What is Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating?

Presidential Heating & Air Conditioning

Gaithersburg HVAC Contractors


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a floor vent as part of a hydronic radiant floor heating systemYou may or may not know about this unique way to heat your home. For some people, hydronic radiant floor heating is the perfect alternative to traditional heating systems.

In the simplest terms, hydronic radiant floor heating is radiant heat from pipes or electric heating elements embedded in the floor or installed in the joists underneath. In a hydronic system, a boiler heats up water that is pumped through the pipes under the floor.

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating

The boiler will run and heat up water through conduction. This heated water will then be pumped to the system’s plumbing manifold. Think of the manifold as the system’s control center. It is connected to a thermostat. Once the manifold system determines that the water has reached the required temperature set on the thermostat, it will send heated water to all of the tubing installed under the floor. The result is that your floor becomes heated.

As the warm air rises from the floor, the room quickly becomes comfortably warm without the drafts and noise associated with forced air. It works especially well for homes with high ceilings.

In a new home or new addition, the pipes that carry the heated water in a hydronic system can be embedded in the concrete slab, which is a good thermal conductor, and absorbs the heat produced by the tube. If you cannot install it in concrete, you may be able to use a newer system that uses polyethylene (PEX) tubing. This can be installed in existing joists, so it is possible to install radiant heat under your existing hardwood or tile floor.

Radiant floor heating systems that are powered by electricity instead of hydronics are also available. However, electric systems are too expensive to operate as your home’s primary heating system. Electric radiant heating systems are best as a way to supplement an existing home heating system.

Types of Radiant Floor Heating Systems

a floor heating system being cleanedYou can choose from three different types of radiant floor heating systems. You will want to consult with your HVAC experts to determine which system is best for your home and family.

Closed system. In a closed system, your boiler is dedicated to the heating system. The biggest advantage a closed system offers is that it can use antifreeze instead of water as the heated, circulating fluid. Antifreeze is less corrosive than water, which is better for the boiler, and is more efficient than water at transferring heat.

Open system. In an open system, your boiler supplies hot water to the heating system as well as the home’s bathrooms and kitchen. You save money because the boiler operates as your hot water heater for the entire home.

Heat exchanger. A heat exchange system combines the benefits of both open and closed systems. The pipes that supply the radiant floor heat pass through the main water heater, but they are sealed and usually circulate antifreeze instead of water. You can tie it into a solar heating panel to lower your water heating costs while also providing heat for the house.

The Benefits and Limitations of Radiant Floor Heating Systems

Long Lasting and Low Maintenance

A radiant floor heating system has a long lifespan. And with very few moving parts, not much can go wrong. The circulating pump is about the only moving part, and it is an inexpensive part. The only other component that may need occasional service is the boiler. The boiler can do double duty as a hot water heater for the bathroom if it were ever necessary.

Saves Space

These systems are great for smaller homes where space is at a premium. There are no ducts to install and no large components. The boiler can do double duty as the water heater.

Installation Cost

a gas furnace that is part of a radiant heating systemInstallation is one of the biggest limitations of radiant floor heating systems. It is expensive to install by retrofitting an existing home, costing around $9.00 per square foot. In a new build, there is less labor and expense, but it is still not inexpensive.

You can save some money by only using it in some rooms of the home. Perhaps a cold bedroom or bathroom would benefit from this kind of heating system.

Operating Efficiency

The system doesn’t need high thermostat settings to operate, so it costs less than traditional heating systems. Without ductwork, there is no corresponding heat loss.

Improved Indoor Oxygen Levels

The radiant heat causes indoor oxygen levels to increase.

Multiple Options for Powering the Boiler

You can operate the boiler using electricity, natural gas, solar power, or other available sources of energy.

Cooling Limitations

In a home that needs cooling in a hot climate, radiant floor heating may not be worth the expense. A forced air heating and cooling system is probably a more practical option in those areas of the country.

Flooring Materials

Radiant floor heating works best with ceramic tile and concrete floors because of its ability to conduct heat. Hard wood, engineered wood, stone, and laminate flooring also works well. However, carpet and vinyl are not suitable materials to use with radiant floor heating because they do not conduct heat well and tend to only trap it.

Increases Floor Height in Some Cases

The floor height may have to increase by about one half an inch on average to accommodate the system components.

Installation in Upper Levels of a Home May Be Challenging

Radiant floor heating is easiest to install on ground level or below grade floors. Installation in the upper levels of a home can be challenging and will likely involve installing PEX tubing in the joists. This could significantly increase the cost.

Contact the HVAC Experts at Presidential Heating and Air for More Information

To learn more about radiant floor heating systems, and whether it is right for you, consult with the professionals at Presidential Heating & Air. They can answer your questions about radiant floor heating repairs and installation and schedule an appointment to give you a cost estimate.

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