Types of Radiant Heated Flooring

Air-Heated Radiant Flooring

 Because air cannot hold large amounts of heat, radiant air floors are not cost-effective in residential applications, and are seldom installed. Although they can be combined with solar air heating systems, those systems suffer from the obvious drawback of only being available in the daytime, when heating loads are generally lower. Because of the inefficiency of trying to heat a home with a conventional furnace by pumping air through the floors, the benefits of using solar heat during the day are outweighed by the disadvantages of using the conventional system at night.

Electric Radiant Heated Flooring

Electric radiant floors typically consist of electric cables built into the floor. Systems that feature mats of electrically conductive plastic are also available, and are mounted onto the subfloor below a floor covering such as tile.

Because of the relatively high cost of electricity, electric radiant heated floors are usually only cost-effective if they include a significant thermal mass, such as a thick concrete floor, and your electric utility company offers time-of-use rates. Time-of-use rates allow you to "charge" the concrete floor with heat during off-peak hours (approximately 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.). If the floor's thermal mass is large enough, the heat stored in it will keep the house comfortable for eight to ten hours, without any further electrical input (particularly when daytime temperatures are significantly warmer than nighttime temperatures). This saves a considerable number of energy dollars compared to heating at peak electric rates during the day.

Energy Savers: Radiant Heated Flooring for Additions

Electric radiant heated floors may also make sense for additions onto homes for which it would be impractical to extend the heating system into the addition. However, homeowners should examine other options, such as mini-split heat pumps, which operate more efficiently and have the advantage of also providing cooling.

Hydronic Radiant Heated Flooring

Hydronic (liquid) systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems for heating-dominated climates. Hydronic radiant heated flooring systems pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern underneath the floor. In some systems, the temperature in each room is controlled by regulating the flow of hot water through each tubing loop. This is done by a system of zoning valves or pumps and thermostats. The cost of installing a hydronic radiant floor varies by location and also depends on the size of the home, the type of installation, the floor covering, remoteness of the site, and the cost of labor.

Types of Floor Installations

Whether cables or tubing, the methods of installing electric and hydronic radiant heated systems in floors is about the same.

So-called "wet" installations embed the cables or tubing within a solid floor and are the oldest form of modern radiant floor systems. The tubing or cable can be embedded in a thick concrete foundation slab or in a thin layer of concrete on top of a subfloor. Thick concrete slab systems have high heat capacity and are ideal for storing heat from solar energy systems.

Due to recent innovations in floor technology, so-called "dry" floors, in which the cables or tubing run in an air space beneath the floor, have been gaining in popularity, mainly because a dry floor is faster and less expensive to build. But because dry floors involve heating an air space, the radiant heating system needs to operate at a higher temperature and reflective insulation must also be installed under the tubes to direct the heat upward.

At least one company has improved on this idea by making a plywood subfloor material manufactured with tubing grooves and aluminum heat diffuser plates built into them. The manufacturer claims that this product makes a radiant heat flooring system (for new construction) considerably less expensive to install and faster to react to room temperature changes.

Types of Radiant Heated Flooring copyright 2011 Digtheheat.com