What is Radiant Floor Heating?

Have you ever woken up on a cold, wintry morning, and the first thing you experience is the cold floor beneath your feet? This common sensation is not the most pleasant way to start your day. We all want to stay warm and comfortable during the cold months, but even wall radiators and forced-air heating systems can do little to warm up the coldest floors. That's where radiant floor heating comes in.

Radiant floor heating has grown in popularity over the years, becoming one of the "go-to" methods for heating homes. And the best part? It even heats your floors. With radiant floor heating, waking up to cold floors can be a thing of the past.

The experts at Ingram's Water & Air are here to help you understand this comfortable and efficient home heating system.

What Is Radiant Floor Heating?

In its simplest explanation, radiant floor heating heats a home's floors. How does it do that?

First, let's recall how other home heating methods work. Forced-air heating systems use energy to heat air and distribute it throughout the house using ducts and vents. The warm air enters rooms, and people can feel it blowing on them if they are standing close enough to the vents. As the warm air circulates around the house, the inside temperature increases.

Baseboard and radiator heating use hot water or electricity to heat coiled metal structures within rooms. These structures then give off the heat — or radiate it — throughout the room by conduction and convection. Heat enters the metal, and the metal sends the heat into the room's air. People standing near a room's radiator or baseboard heating structure can feel the extreme heat radiating from the metal. If they are standing further away, the heat is much less intense because of the nature of radiant heaters.

Radiant floor heating takes the idea of radiant heat and incorporates it into your home in a whole new way. Gone are the structures lined up against walls and along the room's baseboards. Radiant floor heating uses the power of heat radiation and places it within your home's floors. The warm floors then radiate the heat into the air throughout the house. This raises the home's temperature to provide comfort during cold weather.

Warm floors provide a luxurious feeling of comfort to any home. Getting out of bed on those cold mornings is a bit easier when you know you'll be standing on a comfy, warm floor with every step. The heat radiates from the floor evenly, heating your house without any cold spots or unbearably hot areas. You can bypass these common issues of baseboard and wall-mounted radiators with a radiant floor heating system.

Below, you'll get a closer look at all the benefits of this home heating method. First, though, you should understand how radiant floor heating works.

How Radiant Floor Heating Works

For radiant floor heating to work, you need three main components:

  1. Heating elements
  2. A heat source
  3. The right floor

You'll find diversity within these three elements. Regardless of what type of heating elements, heat source or flooring you use, you must make sure all three work together in harmony to provide the most efficient setup. For instance, if you install flooring that is not made for your chosen heating elements, your system will be inefficient. You'll end up spending more money for less comfort. We'll discuss that more later.

Every radiant floor heating system involves placing heating elements beneath your home's floors. The heating elements can be either electric coils or hot water tubing, depending on which type of heat source is right for you. The heating elements warm up the floors, and the floors radiate the heat into the room. Since warm air rises, the nature of heat rising from the ground is both efficient and practical.

Consider the warmth you feel from the sun. This is nature's form of radiant heat. If you step into the shade, you'll feel cooler because the shade is blocking the sun's radiant heat from reaching you. Step out from the shade, and you'll feel the sun's warmth on your skin, radiating from millions of miles away. With radiant floor heating, your floors will store the energy given by the heating elements and radiate it into your room like the sun giving heat to the Earth.

The type of heated floors you decide to install depends on a few personal factors related to your home's size, location and heat source. You can either go with an electric or hydronic system. Are electric-heated floors the most efficient? What is hydronic radiant floor heating? The next section will answer these questions.

Types of Heated Floors: What Floors Work With Radiant Heat?

The two most common types of heated floors are electric and hydronic. Here are some differences between the two:

  1. Electric radiant floor heating: Electric floors use electricity to heat coils housed within heat-conductive plastic mats placed under your flooring. It's like a large electric blanket hidden beneath your floors. The resistance coils heat up as electricity passes through them, warming the floor. This heat then radiates into your house. Because electricity is an expensive way to heat a home, many people use electric heated floors in additions or single rooms. If you live in a warmer climate, this type of floor heating could be a good choice.
  2. Hydronic radiant floor heating: A hydronic radiant floor heating system uses hot water to heat a room's floors. The tubes carry hot water from the water heater throughout your home's floors, warming them up. The heat from the floors then radiates throughout the house. This method is efficient if you heat your home with something besides electricity.

These are the types of flooring that work best with a radiant floor heating system:

  • Wood
  • Laminate
  • Stone
  • TIle

These materials can store and conduct heat well, aiding the radiant heating process. Carpet is not the most efficient flooring to use with heated floors. If you decide you want carpeted floors, make sure they are thin and use slab padding.

Benefits of Radiant Heat

Now that you know more about how radiant flooring works within a home, here are some of the benefits of radiant heat:

  1. Energy efficiency: Regular baseboards and wall-mounted radiators operate at high temperature to heat a room. That's why it can be so hot next to radiators and chilly on the other side of the room. Heated floors use much less energy. The heat they must produce to bring a room to the desired temperature only needs to be a little higher than the room's set temperature.
  2. Easy maintenance: Heated floors have a long life span, often outlasting other forms of home heating. After installation, they require little invasive maintenance since the elements are all hidden beneath your floors. A simple checkup once in a while from a professional should be enough to make sure your components are in working order.
  3. More open space: Baseboard heating units and radiators can be bulky, changing how you arrange your room. Since heated floors are completely hidden, you can enjoy an open floor plan without worrying about your radiator location. Utilize every inch of space in a room when you use radiant floor heating to warm your home.
  4. Increased safety: If you want to increase your home's safety, you should consider heated floors. Radiators and baseboard heating structures can get extremely hot, increasing you and your family's risk of burns. Those piping hot structures can even be a fire hazard. With heated floors, you never have to worry about your child getting burned or a curtain or an object catching on fire.
  5. Cleanliness: Radiators and baseboard heaters can act like dust magnets, requiring constant cleaning. Forced-air heating systems send dust and allergens flying around your house. Heated floors are mufree of dust or allergens.

How to Install a Radiant Floor Heating System

There are some essential factors to consider when installing heated floors, so keep them in mind as you plan your project:

  1. Concrete slab installation: This is a type of "wet installation," which involves covering the heated water tubing with concrete as you pour your home's foundation and subfloor. The tubing will warm the concrete and warm the house. It's best to do this in the new construction phase.
  2. Suspended slab installation: Also a type of wet installation, this method covers the hydronic tubing with a thin layer of concrete or similar material. Builders use this method for floors above basements or other stories of the house, but it is becoming less common thanks to staple-up installation.
  3. Staple-up installation: This is a "dry installation" method, which means it does not involve pouring any wet concrete. With staple-up installations, you'll staple the hot water tubing under your floors and run them through aluminum panels to aid in heat conduction and radiation.
  4. Plywood and plates installation: This method involves laying down plywood with spaces left open. You'll place the hydronic tubing in these spaces so it lies flush with the top of the plywood. You'll then cover the tubing and plywood with a floating floor.
  5. Electric radiant floor installation: Electric heated floors can be easy to install. You'll place or roll out the mats and cover them with the appropriate flooring either during the new construction phase or renovations. Since this technique uses dry installation, it's much easier to do at any stage of the building process.

How Big of a Water Heater Do I Need for Radiant Heat?

When you install a hydronic radiant floor heating system, you need to make sure you have the right size water heater. Depending on your family's water use, you might go through a large amount of hot water at a time. During the winter months, this can tax your hot water heater as you try to heat your home with radiant floor heating. Your heated floors will draw water from your water heater, increasing hot water usage. Keep your hot water flowing as needed with the right sized heater.

You should match your water heater's British thermal unit (BTU) rating with the radiant energy requirements of your hydronic radiant floor heating system. If you exceed this number, you could waste money on an unnecessary amount of energy. If you get a water heater with fewer BTUs than what your heated floors need, your home will be unable to warm up efficiently. Talk to a professional plumber to find out what size water heater would be best for your house and usage needs.

Radiant Floor Heating Temperature

Besides installing the right size water heater for your needs, you'll need to make sure you set it to the correct temperature to heat your home efficiently and comfortably. Radiant heating systems behave differently than forced air, baseboard and wall-mounted radiant heating methods. These other techniques require extremely high temperatures to function, which can increase your chances of receiving a burn from hot surfaces and water. Radiators need to be piping hot to bring a room to a comfortable temperature.

Heated floors can function at a temperature that is far lower than other home heating methods, keeping you safer and more comfortable. Set your water heater to a temperature several degrees higher than your desired room temperature, and soon you'll be experiencing the comforts of radiant flooring. Water efficiently transports heat throughout your home's flooring, requiring far less heat upfront to create satisfactory results. As your floors reach your desired temperature, you'll feel the room's temperature increase from the radiant heat.

Radiant Floor Heating Maintenance

Radiant floor heating systems need little maintenance to run for many years. Yet, you should still perform routine checkups and cleanings to make sure your system functions at its peak operating level. Here are some actions you can take to give your radiant floor heating system the care it deserves to operate for years to come:

  • Routine inspections and pressure checks: Hire an HVAC professional to come to your home and look at your heated floors. The water pressure in your hydronic system should stay consistent. If an inspection reveals you have low water pressure, that could mean there is a leak somewhere in your system. Fix the leak as soon as possible to avoid issues related to rust or water damage.
  • Pump and valve inspections: One reason people love radiant floor heating is its silence. If you start hearing the pump making noise, then it is safe to assume there could be a problem. An HVAC professional can clean the pump and valves to extend their life. See if the HVAC professional can attempt any repairs before performing a full replacement of the pump.

Shop Our Radiant Floor Systems Today!

Ingram's Water & Air has been in business for over 30 years. We provide quality HVAC products at affordable prices, letting you shop from the comfort of your own home. We want to help you with your next home heating or cooling project by offering the products you need with the experience and information required to make it happen.

Check out our Geothermal Radiant Floor Systems to take your next step toward experiencing the comfort of radiant floor heating in your home. Or, you can shop all our products online to find exactly what you're looking for.

Thank you for choosing Ingram's Water & Air. We look forward to serving you!

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