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Pros and Cons of In-Floor Radiant Heating




Radiant flooring can be an efficient and effective way to heat your home. It has actually been around for centuries, but technology has improved to the point where it has become a viable and popular heating option for homes in the United States. There are two basic types of radiant floor heating to consider:

1. Electric Radiant Heat (most popular): Individual wires or wire mesh are sandwiched between the finish layer and the substrate.

2. Hydronic Radiant Heat and Radiant Air Floors: Hydronic Radiant Heat uses hot water running through tubes under the floor, and Radiant Air Floors use tubes of hot air running under the floor.

Radiant Heating

Radiant Heating being installed, photo by Donna & Andrew


 

Basics of In-Floor Radiant Heat

Knowing some of these can help you determine if it’s even a possibility for you.

  •    Not just Electric Radiant Heat, but all of these use electricity. Their use will have a cost factor.
  •    Floors can heat up to 95 degrees F.
  •    Electric radiant heating systems work best when installed under porcelain, ceramic, stone and marble flooring. These floors are excellent heat conductors, and do not expand or contract with heat, so they are resistant to any warping or cracking.
  •    Hardwood, vinyl and carpet do not work well with electric radiant heating because they are not good conductors of heat, and actually behave like insulators, blocking heat from the room.

All home heating options all have basic pros and cons, and these can help you determine if you even want to use radiant floor heating:
 

Pros:

Radiant Heating photo by Bryn Pinzgauer

Radiant Heating photo by Bryn Pinzgauer

  •    In-floor radiant heat systems directly heat the intended area, and don’t lose heat as warm air travels through vents or baseboards.
  •    They can last up to 35 years, longer than any furnace.
  •    They can be cost efficient because the heat radiates upward, making the entire room feel more comfortable, allowing a lower thermostat setting.
  •    They provide more flexibility in placing furniture around the room without concern for heat vents.
  •    Due to the lack of forced air, they are silent. This is also a benefit for allergy sufferers because dust, dirt, pollen and other allergens are not blown into the home.
  •    Eventually heat is evenly distributed throughout a room creating a feeling of warmth.
  •    They are an excellent option for heating home additions without having to extend HVAC ducts.
  •    Concrete will retain the heat for long periods of time after the power is turned off.
  •    You can set the temperature on your Radiant Floor when people will be away because its flooring sources retain the heat for longer periods of time, they are “conductors” of heat. This can give you cheaper overall heating.
  •    Higher peak periods are those when people are home, evenings, weekends, etc. radiant heat can be used during off peak hours because its flooring sources retain the heat for longer periods of time, they are “conductors” of heat. Cheaper rates for off peak hours.
 

Cons:

Radiant Heating Being Installed, photo by Amy Gahran

Radiant Heating Being Installed, photo by Amy Gahran

  •    The upfront cost may be higher than the cost of replacing a furnace.
  •    Many contractors are not familiar with their installation, so you may have to look around to find a company that is experienced in the process.
  •    They are difficult to install retroactively, after a home or room has been built. It’s not impossible. Replacing the transmission in your car is also not impossible, but it is a big reason why people get new cars.
  •    Most floor coverings will list limitations on the temperatures at which radiant heating can be set. These are usually pretty reasonable, like “Not over 98 degrees,” but it is something you would have to look into when shopping for a floor.
  •    They are a slow-build heater, taking some time to warm up your home. The heat radiates into the floor and continues to spread upward, but not at the same velocity and speed as air forced through a vent. Ergo, they are more effective warmers of the floor than an entire home.
  •    While they ultimately do heat the room, they are more effective warmers of the floor surface itself.
  •    The cost of repairs may be high because the heating coils or pipes which may need attention are located beneath the flooring.
  •    Their lack of ductwork is not efficient for cooling. Air conditioning in a radiant heated room is typically done with a heat pump or condenser separate from the radiant system
  •    A dehumidifier may be required to prevent condensation on the floor.

 
Always check with a professional if you’re considering installing radiant heat in your home. Building a new home, remodeling an existing property or building an addition are all great times to consider installing a radiant heating system, and it can be an important selling point for your home!

 
 

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2 comments on “Pros and Cons of In-Floor Radiant Heating
  1. What typically are the winter temps where in-floor heat is practical vs. impractical?

    Thanks.

    • David says:

      That’s a tough question to answer, Robert. Regardless of what outdoor temperatures may be, most people keep their indoor temperatures within a certain range, usually mid-60’s to high 70’s. That makes the weather or climate mostly irrelevant. If you live in Alaska, a radiant floor system will warm your floor. If you live in Florida, where temperatures stay pretty high, but a cement slab in a basement could still get pretty cool, it will warm your floor.

      If by practical you mean cost effective, the issue is still watery. Whether these systems raise the air temperature in a room has more to do with how heat effective the home already is than it does anything else. A drafty house will be drafty even if the floors are warm. If it does reduce the load on your HVAC unit, it still may not be enough to offset the cost of the system and installation, even over the 35 year expected lifespan of such a system.

      The questions with a radiant system are basically these two:
      Do you want a warm floor?
      And is that worth the cost of the system?

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