up in 30-60 minutes, electric systems use electric heating elements configured in a zig-zag pattern which are woven into a mat. Installation consists of laying these mats above the subfloor which are ultimately connected to an electrical circuit and thermostat. Controlled by the thermostat, electricity runs through the heating elements, producing heat.
A more expensive and difficult alternative, hydronic heating consists of pumping hot water through flexible tubes to heat your floor; the hot water is sourced from your boiler or water heater. Beware of hydronic heating, it’s recommended to install this system towards the beginning of your homes construction since it requires additional equipment; this equipment can be difficult or impossible to install if the home isn’t properly equipped with ample space.
In general, materials with thermal-conductive properties work best as they can conduct and hold heat while withstanding warm temperatures. Beware if you have a solid wood floor, fluctuating temperatures may cause wood to expand or shrink.
Below is a list of materials most compatible with radiant heating:
- Any type of stone (marble, limestone, slate, granite)
- Ceramic tile
Stay away from carpet, especially when it has a thick pad underneath. (Would you put a sweater over a space heater?)
Depending on your type of laminated, vinyl, or engineered flooring, you must keep an eye out for heat restrictions as specified by the manufacturer. Other than that, these types of flooring are good options as well.
So, you’ve read all these benefits and probably concluded that radiant heating is superior to traditional heating. You would be 100% correct.
Disregarding any drawbacks of traditional heating, the sole theory of forced-air heating is fundamentally flawed. We heat up air and force it through a series of ducts; when the warm air reaches the room, it rises to the top, sheds its heat, and falls back down as it cools. This would make sense if humans weren’t bound by the laws of gravity and we could constantly hang out on the ceiling, but this isn’t reality. No wonder our heads feel warm and toasty while our toes remain frozen.
The main deterrent for radiant floor heating is the cost and waiting period. You will most likely want to wait until you replace your current floor to install radiant floor heating….unless you can afford to rip up your current floor and replace it once a radiant heating system has been installed (yes that means removing/reinstalling those baseboards also).
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