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Canadians are so used to "toughing out" winter cold that they often overlook ways to cost-effectively boost comfort levels in their homes. So why not look into radiant heating and see whether its cozy warmth and shoeless comfort would suit your family?

Radiant heating, which has been around since Roman times, has outgrown many of the problems found in early Canadian installations to offer draft-free comfort and snow-melting safety that may be ideal for interior or exterior projects. Whether it's used to supplement or replace interior heating or on steps, porches or driveways to melt snow accumulation, radiant heating offers advantages during our Canadian winters.

Interior radiant heating systems are either hydronic or electric and are laid beneath a tile or hardwood floor. Hydronic pipes, encased in concrete or gypsum cement, carry heated water that radiates warmth up through the floor surface.

As with most systems, radiant heating is easy to install during new home construction. In existing homes, ground-level floors can be retrofitted if the basement is unfinished and the sub-floor is exposed. Otherwise, ceilings are usually removed so that the heating pipes or wires can be installed beneath the floor above. During renovations, many homeowners add radiant heating to a bathroom, kitchen or family room.

A radiant hydronic heating system is more expensive to install than conventional heating systems. However, it is more energy-efficient to operate and can mean long-term savings of up to 30 per cent on annual heating costs.

ShoelessHomes, a champion of interior and exterior electric radiant heating, estimates an 80 square foot bathroom, may require only 50 square feet of floor warming. When installed for comfort, this radiant system should only cost between CN$1.25 and CN$1.50 per square foot of warmed area per year, based on a CN$0.07 per kilowatt energy charge and use of a timer to operate the floor approximately 82 hours per week over the year.

Would radiant heat suit you?

  • Energy-efficiency: Although a wall radiator may need a surface temperature of 82.2ºC to heat a room, a floor heated to about 27ºC would provide the same heat. Radiant floor heating provides the equivalent comfort level as conventional heating systems at lower room air temperatures because this system heats the entire room evenly, without drafts, and also warms objects, including people and pets, in direct contact with the floor -- "floor to feet" heating means no more cold feet. Separate room controls also offer energy savings.
  • Dust-free allergy advantage Radiant floor heating has no ducts or radiators to collect dust. The companion ventilation system can be smaller with lower velocity, quieter fans, thus reducing the movement of dust and airborne pollutants. Since carpets are not necessary, allergies can be further controlled.
  • System flexibility Since radiant floor heating has a low operating temperature, a wide range of sources can be used to heat the water - a ground-source heat pump, a condensing boiler or even district heating.

Radiant heating requires compromises like any other climate control system. For instance, radiant heating is slower to respond since it takes time to build up enough heat to increase room temperature.

Experts warn against installation short cuts or bargain prices. High quality materials and workmanship are essential to the longevity of the system. Fixing leaks in piping that is encased in concrete is difficult and expensive. Use of thicker wiring is recommended in electric systems to eliminate problems caused by breakage or wear.

If cold feet and drafts keep you reaching for the thermostat, perhaps radiant heating is the way to bring new warmth to your winters.

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