What is Radiant Floor Heat?
Radiant Floor Heat (RFH) involves the installation of either electric coils or water tubes under your home’s floors to generate heat from the floors upward. It radiates much more efficiently and evenly than any other method. It is also the most comfortable, especially on cold mornings. Just one time walking on a floor with radiant heat in the dead of winter will tell you all you will ever need to know about its advantages, but there are others as well.
How Does Radiant Floor Heat Work?
Radiant heat works in much the same way as the way the sun heats your body in the summertime. Step out of a shady spot into direct sunlight and it feels much warmer, even though the actula temperature in both spots is practically the same. This is exactly how radiant heat works. It radiates out and around, warming everything that it touches. Sine heat rises, the warmed air also rises. As it cools, it falls back down to the floor only to be heated up again, and the cycle continues. The end result is a very stable, uniform temperature throughout the entire space.
Electric vs. Hydronic
When you select radiant floor heating for your home, you have two options. You can either go with electric or hydronic. Electric heat throughout the house is very costly (unless you live in a VERY small house). So if you plan to use radiant heat throughout, the best option will almost invariably be hydronic. The bigger consideration is whether the home is existing or new. It is much more difficult to install hydronic heat in an existing structure owing to the need to first pull up the floor to install it. In those cases, electric may be the only choice. Again, if your space is small or you only want to outfit one room, electric might work out just fine anyway.
Hydronic systems also have the clear advantage of working with a variety of existing heating systems. They work fine with oil-fired boilers, gas-fired boilers, or gas, kerosene or solar-powered water heaters. The heat source you choose will, once again, be determined by the size of the house but also by how cold it gets where you live. A larger home situated in an area where the seasons change, will generally require a boiler. So will a home with high ceilings. For areas that see smaller temperature fluctuations between seasons, an existing water heater could be sufficient. As with any project of this type, you should consult with a licensed contractor and consider the advice you get.
The clearest advantage of a hydronic system is maintenance. It has a higher initial installation cost (less when planned in a new construction), but it rewards with worry-free operation for years. If you are diligent with annual boiler maintenance, usually involving little more than a checkup, a properly installed RFH system will serve you well for a long time.