There’s nothing more comforting than a heated floor – warmth radiating from under your feet. But what is radiant heat, and how is it different from traditional heating methods?
In plain English, waves of thermal radiation rise up, heating whatever they come into contact with – in the first instance, that’s your floor and then your feet!
That’s very different to how many of us have traditionally heated our homes. Historically we’ve tended to rely upon convection – that’s where we heat air which (as it circulates) warms our bodies. Convection and radiation are two completely different processes.
Benefits of a radiant heating system
One of the significant benefits of radiant heat is that our bodies are able to absorb warmth from the physical environment, rather than the physical environment drawing warmth from us. It also works with the fundamental physics premise that heat rises, so why heat from the top or mid part of a room?
While even temperature distribution is a significant drawcard for infloor heating, the removal of convection heating also means lower air flow, which results in less dust. A bonus in anyone’s book.
From a practical perspective, radiant infloor heat requires either hot-water piping or electrical wires underneath the floor-covering. Both (broadly speaking) deliver the same experience — efficient, even heating — but they operate in very different ways. So, what’s the difference between them?
Advantages of electric infloor heating
Electric infloor heating involves installing electrical cables – either single strands or a pre-fabricated mat – above the subfloor. There’s no boiler or plumbing required. A thermostat is used to control temperatures, meaning you have the ability to tweak the heating in individual areas to suit personal preference and make changes on the fly to reflect how you use your space.
All you need is heat cable, a temperature sensor installed in the floor and a thermostat connected to the home’s power supply. It could hardly be simpler. In no time at all you can have electric infloor heating that’s fast, flexible and effective to use; switch it on or set a timer for almost instant warmth.
Hydronic systems, on the other hand, take longer to heat up – because of the time it takes for heated liquid to travel throughout the system – and function better when left to operate at a consistent temperature. You also can’t turn them off with the flick of a switch; for hydronic systems to fully cool down can take a couple of days, meaning a sudden upturn in ambient temperature can leave you begging for mercy! Electric heated floors, with coils closer to the surface, can cool down speedily.
Low to no maintenance – electric infloor heating
Where CosyFloor, for example, requires next to no ongoing maintenance, the material and labour costs for hydronic installation are usually notably higher. In addition, getting the right piping layout and pump placement is essential – electric infloor heating is typically much more affordable than the hydronic alternative in part because hydronics are so tricky to install.
If you’re a renovator, it’s worth bearing in mind that hydronic systems tend to be installed in the slab, not directly below the floor finish, which makes them less suitable for anything other than a new build. Electrical infloor heating, which tends to be installed above the slab, is a much less involved process. If you, or your clients, are absolutely committed to a hydronic system, brace yourself for the potential cost of raising floors to make way for the pipework. In short, it’s definitely a job for a professional.
While the final decision on heating comes down to a heap of individual factors and preferences, there’s no denying the ease of installation and flexibility for daily use make electric infloor heating a tough option to pass!