If you are looking to lower the cost of heating your house, reduce an environmental impact, increase comfort, and have better control of the heating system, then a hydronic system with a radiant floor heating system is what you need.
Homeowners often choose hydronic floor heating due to efficiency, comfort, and installation benefits. No more unpleasant appearance of radiators, baseboards, or louvered floor vents (registers) that can also take up valuable space.
Hydronic floor heating provides many benefits to homeowners, from savings and efficiency to comfort and long life. Let's look at some of the advantages of heated floors that should make your buying decision easier:
Hydronic floor heating systems are designed to heat homes using the thermal energy from the heated fluid running through the hot water pipes installed under the floor.
As the floor heats up, it starts to radiate heat to surrounding objects and people. This is why it is called radiant floor heating.
Hydronic floor heating systems utilize boilers, furnaces, and water heaters to heat water or any other heating fluid.
Then we have a circulation pump to move the heated water through the set of pipes installed under the floor. And to increase the heating surface, the tubing is laid out in a serpentine pattern.
The heat is then delivered to the floor, which acts as one gigantic radiator, from where it radiates heat to the room air, people, and surrounding objects. The space is heated from the bottom up.
Water then circulates back to the heating unit but at a lower temperature. It gets reheated and sent out again, making the whole system a "closed-loop system."
Apart from closed-loop systems, an open system uses a domestic water heater to provide heat for floor heating and potable water. Water first passes through the floor and ends up in your shower or kitchen sink. In closed-loop systems, there is no connection between the floor system and the domestic water supply.
In order to provide better control, heating systems are split into heating zones. Each zone starts from the "control center," which is actually a plumbing manifold system. This is where the pump delivers heated water from the heating unit.
The water temperature is set and controlled by the thermostat, so each zone has a steady temperature. The temperature should not exceed 85 F, as the higher temperature can damage the flooring or put additional stress on system elements.
Thermostats can be used either to control your heating system with the ambient temperature or with a floor sensor.
Hydronic heating systems can be installed indoor for home heating and outdoor for pool heating or melting snow on driveways and sidewalks.
The main components of hydronic floor heating systems used in residential applications are grouped into three categories:
The heat source for hydronic heating is usually a boiler, water heater, solar water heater, heat pump, or any other (if applicable). The heating unit can use the following fuel sources: natural gas, propane, oil, electricity, wood, or solar.
Heating fluid – water is a common heat transfer medium, but if it is needed, glycol can be added as antifreeze to protect the system from freezing.
Manifold and thermostat – used as the control center to control the temperature in each zone separately.
Tubing (usually PEX).
Heat exchanger (radiators, baseboards, or set of pipes).
Circulation pump moves the water (and heat) from the heat source through piping and back.
Professional installation is always recommended as it ensures proper and long-lasting operation.
A traditional heating system, such as the forced-air type, heats the air directly which then warms up the people in that room. The system typically uses a gas furnace, located in the basement or a utility room, to produce a flame and heat the air. The hot air is then distributed utilizing air blowers and a duct work throughout the house.
Radiant floor heating works by directly warming the people, utilizing the floor as one massive radiator.
There are two popular methods used when installing a hydronic floor heating system:
The wet installation method involves the installation of plastic tubing into the concrete. Two applications are used: slab on grade and thin slab over the frame floor.
In the case of slab-on-grade systems, radiant tubing (PEX is the most popular) is secured to the rebar, reinforcing elements, or wire mesh before concrete is poured. This method is used in new constructions.
The thin slab method is used in both new homes and retrofits. The piping is attached to the subfloor while the thin layer of self-leveling concrete is poured over the top, raising the floor height by approximately 1.5 inches.
Dry systems use grooved panels to loop the tubing. The panels with tubes are then covered with flooring. This system requires proper insulation placement and heat reflectors underneath to direct heat in the right direction.
Also, the pipes can be suspended under the floor surface.
Recap: Hydronic floor heating systems can be installed in concrete floor slabs, in-floor joist, and below wood floors, carpets, or vinyl floors.
Either method you choose, keep in mind to design it correctly and per instructions. Correct pipe spacing, water temperature, flow rate, and type of flooring are crucial because you want the heat output to meet the heat loss demand of your home.
PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, is the most popular way of transferring heat in radiant floor heating systems. PEX tubing is durable, flexible, leak-resistant, non-toxic, and resistant to high temperatures and does not rust and become brittle over time. It is the most used type in today's homes and is considered the industry standard.
In radiant floor systems, zoning is a great way to heat specific areas in the house efficiently and give homeowners a higher level of control.
If the heated area is large, it will likely be broken up into several areas called "zones." Each zone is controlled by a single thermostat and circulation pump and can have one or many circuits, but as long as the length doesn't exceed the maximum recommended.
It is also recommended to keep zoning to a minimum because you will have better control, and there will be no waste of energy, time, and money.
Whoever designs your hydronic system should have enough info about your lifestyle, the size of the heated floor, and home construction in general.
Except for the hydronic radiant heat, there is also an electric type. While they function the same way - heating the home from floors to the ceiling, they are also different.
Electric radiant heating utilizes low voltage electric heating coils woven into the plastic mesh and arranged similarly to the radiant hydronic pipes – serpentine layout.
However, the coils are much thinner, there is no fluid running through, no heating device, and they are glued or stapled to the subfloor with a thin layer of cement on top. Due to its simplicity, installation is an easy DIY project, where the electric coils are connected to your home's electrical system. A thermostat is also used to set and control the temperature.
As opposed to hydronic systems, electric radiant systems are used only for small areas, as an addition to an existing heating system, and to heat areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and basements or where the floor is usually cold.
As mentioned, they are easy to install and usually do not require professional installation. Also, there is no maintenance involved.
As the system utilizes electricity, operating costs are higher, while the initial cost of the product and its installation is lower.
As with other types of home heating systems, a hydronic type is also subjected to problems.
Those problems could arise due to poor home design and construction, low quality of workmanship, and quality of materials.
Mistakes such as lack of insulation under the concrete slab and bad flooring selection are some of the lousy design or construction issues.
The most common problems that are found in installed floor heating systems are:
Leaks – the most common reasons for fluid leaks are pinched tubes and pipe punctures. It is important to notify other contractors about the floor heating system and test the system under pressure.
Air in the system – can lead to noisy operation, corrosion, enhanced scale build-up, and blockages.
Freezing – if your home is under construction and subject to freezing temperatures, it is essential to remove water from the system after testing or add antifreeze.
While some products (PEX, manifolds, and fittings) are covered by the manufacturer's warranty of 25 years, PEX pipes, once installed, can last more than 50 years.
Professional installation is recommended for the best performance, reliable operation, and long-term operation.
As explained before, hydronic floor heating systems are ideal for many homeowners. They are efficient, safe, and provide great comfort.
What makes them efficient is the way they transfer heat: convection, radiation, and conduction, including reduced heat loss and uniform heat distribution. There are no unheated spots, cold feet, and freezing drafts.
They are safe because there are no blowers to move air around or circulate dust and other allergens.
And for those suffering from allergies and cold toes, it is a perfect choice.