February 6, 2018
What is Radiant Heating?
Radiant heating is one of the many methods used to heat buildings.
It is called “radiant” because the heat emanates (or radiates) from panels, coils, or pipes located in floors, walls, and/or ceilings, and directly heats the people and objects in a room. This is different than how a forced air system (the most common type of home heating system in the U.S.) works. Forced air distributes heat created by a furnace throughout the house using air ducts and vents.
Why Should I Choose Radiant Heating to Heat My Home?
There are two major reasons most people opt for radiant heating systems in their homes. First of all, it is generally considered the most energy efficient – “green” – way to heat your home. Secondly, it provides much better air quality for those who suffer from allergies than forced air systems do. Forced air systems spread allergens and dust around the house through the duct and vent system. That does not happen with a radiant heating system.
If you have an older home with steam radiators or baseboard heaters and are thinking of updating those systems, radiant heat offers other benefits. Unlike some older steam radiators, radiant heating system to not hiss or clank, nor do they restrict your furniture placement, like baseboards can.
Radiant Heating Sounds Great. Why Isn’t It Everywhere?
The biggest downside to radiant heating is that installation is more expensive than it is for a forced air system. This keeps some folks who are building new homes or remodeling older homes from installing radiant heating systems. That being said, radiant heating may be more cost efficient in the long term since it is more energy efficient. So, if you can handle the initial cost, it’s well worth considering radiant heat.
Radiant Floor Heat
You can have radiant heat systems installed in the floors, walls, or ceilings or your home.
Each of these systems is different and each also has subcategories of their own. However, the most common is radiant floor heat. Radiant floor heat comes in three varieties: air-heated floors, electric radiant floors, and hydronic (water) radiant floors. The most popular and most cost- and energy-efficient of these three is the hydronic system. Water-based systems are better than air systems because air holds less heat and loses heat more quickly than water does. Water systems are better than electric systems because of the high cost of electricity. The caveat to this is that if your floors are specially designed to include a significant thermal mass (like thick concrete floors) and you can get better rates from your electric company during off periods. In that case, you can program your system to heat the concrete floors when the electricity is cheaper. The concrete will hold the heat and slowly warm the house during peak electricity hours without extra electricity input.
If I Install a Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System, Do I Need a Separate Hot Water Heater?
A hydronic radiant floor heating system works by heating water in a boiler and sending it through pipes underneath the flooring of your home. It is generally a closed system, meaning that the water that is heated and travels through your home in the flooring pipes eventually cools and returns to the boiler to be re-heated. But, even though the water has cooled, it is generally not as cold as water would be if it came in new every time the boiler needed water. This is one reason hydronic radiant floor heating systems are energy efficient and for this reason we generally suggest that you have a separate boiler for your radiant heating system and your hot water delivery to the faucets in your home.
That being said, some homeowners do choose to use the same boiler for both radiant heat and tap water. This makes the radiant heating system slightly less efficient and can mean it may take longer to raise the temperature in the home if a lot of hot water is being used at the same time. But it is possible to have the two systems on the same boiler.
What Else Do I Need to Know About Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating Systems?
One thing you might want to consider before deciding to use hydronic radiant floor heating systems is the type of flooring you want in your home. The best material to use with this kind of heating system is ceramic tile because ceramic tiles conduct heat well and can also store heat. Other types of flooring work with hydronic radiant floor heating, too, so this isn’t your only choice – just the most efficient one. If, however, you are hoping to have a home with floors covered by deep, plush carpeting, hydronic radiant floor heating may not be the best choice for you because heavy carpeting will insulate the heat under the floor and make it more difficult for it to radiate into the rooms of the home. By insulating the floor with something like heavy carpeting, you will essentially destroy the cost- and energy-efficiency of a radiant floor heating system, whether it uses hot water, warm air, or electricity.
Just Do A Little Bit of Radiant Heating!
Whether you’re building a new home, an addition to an existing home, or refurbishing an older home, you may not want to incur the expense of putting in radiant heating throughout the home. But have you considered using radiant heat in just a few rooms? This is a popular choice for many people. Consider getting out of the shower during the cold winter months and stepping onto a gently warmed bathroom tile floor. Or doing laundry in your slippers in a cozy laundry room with warmth flowing up from the floor. And, if an addition is in your future, radiant heating may be easier to install than it would be to connect the addition to the current forced air system of your home. All of these are options with radiant heating.