With homes now doing dual duty as both a residence and a workplace, people are spending double the time in their homes compared with how they used to live before the pandemic.
This lifestyle shift has launched a new-home purchase or existing-home renovation trend that is fueling a boom in the demand for building materials. Whether it’s upsizing to a new residence or adding on to an existing structure, people are actively looking to change their current living spaces to better align with the new needs of life and work in one place.
Along with this movement is the changing focus toward healthier, more sustainable homes. Ten years ago, home upgrades consisted of hardwood floors, stainless-steel appliances, and quartz countertops. Now, homeowners are considering the total indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of a home, from indoor air to lighting to acoustics to comfort.
When it comes to IEQ, there is one home heating solution that meets — and exceeds — the requirements of a quality indoor environment. It’s radiant floor heating. While not a new concept, radiant floor heating is now becoming a stronger trend in homes due to its numerous benefits.
In a radiant heating system, warm water flows through piping located either underneath the floors or embedded in the concrete slab of a home. As the warmth from the water radiates up from the floor, it warms people and objects in a space.
However, with only a small percentage of radiant-heated homes in North America, not many people know about the system advantages. So, here are six important reasons why radiant heating is the best option for new or existing homes.
Ask anyone with radiant heating in their home: It’s the most comfortable form of heat they have ever experienced. In fact, most people who have experienced radiant in their home never go back to forced-air heat when they move or remodel.
The reason for this incredible comfort is because radiant heating most closely aligns with the ideal heating curve for the human body. With warmth starting at the feet and working its way up the body, radiant keeps the heat low where it provides the greatest comfort.
In general, people prefer to have their feet warmer than their heads. Typically, ideal comfort for the body has temperatures in the mid-70s near the feet and high 60s near the head. This is exactly how radiant floor heating works. In fact, people in a radiant-heated space typically feel warmer and more comfortable at a lower thermostat setting than people in a forced-air space at a higher thermostat setting.
This is because forced-air HVAC systems are the most divergent from the ideal heating curve for the human body. Forced-air heat does the exact opposite of radiant, with more heat up near the head and less near the feet. This is because hot air rises. So, as soon as the hot air exits the register, it immediately moves up toward the head (and, eventually, to the ceiling where it provides no benefit to the occupants).
This benefit speaks to comfort, but also includes energy efficiency as well. Radiant heating systems are designed in zones. That means different areas of a home can have different temperatures, based on need.
Radiant heating systems are designed in zones. That means different areas of a home can have different temperatures, based on need.
For example, a basement or living room can be set to 72°F, but a rarely used den can be set to 60°F. It makes more sense to warm the spaces that people are living in, not the ones that are unused.
This individualized comfort control is typically one of the favorite features homeowners enjoy with radiant heat. One person can crank up the heat in a certain area for greater warmth, while another can lower the heat in an area to make it cooler.
Since the spaces that aren’t getting used are at a lower thermostat setting, the home is more energy-efficient because it isn’t wasting energy heating unused spaces.
Now, on to the topic of energy efficiency. A properly designed and installed radiant heating system will always be more energy-efficient than a forced-air heating system. That’s because water has the capacity to transport energy 3,500 times greater than air. That means a hydronic radiant heating system that uses water to heat a space rather than air will be much more energy-efficient.
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems can also become even more energy-efficient when paired with sustainable heat sources, such as geothermal and solar. In fact, these types of systems can potentially provide a structure with free heat, which is the smartest form of energy-efficient comfort.
Also, as stated before about zones, radiant heating systems can be more energy-efficient, since they don’t require unused spaces to be heated.
At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the quality of indoor air became highly significant. Radiant is also beneficial in this area. Because hydronic radiant heating systems use pumps to move water, instead of fans or blowers to push air, the system does not circulate dust, allergens, odors, or viruses throughout a home.
In fact, people with severe allergies have found relief when they install hydronic radiant heating systems along with hard-surface flooring, instead of carpet, to minimize the allergens in their homes.
In addition to the air-quality benefits, hydronic radiant floor heating systems also don’t require ductwork, so it provides homeowners with greater freedom for furniture placement without having to worry about covering vents.
Forced-air HVAC systems are loud. Everyone is familiar with the sounds that come from the basement or attic when the furnace kicks on in the winter. There is also the annoying sound of the ductwork expanding and contracting as the hot air blows through the system and then cold air enters when the system is off.
Hydronic radiant floor heating is quiet. The water running through the piping in the floors silently distributes warmth throughout a space. Also, the additional system parts in the mechanical room, such as the boiler, pumps, manifolds, and actuators, also work quietly.
Best of all, radiant systems are practically maintenance-free. With the exception of occasional boiler maintenance, the rest of the system does not require any annual work. Traditional HVAC systems, on the other hand, need regular replacement of air filters and furnace tune-ups whose costs can really add up over time.
Various Installation Options
Depending on the need, several options are available to make radiant work well in a home. For example, if it’s an existing home that requires minimal structure changes, there are low-profile, half-inch radiant wood panels that can fasten to a subfloor and hold the radiant pipe.
For floors with joists below, there are aluminum heat-transfer plates that fasten to the underside of the floor, which means there’s no disruption to the finished floor above.
For new construction with a concrete slab, tying the radiant pipe to wire rebar or fastening the pipe to foamboard insulation before the concrete is poured is an ideal method. This makes the entire concrete slab one giant heat radiator for the home.
And if the concrete is already poured, there are knobbed mats that adhere to the concrete and make it easy to fasten the pipe into the knobs.
Professional Design and Installation
One last important note about radiant heating systems. While they can be the most energy-efficient, comfortable, sustainable solution for a home, they can also be a challenge if improperly designed and installed.
Because there are several factors that go into a radiant design, including insulation, heat loss, window and flooring types, and more, it is extremely important that a radiant professional with training and experience does the design and installation.
For those who want to do it themselves, there are radiant piping manufacturers that offer online or in-person training to provide the guidance necessary for proper system design and installation.