Are you looking for an inexpensive alternative to your central heating system? Radiant heated floors are comfortable and cost-efficient. Installed directly into your floor, they require little maintenance and can reduce your heating bill. So let us look at what radiant heating is and see if it’s the right fit for your home.
What are Radiant Heated Floors?
Radiant heating systems use either hydronic or electrical currents to supply heating to an area, such as the floor. The heat then transfers from the floor to other objects in the room, slowly warming the entire room.
When did heated floors become so popular?
Heated floors have become more and more popular over the last five years simply because of their ease of use and installation. They require little to no maintenance and can easily be DIY. In addition, the heating is more uniform and energy-efficient than traditional duct-based heating systems.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating – Electric & Hydronic
There are two primary radiant floor heating systems: electronic and hydronic. Here are their main differences:
Electric radiant floor heating uses electricity through wires to heat the floor. The electricity heats the cables, and the cables, in turn, heat the floor. This radiant heating method provides heat quickly, requires no additional maintenance, and is easy to install. However, this heating method is also quite expensive to heat a home and is more suitable to heat flooring than an entire home.
Hydronic systems utilize boiler-heated water and circulate it through tubing below the floor to transfer heat throughout the entire home. Hydronic is much more affordable than electric radiant systems and can heat an entire home or building rather than a small area. However, hydronic systems will require regular maintenance.
Main Differences between Electric and Hydronic
- Hydronic radiant heating provides heat to an entire room/home
- Electric radiant heating is a supplemental heating solution to a given area like a floor
- Hydronic radiant heating requires maintenance
- Electric radiant heating requires no maintenance
- Hydronic radiant heating takes longer to provide heat
- Electric radiant heating provides heat much quicker
- Hydronic radiant heating is more cost and energy-efficient
- Electric radiant heating is more expensive to run
How does Radiant Flooring Heating Work
A radiant heating system first heats the floor using thermal radiation and electromagnetic waves, which causes the heat to radiate up and be absorbed by other objects in a room. The heating temperature can be as high as 104 degrees, but most users set it around 80-85 degrees. This provides indirect, diffused heat that radiates throughout the room, warming it. Remember that the heat output needs to be higher than the heat loss present in the room otherwise, your room will never be warm.
Tile Materials That Work With Heated Floors
Multiple materials work well with radiant heating. However, keep in mind that you want a material that will not react with heat or moisture.
Engineered wood uses multiple layers of plywood combined with a hardwood veneer. When compared to solid hardwood, engineered wood flooring is a better choice as the multiple layers prevent it from reacting to temperature spikes. However, wood is a poor thermal conductor, so it may take a while to provide heating to the room.
Porcelain and ceramic tile are ideal materials for radiant heating as tile are thin and the mineral-based material conducts heat well. Also, when compared to wood, tile is inorganic, which means it will not rot or degrade if the hydronic systems leak.
Laminate flooring is another material to consider as it is very thin, allowing heat to penetrate the material. Laminate is also inexpensive compared to other materials on the market, making it ideal for many homes, and it is quite comfortable to walk on. You should take extra care of using laminate flooring with radiant heat as laminate does not respond well to temperatures exceeding 85 degrees. In addition, water can soak into the thin laminate layers and cause permanent damage.
Carpet has excellent insulating properties, making it a poor material for heated floors. Since the carpet is warm enough, the heat will be absorbed into the carpet rather than dispersed throughout the room. Lastly, carpet is terrible when exposed to moisture, making it incompatible with hydronic systems or any room that has a high moisture level such as the bathroom.
Pros and Cons of Radiant Heating
When it comes to radiant heating, there are several benefits in addition to a few drawbacks:
- Non-intrusive heating system
- Energy efficient
- Better air quality
- More space available
- Little to no maintenance
- Ease of Install
- Uniform heating
- Quiet operation
- Safe to run
- Need to replace old flooring
- Long Installation time (around 1-2 days for solution to dry)
- Floor Height Issues
- Expensive (high initial cost)
Average Costs of Heated Floors
Hydronic or water-based radiant heated flooring costs between $6 to $20 per square foot. Electric-based radiant floor heating runs between $10 to $20 per square foot. Both range in cost from $1 to $5 a day to run. Install costs average $250-400 a day. But on average, the cost of your radiant heating system will depend on the heating area and usage. However, radiant heating is still more cost-effective compared to traditional heating alternatives.
Alternatives to Heated Floors
If radiant heating or a traditional heating system is not a great fit for your home, here are a few alternatives to radiant heating:
A space heater is a heater that provides a cheap and portable source of heat. They cost anywhere from $30-200 and simply need to be plugged in to provide heat. The heated area is severely limited however and these devices present a serious fire hazard.
An electric baseboard is a large heater that uses convection to provide heat. They cost anywhere from $60-400 and come in a wide variety of wattages. The advantage of an electric baseboard is that it can be moved to any room they are needed and installed. They take a great deal of time to warm an entire room.
A heated mat is a large floor mat that can be laid out across a room to provide heating. They cost anywhere from $100-200, but they are mobile, easy to use, and can be stored when not in use. They provide a good alternative to traditional heating sources as they are comfortable to walk on and can be placed anywhere in your home. The only downside is that the mat will provide uneven heating and its heating power is very limited.
Choosing The Best Heated Floors
Here are some considerations when choosing the best-heated floors:
- Costs-Heating systems can be pretty expensive, so it’s essential to lower costs. For example, electric radiant heat provides almost instantaneous heat but can be more costly in the long run compared to hydronic. When choosing the right heating system, consider your needs carefully.
- Materials-Material is very important as it needs to be comfortable to walk on, be resistant to moisture and temperature spikes, and have excellent heat retention. Any flooring material that you choose must meet all three of these criteria.
- Time-When choosing the right system for you, consider the time it takes to warm a room. If it takes too long, you risk hav, severely will severely tax your heating bill. Plan out the space carefully and be efficient with the area you want to be heated. If you plan your room carefully, your heater will not waste time heating the room so you can avoid heat loss.
Heated floors provide a new level of comfort to any home. They are a great alternative to central heating, but you should research your home carefully before seeing if heated floors are the right fit for you.