Staying warm and comfortable all winter long can be a challenge, especially if your home is heated with a traditional, centralised forced-air heating and cooling system. You’ve been balancing energy costs against your comfort, especially when you step out of the shower and onto cold tiles, or out of bed onto a chilly floor. This is because there are serious limits on what forced-air systems can do.
Energy costs of forced-air systems can be expensive for you to warm your entire home to a truly comfortable temperature in the winter. Costs are exacerbated by the very nature of these systems. For example, energy can be lost when heated air escapes through leaks in the ducts installed in your home. That heated air often escapes your home before it ever has a chance to warm up your favourite rooms. Depending on the age and condition of your forced-air heating system, these losses could represent as much as 50 percent of the energy your system consumes.
Fortunately, there’s another option. Radiant heating has become popular recently, and advances in system design and efficiency mean that it can easily surpass forced-air systems in both effectiveness and energy costs.
What is Radiant Heat?
There are two major kinds of radiant heat, electric and hydronic. Both are installed beneath the floors of your rooms, also called sub-floor heating. In electric radiant heat systems, cables are installed underneath the floor. These cables are heated by electricity, which warms the floor, and then the room. Electric systems are great for heating limited areas, such as a bathroom with a floor that never seems to be warm enough for you. However, due to the cost of electric heating, it’s not the best solution if you’re looking for an alternative to forced-air for your entire home.
That’s where hydronic heating shines. Instead of using cables that are warmed with electricity, hydronic systems use a series of tubes. Heated water flows through these tubes, which provide effective heating to the room above. In fact, hydronic radiant heat can create temperatures that are much more consistent throughout a home. No more getting a chill walking from your living room to your kitchen. If you want different temperatures in different rooms or at different times, such as cooling off your bedroom when it’s time for bed, many systems use thermostats that can be programmed to do so.
Everything You Need to Know About Hydronic Radiant Heat
Where electric radiant heat uses cables, coils and electricity, hydronic radiant heat uses tubes, water and whatever energy source you prefer. They’re efficient enough to use as a heating solution for your entire home, and they may reduce your energy costs by as much as 25 percent when compared to a forced-air system.
How Does Hydronic Radiant Heat Work?
Tubes or small pipes beneath the floor are used to circulate heated water throughout the area. As the water flows through the system, the heat is released. Water can be heated in a number of different ways, which means that you’ll have many energy options when choosing hydronic radiant heat:
- Gas water heater
- Gas-fired boiler
- Solar water heater
Some underfloor hydronic systems supplement these primary heat sources with solar energy. Choosing a solar-assisted system is environmentally friendly, and it can further reduce your heating costs. The best choice for heating your system depends on the size of your home and where it’s located. A professional can advise you on which method will be the most efficient. A system of pipes channels water from this heating source to the pipes under different rooms of your home, which means that you can set different temperatures for different rooms.
In installations in new homes, the pipes that run through individual rooms are put in place, and a concrete slab is poured over top. Heat from water moving through the pipes transfers into this concrete slab, which then warms the room.
Hydronic heating technology is constantly evolving. Recent advances have made these systems more efficient, especially in regards to the water temperature that’s required to reach desired heating levels. Advances in installation products and technology are also making hydronic heating more accessible. Because of these developments, now is the best time to consider installing hydronic radiant heat for your home.
How Is Hydronic Radiant Heat Installed?
The installation process for a hydronic heating system is much more involved than that for an electric system. In existing homes, the floor will have to be torn up and reinstalled in order to install effective hydronic heat, and that can be expensive. This makes hydronic heat a good choice for new construction, whether it’s an entirely new home or an extension of an existing home.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to install hydronic heating in an existing home. In fact, doing so can be a valuable investment. It can reduce your energy costs, which means that it pays for itself over time, and it can also increase the value of your home. Manufacturers are also actively making advances that make it easier to install hydronic heating in existing structures in order to improve accessibility.
In addition to the extra steps required to install these systems in existing structures, the installation is complicated by the complexity of the systems themselves. A typical hydronic heating set up includes:
Panels under the floor
A professional technician should be engaged to install any of these systems.
How Efficient Is Hydronic Radiant Heat?
Hydronic radiant heat can be one of the most efficient ways to heat your home. The nature of the system limits the amount of energy that can be wasted. By comparison, forced-air systems can lose so much heat through ducts that their efficiency is reduced by half. In a hydronic system, there’s significantly less heat loss.
Several other factors contribute to the efficiency of hydronic heat. Since the heat comes from the floor, it can keep you, your family and your friends comfortable at a lower set temperature than would be required for the same comfort from a traditional forced-air system. This method of heat distribution also means that the system doesn’t have to run for as long to heat up or to maintain the set temperature.
The efficiency of hydronic systems can also be improved by careful design and adequate insulation. A professional with training and experience, such as the radiant heat specialists at Glow HCE, can help you create a system that maximises efficiency while helping you keep your home comfortable all year round.
How Does Hydronic Radiant Heat Perform?
Hydronic radiant heat has many of the same advantages as its electric cousin. It’s silent and invisible, and it can help keep the air in your home clean and fresh by limiting the amount of dust and dirt that circulates. Unlike its electric cousin, it can be used to efficiently heat your entire home.
It’s especially effective in areas where forced-air heat can’t keep up with your heating needs. In addition to being installed beneath flooring, hydronic radiant heat systems can also be installed in walls and ceilings, which can help you heat trouble spots in your home.
Heating from these systems creates a uniform temperature in your home because it doesn’t rely on circulating air to provide warmth, which means that even the corners of your favourite rooms will be adequately heated. Additionally, you can use a programmable thermostat to set different temperatures in different rooms or at different times of the day. Programmable thermostats have been associated with both reduced heating costs and increased comfort.
Hydronic radiant heat is a reliable replacement for forced-air heating and cooling systems, and it might even be cheaper in the long run.
What Underfloor Heating Option Should I Choose?
The best heating option depends on what you want to accomplish. Underfloor heating, whether radiant electric or hydronic, is a good choice if:
You want a silent, invisible heating system.
You want to improve the air quality in your home.
You want consistent heat throughout your home, both within and between rooms.
You hate cold floors.
Someone in your home suffers from allergies or is sensitive to dust
Once you’ve decided that radiant heating is the best option for your heating needs, you’ll need to consider what kind of radiant heat you want to install. Consider the following lists to help you make your choice.
Electric radiant heating can be a good choice if:
You’re supplementing an existing heating system.
You’re adding heating to a home or other building that already exists.
The area you want to heat is relatively small, like a single master bathroom.
Cold floors are a major source of your dissatisfaction with your current heating solution.
You prefer a simple installation that can be performed alongside flooring renovations.
On the other hand, you may want to choose hydronic radiant heat if:
You want to heat your entire home.
You’re building a new home or other structure and want an efficient heating method, or you don’t mind significant renovations in order to benefit from the increased consistency and efficiency of radiant heat.
You want some flexibility in the energy source for your home’s heat.
You want to reduce your overall heating costs.
If you’ve considered these factors and you’re still not sure whether installing electric radiant heat in one part of your home or hydronic radiant heat throughout your home is the best choice, consult with a specialist. They’ll be able to provide you with an estimate for each installation based on your home and your heating needs. With those estimates, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that takes into account the total cost of installation, the amount you can expect to save in energy costs and the increase in your personal comfort, especially through the cold winter months.