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Radiant Floor Heating

On those chilly winter mornings, nothing is worse than stepping out of your nice, warm shower onto a bitingly cold tile floor. Walking across that icy ceramic kitchen floor in your bare feet to get your morning cup of coffee is also a rather unpleasant experience. Most people can think of numerous places in their home where a heated floor underneath their feet would feel heavenly. While many may dream of having this feature, few realize just how affordable radiant floor heating systems are.

Radiant Heat
There are numerous benefits to having radiant floor heat. Aside from never having to step onto a cold floor again, radiant heating systems don’t dry out the air, they’re efficient and they help keep the air clean since they don’t use a fan to blow dust-filled air around. You can install a radiant heating system to help keep your entire house warm or just focus on a few rooms that need some extra warmth.

There are two main radiant heat systems: hydronic radiant heating and electric radiant floor heating. Both can be used with a variety of different floors, including:

  • Vinyl
  • Stone
  • Tiles
  • Hard Wood
  • Laminate
  • Carpet

Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Which system you choose will depend on your heating needs.

Electric Radiant Heat
If you choose to install an electric radiant heating system in your home, then there are two different types of cables you could be dealing with. One type system consists of cables coated with electrical insulation. Another type of electrical radiant heat system is similar to an electric blanket, with the electrical cables woven into fabric mats. While an electrical system can be used to heat an entire home, this type of radiant heater is most often used to heat specific rooms in the home.

One advantage to installing electrical radiant mats is the fact that they do not need to be buried in concrete. Instead, you can install these mats directly below the surface of your floor or carpet. However, because the cables need to lie close together in order for there to be an even distribution of heat, electric cables can be a more expensive option per square foot. Yet, when it comes to installation, electric mats are quicker and cheaper to install than insulated cables.

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heat
The second way for you to put a radiant floor heating system into your home is through a hydronic system. Essentially a hot water radiant heat system, it uses boiled water to heat your floors. In addition to installing the tubes that the water travels through, this type of radiant floor warming also requires the installation of a boiler to heat the water. The flexible tubes for a hydronic system are usually buried in concrete under your floor.

Hydronic systems are generally more expensive to install than electric systems because you need to purchase and put in a boiler. However, unlike the electric system, hydronic radiant floors can use or be changed to a variety of different fuel sources including gas, electricity, oil and solar energy. If you are looking to heat a large area or your entire home, then a hydronic system is usually the better choice.

Concrete vs. Below Surface
Older versions of radiant floor systems almost always meant that the tubes or cables had to be buried in concrete. Nowadays, you have a choice between a radiant heater that is buried underneath your floor in concrete or one that sits just below your floor or carpet. Although installation is obviously easier if you are simply laying down an electric mat, there are some benefits to using a system that is embedded into concrete.

If you are looking to install a radiant heating system to heat your entire home, then using a slab system may be a better choice. While some people may be put off by the fact that radiant heating systems laid in concrete can take a few hours to heat up, this can actually work to your advantage. Thanks to a little thing called thermal mass, the floor is able to retain its heat much better. If your electricity is charged at different rates throughout the day, then you can heat your house during the off peak hours and maintain a comfortable temperature during the peak hours without using much energy.

However, if you are only looking to heat a small area occasionally, then quick heating systems, which heat up within an hour, are probably the more convenient option. If you are using the radiant heat system under wood flooring, though, then you should stay away from quick heating floors. The rapid temperature change can place a lot of stress on the wood; use a concrete slab radiant heat system instead to maintain your floors.

Radiant Heating Tips
1. If you are building or remodeling your home, the sooner you decide to put in radiant floor heating, the better. Changing your floor plans after construction has started can quickly result in additional costs and extra work. Save yourself the money and the hassle by knowing before construction begins where you would like radiant heating, what type of system you plan to install and whether you want a slab system or plan to install the radiant heaters directly under the floor.

2. Hiring a professional to install your radiant heating can definitely save you some worries but generally the systems are easy enough for you to install it yourself. If you plan on making this a DIY project, then make sure you draw a to-scale layout of exactly where the tubes or cables will go. If you are installing radiant heating throughout your entire home, it is a good idea to consider the placement of the tubes or cables on a room-by-room basis. This will let you allow to put extra heating in the rooms that need it.

3. For slab system radiant heating, make your installation easier by getting a radiant heating system that can be set in just one layer of cement instead of two. Also, to make the most of your heat, avoid using high thermal resistance floor coverings, like plush carpets and pads, which will keep your heating system from being affective.

4. Radiant heating systems are virtually unnoticeable. If you would like to keep yours that way, then consider placing the temperature controls in a closet. The thermostat works by sensor and does not measure the room temperature, just the floor’s temperature. Therefore, you can hide it away.

5. To help keep your radiant heating in top shape, you may need to buy some extra radiant heating supplies. For those with a hydronic system, consider purchasing some radiant barrier insulation. This handy device wraps around the boiler and reflects the heat it produces rather than letting it escape. As a result, your system is more efficient and your energy costs are reduced.

6. If you have wood floors, or are planning on putting in wood floors, then look for radiant floor panels. These have been designed specifically for hardwood floorboards and will help give you the most heat without damaging your floor.