Winter weather is pushing its way in, and it’s not leaving any time soon.
That means getting back to that awful feeling of stepping out of your hot shower and onto freezing tiles.
For many of us, it can also mean waking up to see inches upon inches of snow on the driveway that has to get shoveled away.
For most of us, it means higher heating bills that seem to keep going up and up.
The Radiant Solution
If you’re renovating your home or building a new one, consider solving all of these problems with one simple solution – radiant floor heating.
In short, radiant heating is really what it sounds like: a series of hot-water tube or electric wires buried below the floor that radiates heat up to the surface.
There are multiple types of radiant floor heating available, which means the right solution for you is out there and ready to be put into your home.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating
The two main types of radiant floor heating are hydronic and electric. Hydronic radiant floor heating is more cost-effective if you are building a new home and planning on using the system to heat the entire house.
However, installing a hydronic system in an existing home involves ripping up all of the flooring and connecting new tubing to existing hydronic systems, which can be very expensive and labor intensive.
Therefore, if you are renovating an existing home or only planning on heating part of your new home, an electric system might be the way to go. Before going any further into the pros and cons of each system, lets talk about what they each consist of.
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating Systems
In a hydronic radiant floor heating system, your heating can come from either your boiler or water heater. The boiler or water heater sends water to a manifold, where many pipes branch out to various areas of your home.
By using a manifold, thermostats can adjust the temperatures of specific zones by regulating the temperature of water flowing into each pipe. Typically, water is sent from the manifold to each room through PEX tubing (a strong material that can withstand extreme temperatures) by circulation pumps.
The PEX tubing is laid out under the floor, covering as much square footage as the homeowner would like. Depending on the homeowner’s preference and/or architectural restrictions, the tubing is placed either directly underneath the subfloor (dry install) or within a sheet of concrete (wet install).
The sheet of concrete is used to store the heat radiating from the tubing and spread it evenly over a large area. Because it retains heat so well, the concrete is an efficient way to transfer heat to the room.
While dry installs are cheaper and get hot much more quickly than wet installs, they require a higher operating temperature, since some heat is lost in the air below the floor while it is being transferred to the room.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating System
Electric radiant floor heating systems are a bit simpler. In fact, while hiring a contractor is always recommended, electric systems are generally simple enough to install on your own.
Instead of a spread of PEX tubing underneath the floor, resistance wires (a.k.a. heating coils) are run through a large plastic mat in a similar pattern as the PEX tubing.
This mat is then placed directly underneath the flooring and connected to a thermostat. Tile or wooden floor panels can be laid directly on the mats, facilitating the installation.
As electricity is sent through the wires in the mat, electrons are sent traveling through the wire. During their travel, some electrons crash into other atoms contained in the wire itself.
This is what we call “resistance,” and during each crash, energy is emitted as heat. High resistance wires are those made of materials that cause a particularly large amount of collisions, resulting in a lot of transferred heat.
Electric radiant floor heating mats contain wires made of materials of particularly high resistance, such as copper or nichrome, in order to produce heat from an electrical current.