In-Floor Radiant Heat - Electric and Hydronic Systems for Your Floor
In-floor radiant heat can be achieved two different ways.
The first option is using an electric radiant system. This involves sandwiching a radiant heat mat between the subfloor or concrete floor below and the finished flooring above.
The other method is using heated water, which is called hydronic radiant heat.
The system that works best is dependant upon two factors. The first factor is the size of the room. The second is when will you install your radiant heat system.
How Large of an Area Will You Heat?
In smaller areas, an electric radiant floor heat system would be ideal. Larger projects can use hydronic radiant heat. The reasoning behind this has to do with the amount of energy that is needed to heat a floor compared to how efficient each system is.
Electric is a much cheaper way to incorporate radiant floor heat into a home, but this only applies to the installation process. All you have to do is put a wiring or mat system underneath the finished flooring. If you can install tile flooring, you can install an electric radiant mat. It is also very common to use electric floor heat when people use laminate flooring.
The only difficult part that might require extra help is for hooking up the electric mat to the existing power grid in your home. We strongly suggest getting an electrician for hooking up this connection as well as when you link up the thermostat to the electric floor mat. The total cost for installing a system like this in one or two rooms such as a bathroom is very manageable.
Heating the floor will only supplement the forced air heating system in a situation like this. So there is no actual savings on your heating bill when you use electric radiant heat for a floor. It is just designed to increase the comfort level of certain rooms.
We strongly recommend incorporating a programmable thermostat with an electric radiant heating system. The reason for this is because it takes a fair amount of time for the floor to properly heat up. When electric wiring is embedded in thinset under tile or laminate, it has to heat up the whole thermal mass first. This can take up to thirty minutes to create that toasty warm floor.
Here's a perfect example of why this is important. Program the thermostat to start heating up the floor in advance. When you wake up in the morning to get ready for work, the floor in the bathroom will be nice and warm. You won't have to turn it on when you enter and it might be lukewarm my the time you leave.
The reason a hydronic in-floor radiant heat system isn't used in small situations is it is designed to replace the forced air heating system. A hydronic system is also much more complex, and therefore, much more expensive to install.
The upside of a hydronic system is in the energy savings on your monthly heating bill. Hydronic radiant heat is 20-50% more efficient than traditional heated forced air. Water which is circulated through PEX radiant tubing transfers this heat into the floor throughout the entire home.
New Construction or Renovation?
The other factor to consider is if you are remodeling or working with new construction. Electric is easier to install, even though you still have to tear up the old finished flooring first. Once you put in the electric system, you just have to connect the wiring to your power source.
Most often, electric radiant heat is installed during a remodeling job. If you want to update your bathroom, and turn it into a luxurious spa, you have to go with radiant floor heat. Instead of a beautiful new bathroom with cold, clammy tile, you'll end up with a spectacular bathroom that looks and feels warm and inviting.
Hydronic systems are much more complex. You can retro-fit a system by attaching it to the bottom of a subfloor, but in most cases, it's best to incorporate this with new construction. A hydronic system also requires a boiler, and a manifold to control the release of the heated water.
When you choose hydronic in-floor radiant heat for new construction, you will be presented with numerous options. For a ranch home that has no basement, you can embed the entire system in the floor. For a home with a basement, you can embed the radiant heat in the concrete on the ground floor, and then install a special subfloor system for the radiant tubing above the basement. One example of subfloor designed for radiant heat is Warmboard.
To retrofit hydronic radiant heat, there are also two options. You can add radiant heat to an existing concrete floor, if you are willing to raise the level of the room a few inches. The PEX radiant tubing can be strapped down to the current concrete floor, and a new layer of concrete will be poured over this. This means the ceiling will be a little closer to your head, but this is the only way to retrofit for concrete.
For a subfloor, you can strap PEX radiant tubing circuits to the bottom with aluminum plates. These plates will radiate the heat into the subfloor and heat the finished flooring above.
Make sure to insulate this type of system properly to ensure that all the heat is going up into the subfloor. You don't want to waste any of this warmth by not insulating.
Retro fitting is a very labor intensive job. It might cost a lot up front, but you have to remember the savings that you will experience in the long run when you choose a hydronic in-floor radiant heat system.
Electric Radiant Floor Heat
Radiant Water Heat
Concrete Floor Radiant Heating
Warmboard Subflooring for Hydronic Radiant Heat
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