Does your bathroom or kitchen floor get cold in the wintertime? Does your house have uneven heating in certain rooms during the winter? Do you wish you could come home in the midst of a snowstorm with your driveway already cleared?
With an in-floor radiant heating system, you could address all of those issues and save money on your heating bills.
Radiant heat systems use fluid running through pipes buried beneath flooring to heat objects in the room, as opposed to heating the air as conventional forced air systems, like gas furnaces do. Because that heat isn’t lost through the air, but instead stays with the objects being heated, the result is more efficient heating.
“They essentially work like your old radiator systems, where we use hot water to heat the house, only in this case, we pipe it through flex piping underneath the floor, so it warms the floor and objects in the room,” said Brad Odom of Control Tech Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. in Zionsville. “The temperature stays much more stable than with forced air, where, you know the situation – the unit is running, it gets warmer, then the unit cycles off and you want to put your sweater on and then you’re taking your sweater off and on again. Because this heats objects in the house, it keeps the temperature much more even from minute to minute and room to room.”
Most sub-floor heating systems, known as hydronic systems, rely on fluid flowing through PEX piping. Others – generally designed for smaller areas like a bathroom – use electric cables. The systems can be installed under a concrete slab, under flooring or attached directly to the subfloor. Though it’s ideal to install them in new construction or during a remodel, there are a variety of possibilities to retrofit them into an existing home with minimal intrusion.
Though in-floor systems can be designed to heat an entire home, the more conventional use is for zoned areas, like a bathroom, kitchen or driveway. It’s important that a qualified, licensed heating and cooling company familiar with radiant technology do the installation and perform a heat load calculation to ensure the system is properly sized.
“The best application I see for it is in kitchens and bathrooms, to keep those floors warm to the touch and still provide forced air around the rest of the house,” Odom said. “Tile floor is a great application. They get freezing cold in the wintertime.”
The snow-melt radiant driveway systems have really grown in popularity, as more homeowners continue to learn about them.
“It’s connected to automatic controls that would sense the air temperature and the moisture from the snow on the slab and turn on and melt the snow as it comes down,” said Gabriel Robbins of T.A. Kaiser Heating and Air, Inc. in Indianapolis. “So, regardless of whether you get an inch of snow or 2-feet of snow, it will melt it as it comes down.”
Cost of the snow melt systems can range from $5 to $25 per square foot, based on a variety of factors including size and type of driveway, location, and if it’s new installation or a retrofit.
Aside from routine inspections, in-floor radiant heating systems require little maintenance and typically last twice as long as a forced air system.
“You can expect to get 25 to 30 years out of a radiant system, where a gas furnace or standard forced air is 12 to 15 years,” Robbins said. “The biggest benefit with radiant systems is the sheer efficiency. It can be up to 40 percent more efficient than the same sized forced air system. It costs so much less to heat a home with radiant than it does with any other source.”
Editor's note: This article was originally published in November of 2012.