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Radiant Underfloor Heating Systems

Radiant Underfloor Heating Systems

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Ever since the days of Ancient Rome, underfloor heating has been used to achieve increased comfort and warmth during colder weather. The Roman ruling class would install hypocausts, a duct-like central heating system, below the floors and underneath baths to provide heat for occupants in the wintertime. Today, business owners and homeowners can enjoy the benefits of three main types of space heating:

  • Electric Underfloor Heating
  • Hydronic Underfloor Heating
  • Forced Air Heating

In this article, we'll examine and compare these three types of underfloor heating systems, and help you determine which one is best suited for you and your family's home heating needs. But before we can delve into the three types of residential and commercial heating, we need to first understand the three general methods of heating.

Let's Heat Things Up: Convection, Conduction and Radiation

To fully comprehend and understand the differences between our three discussed heating systems, it's crucial to understand the three forms of heating that are behind these systems. Each system utilizes one of these three major heating methods: convection, conduction and radiation. It's also important to note that all underfloor heating systems utilize the power of radiant heat, or radiant energy, to warm an above-ground space.

Convection: One of the oldest forms of heating, convection was the method used in Ancient Rome for warming up the homes and baths of the nobility. Convection underfloor heating systems usually function by running a series of pipes or ducts underneath the flooring areas and connecting them to furnaces, radiators or other heating sources. Heated air moves through these pipes away from the furnace, then travels underneath existing flooring systems to heat the areas up above. Convection heating systems can usually be controlled with a standard thermostat.

Conduction: Conduction is the science of transmitting heat from one source to another through physical connection; namely the connection of conductor materials like metals. Conduction underfloor heating systems typically have a network of metal cables or wires that are fixed below the flooring, and conduct heat through electricity. As the cables become hot, the flooring above receives the transferred heat and becomes warm as well.

Radiation: The name of the third heating method, radiation, often has a negative connotation. However, this form of heating, sometimes referred to as radiant heat, has become very popular for its effectiveness, simplicity and environmental benefits. This type of heating system produces heat through electromagnetic waves or rays, and these are transferred through conductor materials or other means. All types of underfloor heating systems rely on radiant heat energy to some degree to create warmth in a home or business.

Electric Underfloor Heating

Electric underfloor heating systems, sometimes known as radiant electric underfloor heating systems, are one of the more popular home heating options used today. They are frequently used not only for their powerful and uniform heating properties, but also because they eliminate the need for radiators and boilers. Electric underfloor heat is also considered an environmentally friendly way to heat a space because it consumes less energy than standard central heating systems, and because it doesn't utilize the hazardous chemicals present in many space heaters.

Other benefits to using electricity for your radiant underfloor heating system include its ability to heat floors immediately, and relatively simple installation methods that make it a snap for professional flooring contractors and even for experienced DIY-ers. Electric underfloor systems also may not require homeowners to completely reinstall their flooring, since the electric mats and wire cables used can sometimes be placed underneath floor coverings, rather than embedded below existing floors. Electric underfloor cables can be easily repaired, and are ideal when only one or two specific rooms need underfloor heating.

Radiant electric underfloor heating is appropriate for bathroom flooring, kitchen flooring, basement flooring, entryway flooring, and anywhere else it's desired. Electric underfloor heating can also be installed below wood flooring, tile flooring, etc., so it's a versatile underfloor heating system as well as a practical and effective choice.

Hydronic Underfloor Heating

Hydronic underfloor heating systems utilize water to heat up a room or a house. An underfloor hydronic heating system consists of a series of underfloor pipes that are connected to a boiler. Heated water is pushed through these pipes by a low-pressure pump system, and the circulation of heated water warms the overlying flooring and air space. Hydronic aka wet underfloor heating systems are also known to be a "green" underfloor heating method, since they can operate on recycled water, and they require less energy to warm a home than with standard central heat.

Wet underfloor heating systems are reportedly simple to install under most flooring styles and finishes. They can also effectively heat a space through use of lower temperatures than is typical, since the piping is spread out, and the heating measures taken are more expansive and thorough than with forced air systems.

Hydronic underfloor heating is common in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, and anywhere else where solid hardwood or tiled flooring contributes to increased feelings of cold or heat loss. The installation of hydronic radiant underfloor heat systems can be technically difficult when the process involves embedding the pipes or tubing into concrete. In that instance, only an experienced, licensed flooring contractor will have the expertise to correctly complete the system installation.

Forced Air Heating

The forced-air heating method has long been a standard for the majority of homeowners, but its newer radiant heating competitors have effectively made this method seem outdated and wasteful. Not only can forced-air heating systems be more costly and use up more energy than underfloor methods, they don't heat a room or a home as effectively or as uniformly as radiant heat systems do—and at lower temperatures! Forced air heating can sometimes be lumped in with underfloor heating systems because the air ducts can run underneath flooring, but the forced hot air is usually released through various vents or grates above the floor level. No radiant heat is at work with forced-air heating systems.

Which Radiant Underfloor Heating System is Right for Me?

If you've already decided that forced air is not the right system for you and your family, you just have to choose between hydronic and electric radiant underfloor heat. The decision will largely be based on your underfloor heating budget, the size of the area(s) where you want to install underfloor heating, and your specific preferences for a home heating system.

A licensed home contractor with experience in underfloor heating installation will best be able to work with you to achieve your home heating goals, and to help you narrow down your project options. Many homeowners are unsure what kind of materials they should select, or don't know how their underfloor heating system should be operated. That's also when an HVAC and/or underfloor heating specialist may be very helpful and even necessary. Contact our representatives today to find out more about radiant underfloor heating systems, or to obtain up to 3 free estimates for local flooring projects.

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