When you feel a chill in the air and the leaves start to turn (okay, not so much in San Diego) but certainly in other parts of the country, then you know it’s time to load up the fireplaces with wood, close up the windows, and turn on the floors.
Turn on the floors? Yes, radiant heating is as attractive to cold toes as peanut butter is to jelly--they just go together.
These days radiant floors are becoming more popular especially for those interested in green design. There are several benefits for the environment and your pocketbook. As the floors get toasty warm, they help heat the rest of the room by warming it up and making it more comfortable on a cold night.
And if you heat your pool with solar energy or geothermal renewable energy systems, they can be used to power your heated floors too. A lot of people rely on central heating systems and while these work, they often fill the upper part of the room with hot air--making it stuffy and not quite providing the warmth needed where people are actually present in the room. The even heat distribution helps lower the cost of the home’s heating bill.
But perhaps the two biggest advantages are silent and unseen heating. With no heat registers or radiators, you can place furniture how you like without being concerned about blocking a heating system. Of course, there will be no forced hot-air fan noise, making this an invisible heating design.
The move toward radiant heat in floors is logical but that’s not the only place you’ll find heat. It’s also being installed in ceilings, walls, and driveways to help melt away the snow and ice.
The concept isn’t new, heated floors date back centuries. The Romans used to channel hot air underneath their floors to warm their villas. Today, it’s the allure of going green that also adds to the interest of installing radiant floors.
Radiant floors are easier to put in during the construction phase of a new home or when you’re remodeling since the pipes are laid down beneath the flooring.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are three types of radiant floors: air-heated, electric, and hydronic (liquid) which are the most effective and popular. "Hydronic radiant floor 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."
A system then uses zoning valves or pumps and thermostats to regulate the temperature for the rooms.
The Energy Department writes on its site that "Because of the relatively high cost of electricity, electric radiant 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."
The time-of-use rates allow a homeowner to charge the concrete floor with heat during off-peak times (usually daytime hours). However, if the concrete mass is large enough, the heat will be retained in it for eight to 10 hours, providing warmth in that room without the need of any further electricity to heat it.
According to the Energy Department, air-heat radiant floors are the least affordable for residential homes because "air cannot hold large amounts of heat". Even though, the department points out, this type of floor can be combined with solar air heating systems, this is the least of the three to be installed in a home.
"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. Although some early solar air heating systems used rocks as a heat-storage medium, this approach is not recommended." Whether you’re thinking of installing radiant floors or you already have them and are getting ready to sell, understand that they can be a benefit, not only for your family’s comfort but also when it comes time to sell... highlight them when you list your home. Being knowledgable about the type of radiant floor heat that you use and how it will transfer warmth and cost-savings to the future buyer is a win-win.