Myths vs Facts: The Truth About Radiant Floor Heating

Have you heard mixed reviews about radiant floor heating? Here are the facts that will help you make a better informed decision about heating your floors.

radiant floor heating living room

Most people have heard mixed messages about radiant floor heating -- the kind of heating that keeps your floor warm and toasty in the winter months. In fact, a lot have heard enough untruths to deter them from the idea altogether. Let's separate fact from fiction. Here are some common misconceptions about radiant floor heating, followed by an explanation of the truth.


1. Radiant floor heating is expensive.


The cost to install a system averages , depending on:

• Climate conditions
• System complexity
• The HVAC system
• The existing floor
• Builder/installer flexibility

A builder who has experience working with radiant floor heating installation should be able to install a system easily on the lower end of the cost spectrum. If you live in a harsh winter climate, there’s a good chance that the bulk of your local contractors have this experience. And no matter what you spend to install radiant floor heating, you’ll recoup some of it in utility bill savings.


2. Radiant floor heating can overheat your home.


If you have a small HVAC system -- or if there is a shortage of windows and insulation in your home -- there is a chance of overheating your home with a radiant heating system. But it’s easy to combat this problem: add more windows, properly insulate your home or add a bigger HVAC system. It’s also worth noting that overheating can occur without a radiant floor heating system as well. It occurs naturally when there’s a lack of the aforementioned elements.


3. Radiant floor heating "omits" heat.


When your radiant heat warms your flooring, it doesn’t “omit” heat. It “emits” heat. There is a significant difference between these words. Emission is the absorption, reflection or transmission of energy; in this case, heat. Omitting heat -- in this case -- would be like transferring thermal energy -- heat of the same temperature -- between two bodies. That’s not what radiant floor heating does.


4. Radiant floor heating is installed in the floor because heat rises.


Heat doesn’t rise; radiant energy travels in all directions. You could install this system in the ceiling or walls if you wanted to, but it’s certainly more efficient to warm up with a walk across the floor. Plus, a warm floor is nice first thing in the morning when we’re getting ready for school or work.


5. It’s best to install radiant floor heating under tile or concrete.


This isn’t true. You can install radiant floor heating underneath wood or carpet too, despite common misunderstandings about insulation. While different types of flooring vary in their insulating capacity, this in no way affects the effectiveness of radiant floor heating. In fact, even thick materials like carpeting have high emissivity-- the ability to give off thermal energy -- which makes them appropriate for radiant floor heating.


6. Radiant floor heating can damage hardwood floors.


Contrary to popular belief, radiant floor heating in no way damages hardwood floors. The primary cause for hardwood flooring damage is moisture. So, if there’s water underneath the floor when radiant floor pipes are installed, the floor is prone to cracking and drying out, regardless of the piping.


7. Installing radiant floor heating can save between 10% and 50% in energy usage.


There’s no concrete data showing how much you will save by installing a radiant floor heating system. Radiant floor heating does allow your heating system to work at maximum efficiency, so it’s likely that you will save some money on energy bills, but there is no exact percentage.


8. Radiant floor heating is a "fad."


People have actually been trying to heat their floors for hundreds of years. In fact, the Romans invented the hypocaust system, which heated their mortar floors with tended fires in the winter.


9. Radiant floor heating has to be installed under every floor in the house.


In the old days, it made sense to install radiant floor heating under every floor because a pump of hot water ran through all the pipes to keep them toasty. While this large system is more financially beneficial when installed under all floors, small ribbons of piping may be placed under one floor and individually controlled by a thermostat.

Next > Energy Tip: Light Your Home More Efficiently

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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