As more homeowners remodel their kitchens with comfort and the environment in mind and buyers of new homes grow more particular about the amenities they want, especially in the kitchen, many are choosing radiant floor heating systems beneath their tile, laminates, wood, and concrete to keep toasty.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry counts heated floors in the kitchen as a growing trend, and a feature of a "dream home of the 21st century."

A radiant flooring system is one in which the surface temperature of the floor is controllable. Floors generally operate at less than 85 degrees. It is considered radiant if at least half of the heat transfer is by radiant energy.

The Radiant Panel Association defines radiant energy like this: hold your hand over a cup of coffee and feel the heat. The logical conclusion is that heat rises. Logical maybe, but incorrect, it says.

Hot air rises but heat can travel in many directions. That is why you can feel the heat of the coffee cup when you place your hand to the side of it. Radiant energy transfer is caused by a warm surface giving up its heat to a cooler surface.

Because comfort plays such a key role in today's design, radiant heating is becoming part of the design, especially in today's hub of the house -- the kitchen.

"Since the kitchen is the room that most people tend to use to socialize and entertain guests, they will want to make the room more comfortable and eliminate the chill from the tile," Donald Kopis, marketing manager for Easy Heat, told Kitchen and Bath Design News.

Kopis said that floor warmers - as well as towel warmers - have been a part of European design for years, especially in bathrooms.

The number one benefit to a radiant floor heating system is comfort. A forced air system delivers heat, which quickly rises to the ceiling; a radiant floor heating system radiates heat from the floor and delivers the heat evenly throughout the rooms.

"Though radiant floors do play a role in remodeling and renovation, new construction is certainly a driving force in its increase," said Kate Schwartz, editor of Kitchens.com, a consumer source for kitchen design and remodeling. "As builders and homeowners become aware of radiant heating, more people are requesting it or looking to it as an alternative heat source."

Other benefits, manufacturers say, include:

  • Silent operation. There's no hum or whistle of a forced air system.
  • Inconspicuousness of the system. You don't see vents or hear air blowing.
  • Energy savings. Evenly distributed heat from a radiant floor heating system can allow the thermostat to be set two to four degrees less than in a forced-air heating system. This can reduce energy costs by 10 to 40 percent.
  • A healthier home. Forced air systems can spread dust, pollen, and germs.
  • Even, quiet warmth. Even wood, tile, or uncovered concrete floors can benefit from a radiant system.
  • Radiant heat is less likely to dry out your breathing passages and skin.

    Radiant floor heating panels are heated in one of three ways: electrical circuits, water pipes (hydronic), or air ducts embedded in the panel.

    Electric panels have electricity as their sole utility. Electric systems are less expensive up-front than hydronic systems. If you are in an area where electricity is inexpensive - electric could be the way to go.

    Water can be heated by almost any utility such as natural gas, propane, oil, electricity, wood or solar.

    One company, Warmly Yours, says you should expect to spend $300 to $500 to install an electric system for warming a small bathroom. An equivalent hydronic system would run $4,000 to $5,000.

    "Though I doubt that radiant floors will replace the forced air heating that dominates the market now, I do think it will continue to become a significant part of the market," said Schwartz. "Homeowners increasingly want their house to be a relaxing retreats. As the kitchen continues to be the heart of the home, more and more consumers are opting for cleaner, healthier, more inviting living spaces and choosing radiant flooring as an element to help achieve that."

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