A Heated Floor and a Warm Home

Radiant Heat and Floor Heating Systems

Having a warm floor on a cold winter morning is an attractive idea. So is having an effective way of warming the whole house from the floor up. Whether the goal is to have a warm bathroom floor, or to warm the entire home, learning the difference between radiant heat and floor heating systems can help ensure that the right choice is made.

What is Radiant Heat?

There are different types of radiant heat; air, electric and hydronic. As the first two are not extremely cost effective in residential settings, and are therefore less used, this article will focus on hydronic radiant heat.

Hydronic, or liquid, radiant heat systems pump hot water through tubing laid in the floor. Water is heated in a tank, and sent through tubing to continually circulate and warm the area above it through convection. More efficient than baseboard heating, radiant heat uses heat transfer to warm people and objects in the room, rather than heating the air, and therefore uses less energy, allowing the homeowner to set the temperature lower than with conventional heating methods, while still maintaining comfort.

Radiant heat can be installed under any floor covering, and will make the floor, the room, and the people in it feel warm. The cost of installation will vary depending on the size of the house, the cost of labor and the type of subflooring used.

What is a Floor Heating System?

floor heating system

A floor heating system, such as NuHeat, is a mat inlaid with wires which is laid over the subfloor, but under the final floor covering such as tile. Used primarily to warm a bathroom floor, it uses approximately the same amount of energy as a light bulb. This system will only warm the floor, not the people or other objects in the room.

Many electric floor heating systems are available with a timer which will turn the system on and off during hours of peak use. For instance, if the homeowner typically uses the bathroom at 6:00am and departs the house at 8:00am, the timer can be programmed to turn on the floor heating system at 5:45am and shut itself off at 8:15am. Multiple times of day can be programmed, as the bathroom is used by different people.

The cost of installation is usually lower, as the mat is installed at the same time as the tile floor, and the tile installer will work together with an electrician to wire the system.

When to Choose One System vs Another

It may make more sense to install radiant heating, if a total home renovation or new home construction is underway. Because the subflooring and final floor covering is involved, it makes more sense to undertake this installation if both are already in the process of being replaced or laid. If the home is undergoing an overhaul of the heating system, this may be another instance in which radiant heat should be considered.

Electric floor heating system are easier to install, and therefore can be put in during a bathroom renovation just prior to the laying of the bathroom floor tile, or even just during a floor installation, if a mudroom floor is the desired choice to heat.

Whichever system chosen be sure to use certified installers that have worked with this material before. Many electric floor heating system retailers will have a certification course for installers to take before working with the product. Always ask to see credentials and examples of previous work if unsure.

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