Yesterday, we discussed the advantages of installing radiant floor heating systems in an industrial setting like a manufacturing plant or a warehouse. Today we’ll investigate the benefits of the same technology in a residential setting.
The easiest way to have radiant floor heating in a home is to install it during the construction process. It can also be added to an existing home, and we’ll look into both processes.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating Systems
There are two basic types of radiant floor heat available—electric and hydronic. You need to be careful when choosing which type you want. Some factors to consider include: How much will one or the other cost to install? How much will one or the other cost to operate? (You may need to be a bit of a sage here to predict what future commodities markets will look like.) Which type will require less maintenance in the future?
If you’re replacing a heat system in a pre-existing home, you also have to consider the cost of replacing your flooring. Perhaps your original project was—or already included—floor replacement, and you’re wondering if this is a worthwhile endeavor, instead of just re-running baseboards or old cast-iron registers. You will have to do some homework and number crunching, but at least we’ll be able to give you some idea about what you’re getting into if you attempt it.
Due to the constantly fluctuating cost of electricity, and the general sense that heating a whole house in an area subjected to cold winters with electricity is very expensive, it is probably best to use electric floor heating only as a supplement to another heating system, or if you’re living in an area that doesn’t require a lot of heating to begin with.
If you’re just trying to take the chill off of a smaller space, such as a tiled kitchen or bathroom floor, this might be a good way to go. The systems basically use a coil like those installed in electric blankets—albeit it a larger coil—to heat the flooring surface. The heat will allow your feet to stay warmer, which will allow the rest of your body to stay warmer. And if it’s just adding to your main heat system, it won’t cost all that much to operate.
You will want a dedicated 15 to 20 amp circuit with a Ground Fault Breaker (GFI) at the box.
Hydronic systems are used more often when you’re trying to heat a whole house with radiant floor heat. You need a water heater or furnace for this type of system, but it ‘s both efficient and aesthetically pleasing when it’s complete because you don’t see any of it underneath the floor.
This system is definitely easiest to install when it’s going into a new house, but if you’re going to—or willing to—replace your floors, it can be installed into an existing structure.
The furnace heats the water and it is then pumped with circulator pumps through the system via zone valves like you would have for baseboard radiation. The water runs through coils installed under the floor, or even into the concrete slab if that’s what you have. The floor heats up and will actually hold the heat like a pizza stone in the oven, and since heat rises, the whole room becomes warm.
If you were afraid of a freeze-up for some reason during a time when the system might be shut down, you could use an anti-freeze like glycol to run through the system. In such a case, you need to ensure that you have a blackflow preventer installed on any kind of make-up water line.
A drawback to this kind of system comes if the system springs a leak; you’ll have to take up the floor to repair the leak. Although good leak detection should limit the amount of floor you rip up, the chances of getting tiles or other materials to match up perfectly is remote.
The Bottom Line
Like any other major purchase or installation, you need to give due diligence when it comes to planning and costs before deciding on radiant floor heat. However, if you live in a potentially cold climate and like the idea of a hard floor—whether it’s tile, linoleum, or wood—know that radiant floor heat will help keep your feet warm, your home cozy, and your spirits up.