A radiant heating system is different from traditional forced air heating systems in that it heats the home through panels installed in the walls or ceilings rather than the air directly. The most common radiant heating system is a hydronic (water) radiant heat floor, although electric radiant floor heat solutions are available.
It’s a comfortable and energy efficient form of heat that’s been around in one form or another, for many years. However, in recent years the technology has improved to the point of becoming a more viable alternative to traditional systems, leading more homeowners to choose it for their homes.
How Do Radiant Heating Systems Work?
Radiant heating is essentially the practice of heating surfaces in the home and allowing that heat to radiate through the air around it naturally, instead of heating air and then circulating it through the home using ducts and fans. There are three primary methods used for heating these surfaces, which present the three main types of radiant heating systems: Electric Radiant Heat, Hydronic (water based) Radiant Heat and Air-based Radiant Heat.
ELECTRIC RADIANT HEATING SYSTEMS
These systems consist of a series of high resistance coils wrapped in high conductance polymer that are embedded in floors or panels around your home. Electricity passes through the coils, cause them to release heat energy due to the high resistance. This heat is conducted through the polymer coating and into the floors, ceilings or walls that they are embedded in. These systems are durable and require very minimal maintenance, but the increasing costs of electricity can make operation more costly than other solutions.
HYDRONIC RADIANT HEATING SYSTEMS
Hydronic systems are water based, requiring the use of a hot water boiler to heat the water before it is circulated through pipes that are embedded in the surfaces of your home. These systems are less costly to run than electric systems, in part due to the ability to use a boiler fed with a variety of fuel types, like gas, oil, propane or electricity. In general, this is the most efficient and cost-effective choice for heating an entire home.
The downside of these systems is that repairs can be difficult and costly, due to pipes running throughout the home. This also means that water damage can sometimes result from particularly bad failures of the system. Despite this fact, these are the most popular systems due to their efficiency and subsequent cost effectiveness.
AIR-BASED RADIANT HEATING SYSTEMS
These systems function in almost the same way as hydronic systems, except that they use air as the heat transfer medium instead of water, which means that they do not use a boiler. In general, air is a much worse medium for maintaining and transferring heat than water, making these the least efficient radiant heating solution. As a result, these are very much the least popular type of radiant heating system.
Why Choose Radiant Heat Systems?
Homeowners often choose radiant heat because it provides a higher level, more uniform feeling of comfort. This is in contrast to central forced air systems, which can create hot spots near heating vents, and cooler spots as the air circulates further and cools down.
Clean and Silent
The heating source is out of view (regardless of electric or hydronic installations), and radiant heat systems operate silently. Plus, for allergy sufferers and those worried about indoor air quality, radiant heat does nothing to negatively impact indoor air quality.
Considerations for Your Home
Retrofitting is a Challenge
Heating and cooling components are often integral to the basic infrastructure of the home in which they are installed. That being the case, most do not lend themselves painlessly to retrofit applications. The installation requirements of a radiant system may make you hesitate. However, custom home building or home additions may present a great opportunity to consider installing radiant heat.
You Need a Boiler For the More Popular, Hydronic Systems
As mentioned above, hydronic radiant heating systems do require a boiler. If you need to buy a new boiler it will add to the final project cost. However, installing a radiant heating system will keep operating costs low, because they operate 25% more efficiently than other forms of heat. To save an extra 10 to 20% each month, opt for a radiant system with highly conductive panels. The more conductive the panel, the less the boiler needs to work.