Radiant floor heating: Luxury item or frugal buy?
Many homes are built with materials and appliances that hit the sweet spot between low cost and high functionality. Vinyl siding is cheap – there are better ways to protect your home from the elements, though every homeowner gets to strike his or her own balance between price and comfort.
Radiant floor heating systems have acquired a reputation as high-end, luxury items, but the cost-efficiency of this approach to in-home heating may be too good for some people to pass up. Anybody interested in a heating solution that is quieter, faster and less expensive than baseboard or central air set-ups should look into radiant floor heating today.
Floored by choices
Most homeowners only consider a handful of tried-and-true heating delivery systems when building a new house or completing renovations on an old one. While baseboard and forced air systems have their advantages, radiant floor heating can be installed to fit with any design or budget.
The U.S. Department of Energy explained that radiant floor heating systems come in two primary configurations: electric and hydronic set-ups.
- Electric radiant floors: Depending on location, the price of electricity may make this model too expensive, but homeowners who can make it work are in for comfort and savings. During construction or renovation when a contractor has access beneath floorboards, he or she can lay down panels with electrified coils. When turned on, these coils transfer heat to the floorboards. The DOE explained that thick, absorbent materials like concrete or specialized floors made from radiant panels conduct more heat that traditional flooring. Homeowners can also sign special agreements with utility companies to heat the floor overnight in off-peak times for lower prices. The floor can then give off that heat over the course of the day.
- Hydronic radiant floors: The most popular and cost-effective configuration, this type of radiant floor heating also uses panels, but with a system of tubes instead of electric coils. Superheated water moves through the tubing to heat whatever part of the house it touches. Homeowners can also install special pumps and valves to control the flow of water much like heating zones in traditional system – by blocking off the water, heat is limited to one or several rooms.
Even heat means lower bills
This Old House explained how the design of radiant floor heating makes it inherently better at heating houses. Instead of more power or advanced technology, radiant models take advantage of smarter design to cut costs without sacrificing the all-important comfort of a home.
Because the heating elements in a radiant floor system are spread out, the bottom of the room heats up evenly. In forced air configurations, the space next to a radiator or duct may be scalding while a far corner might be unbearably cold. In a room with radiant floor heating, there is only a slight vertical gradient in temperature. This creates a more efficient blanket of heat that many users find more comfortable than a single source of air circulating throughout a room.
There are many other factors that go into making radiant floor heating as efficient as possible, such as a home's foundation materials, access to utilities and the extent of construction or renovation, but homeowners interested in a more comfortable and less expensive home should look into this alternative heating solution before the winter rolls around and utility bills start to creep up.