With a large part of household budgets devoted to heating, nearly everyone is looking to get the most bang for their energy bucks. The good news is that radiant floor heating might be the answer to your energy cost concerns. It’s energy efficient and provides, some experts say, a more comfortable, consistent heat source.
Once thought to be something only those who might appear on home improvement shows — heated floors in bathrooms, anyone? — could afford, radiant floor heating, in fact, is more accessible and affordable than many people realize. It’s easiest to include radiant floor heating when a house is being built, but it can be installed in older homes as well.
Don’t know the difference between hydronic radiant heat flooring and electric radiant heat flooring? Want to know more about radiant heat energy efficiency? Read on. We’re here to help you understand how radiant floor heat works and whether it’s right for your home.
Unlike forced hot air heating in which the heat is blown into a room through baseboards or vents, radiant floor heating radiates from the floor itself. (Sometimes, radiant heating is placed in wall panels or even ceilings, but it’s more commonly used in floors.) The floor is heated, and then the heat rises. In other words, the heat goes exactly where you are, starting with toasty warm feet, rather than out into the room and up to the ceiling.
Radiant floor heating systems rely on radiant heat rather than convection heat. The heat is delivered directly from the hot surface via infrared radiation. In radiant heat flooring systems, the heat is found in coils that lie under the flooring. Heat passes through the coils (either through electricity or heated water) and then warms the flooring directly above it.
In contrast, forced hot air heating operates in a more random — and therefore less energy efficient — fashion, say home improvement experts including Bob Vila. He outlines the cons of forced hot air heating this way:
Radiant heat flooring is, as the name indicates, in the floor. There are differences, though, in the types of radiant heat flooring systems. Here’s what you need to know about the two most common types.
Under this scenario, Energy.gov notes, you could charge the concrete floor with heat during off-peak hours (often from 9 p.m.-6 a.m.). The floor stores the heat, which in turn keeps you comfortable without drawing on electricity during the day. This potential cost is one reason electric radiant floor heating is often found in smaller spaces, such as heated floors in bathrooms.
Vila quotes the price of installing electric radiant floor heating at about $6 per square foot for materials. Hydronic radiant floor heating costs more to install than forced hot air heating or baseboard radiators, Vila says, but the real savings come in the lower thermostat settings and higher efficiency as you operate the system. Retrofitting a hydronic radiant floor heating system is trickier because of the tubing requirements, but could be doable depending on access to the subfloor.
There you have it — the basics about radiant heat energy efficiency and how installing radiant heat flooring might help in your home. We’ve got lots of other energy savings tips in our Home Energy Savings Series. Learn more about everything from the differences between tankless vs. traditional water heaters to what you need to know about insulating your basement.
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