The history of home heating stretches back for thousands of years. Perhaps one of the earliest types of in-home heating was the Roman hypocaust, which used the hot smoke from a fire to warm floors and walls. By circulating the smoke through a series of special chambers beneath the floor, the idea was the room would become more comfortable. Though highly inefficient, this ingenious system laid the groundwork for centuries of hard work to develop indoor heating systems. Today’s furnaces and heat pumps offer quick, comfortable temperatures in the winter at the touch of a button, but they aren’t the only option. Today, the hypocaust lives on in the form of radiant floor heating.
In the homes of yesteryear, baseboard heaters were the primary form of floor heating for homes that lacked ducting. Using either electric coils or hot water from a basement boiler, these floor-level heaters are still found in some homes built decades ago. Compared to modern under-floor heating systems, though, they can look downright primitive. Maybe you’ve heard a friend bragging about how they’re never cold in the bathroom during the winter anymore thanks to their radiant heating. So, what is radiant heating?
The basic principles behind radiant floor heating
In its simplest form, this type of home heating relies on the creation of heat beneath flooring only, allowing the warmth to rise evenly from the bottom of the room to the top of the space. Not only can it feel nice to avoid walking on cold floors in the winter, but radiant heat’s more consistent action means that you’ll quickly feel warmer in the space. A traditional furnace can warm up the space as well, but the hot air blasting through your ducting might not feel as nice as you’d like.
There is more than one type of system capable of delivering radiant floor heating, though each function based on the same principles of sending heat up through the ground. By far the most common type of in-floor warming system is the electric mat. It’s a thin plastic sheet that has electric heating coils built directly into the mat itself. The flooring in the home is removed, typically during a renovation project, and installers place mats around the room as needed. If complete coverage is what you want, you’ll have to contend with some special ordering needs to ensure you acquire mats that fit around the obstacles in the room. Once installed, an electric current run through the wires creates a safe heat in the mats, which then radiates through flooring such as tile or laminate hardwood.
Instead of electricity, you might use water. Water-based radiant systems are less common due to the amount of infrastructure, such as pumps, tanks, and water heating elements, required for their functionality. Using PEX (a type of plastic) tubing, hot water lines snake all around the room out of sight. The concept is similar to the electric mats from this point: the heated medium transmits the temperature change to the whole room. Both options are very safe compared to other heaters.
What other advantages do these systems offer?
Aside from being an interesting application of technology, is there any reason to use or switch to one of these systems? As mentioned already, they can contribute to better, more even heating, especially in smaller spaces such as bathrooms. However, there are other benefits to using this option as well.
Chief among these reasons is allergen reduction. When you no longer need to rely on forced air moving through ductwork, there’s no airflow moving and distributing dust throughout your home. While duct cleaning for your HVAC system is not costly or much of a hassle, dealing with the continual buildup of dust in your space may be something you’re ready to leave behind. The level of energy usage it takes to achieve this comfortable, dust-free result is also typically more affordable than a standalone electric heater. Radiant heating doesn’t have to be used alone, though. Why not use it in some rooms of the house while still relying on a traditional furnace when it would prove the more efficient option?
Is this a good option for your home?
Ultimately, determining whether radiant floor heating is the option you should pursue will depend on an analysis of many factors. Even for those with central heating, under-floor warmth can offer an intriguing alternative and a way to save money when you only want to heat one or two rooms at a time, and not the whole house. A radiant heating system is far beyond the realm of a DIY project, though; instead, you should look for experienced assistance from an HVAC professional. Not only can a pro examine your home and determine if it’s a good candidate, but they can assist you with the purchase and installation process, too. Should you add a touch of Roman flair to your home’s heating?
Valley Comfort conducts radiant floor heating services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor.