Understanding Radiant Floor Heating

understanding radiant floor heating

Radiant Floor Heating (RFH) is one of the best options for home heating needs. Just like traditional heaters, RFH allows for spaces and rooms to be heated up using minimal energy.

A lot of homeowners now prefer this method of heating for their homes. This type of heating system can be installed in new homes and even in old houses during remodeling projects.

2 Types of Radiant Floor Heating System

Basically, there are 2 types of RFH to choose from – one that includes a series of hot water tubes and one that involves electric wiring under the floor. We’ll briefly discuss both so that you’ll better understand the concepts involved in their installation.

  • Hydronic System – As the term suggests, this type of RFH involves the use of water. Hot water, to be exact. Polyethylene tubes are installed beneath the floor so that hot water can flow through these. This can be installed in bathrooms as well as other rooms in the house. In fact, it can be used as the sole source of heat for the whole house.
  • Electric Radiant Floor System – An electric RFH system utilizes heat conducting mats that contain copper and heat-resistant wires. Electrical wirings are installed beneath the floors to spread heat throughout the entire house or in particular rooms only, such as the bathroom.

In our home, we are using the hydronic system in our bathroom. However, we are considering doing a full installation for the whole house and make it our main source of heat. We realize that it will reduce our overall energy costs over time, so we are saving up for it.

Radiant Floor Heating Vs. Air Furnace

Using an air furnace is also an effective way of heating up the rooms in a house. But let’s try to understand the way it works by looking at the process of heating up inside your home.

With an air furnace or HVAC unit, the hot air produced by the system is spread out by pushing hot air through vents up to the ceiling. There’s a reason why this system is not considered to be very effective in providing comfortable heat. A phenomenon called “Cold 70” explains it well.

The principle of Cold 70 explains that furnace air can indeed quickly heat up rooms up to 70 degrees. However, as soon as it reaches that point, it suddenly shuts off. When this happens, hot air becomes present near the ceiling, but cold air remains on the floor and your feet can still get cold.

Radiant Floor Heating, on the other hand, works from the floor and works by spreading heat slowly and evenly to generate comfortable heat. This way, objects as well as the entire room can get warmed up evenly without any cold spots.

RFH for the Whole House? For the Bathroom?

While Radiant Floor Heating can be installed as the main source of heat for a house, it can be a bit expensive. Installation costs are higher than using HVAC units and other types of heaters; and not a lot of home owners can afford the initial installation costs.

Because of its efficiency and effectiveness in proper heat distribution, however, a lot of people like installing RFH in their bathrooms. It really is an ideal bathroom heater and it can be installed on tile, laminate and linoleum floorings without any problems. And once installed, it will take about an hour or so to achieve even heating for the particular room. It will really depend on the size of your bathroom.

Advantages of Using Radiant Floor Heating

The main advantage of using RFH is the smooth and even heat that it can provide. You can also choose from the 2 main types of radiant heating systems when constructing or remodeling your home.

The noise factor is also worth mentioning as the traditional air furnace can be a bit noisy. With the RFH system, there are no ducts that can rattle when the furnace cuts in. Furthermore, loose vents can sometimes shake and squeak; and these are not present in a RFH set up.

As far as durability is concerned, RFH is more durable too, as the system can last up to 40 years before certain parts would need to be replaced. Traditional furnaces usually last for only about 10 years or so. It is for this reason why our family is really keen on converting our whole house into RFH – that’s really a lot of savings!

The Cons

You’re probably all excited now about installing RFH in your home, aren’t you? But you need to know about some of the downsides of this type of heating system too. So this time, we’ll talk about the disadvantages.

Know for a fact that it’s not that easy to install Radiant Floor Heating. If you choose to install electric RFH, you will need to tear up an existing floor so that you can position wire mats properly – and then you will need to replace the floor. As you can already tell, it’s time consuming and costly even if you know how to do this yourself.

A hydronic system is more complicated to install, so hiring a professional contractor is recommended. The whole process is just as time consuming and costly as installing an electrical RFH as the system necessitates the use of a pad of concrete underneath the setup. Some contractors even recommend putting a thin layer of concrete between the floors and heating tubes.

There are also some risks involved in installing RFH as this can cause damages to the floor. This can happen if a water tube bursts. And faulty wiring can also cause fires.

Both cases are not likely to happen, however, if everything is installed properly (that’s why we recommend an experienced contractor to do the job). The polyethylene tubes used in hydronic RFH systems are rust-resistant, so there’s very little chance for ruptured tubes.

As for the electric RFH system, it actually uses a slow method in heating up floors and low power energy is used instead of powerful bursts. So again, the risk for fire accident is really low, IF properly installed.

Radiant Floor Heating – Is it Worth it?

While RFH is indeed more expensive than installing a forced air furnace, you will save on energy (and money) over time. So it’s really a practical investment if you think about it.

As for the amount of work involved in installing RFH systems, it’s really worth considering too. While it’s easier to install on new houses that are just being constructed, it can prove to be a lot of work when incorporated in renovation and remodeling projects.

You can also do what we did. We simply installed Radiant Floor Heating in our bathroom because we felt that we need it there the most.

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