As homeowners and remodelers talk about energy efficiency, there is a lot of talk about the fact that radiant heat saves money. We are told it is an energy-efficient home heating alternative. We’re also told it can save money on home heating costs. What many homeowners want to know is how radiant heat saves money.

Most of us have some experience with radiant heat. Infrared radiation or heat radiation causes us to feel heat from a source like a hot burner on the stove or a wood burning stove. This heating of objects and people in a room is supplemented by the process of convection, which is the natural circulation of heat within a room.

Radiant heating happens when the floor or panels in the wall are heated and the warmth produced radiates across the room. Heat produced from floor and wall panels will also circulate throughout the room through convection.

Radiant heating systems are credited with several advantages:

  • Radiant heat is believed to feel warmer to the body and make you more comfortable.
  • It is more energy-efficient than other heating alternatives.
  • It is cleaner and, because the air is not moved, dirt, dust and bacteria are not circulated through the room.
  • Radiant heating systems are silent and invisible.
  • There are no hot surfaces that are dangerous to children (unlike radiators).
  • Some radiant heating systems are less expensive at the time of purchase than the alternatives.

Two main types of radiant floor heat are common in homes: electric radiant floors and hot water (hydronic) radiant floors.

  1. Electric radiant floors have heating cables built onto the sub-floor and covered with a floor covering like tile. Because these systems rely on electricity, they save money most effectively when they are used only for a limited time (like heating a bathroom floor so it is comfortably warm when you step out of the shower or bath) or in a home addition when it would be too expensive to extend the primary heating system, or when there is a large floor mass that conducts heat well – such as a concrete slab –that can be heated during times that offer lower rates for electricity use.
  2. Hydronic radiant floors (the most popular type of installation) are the most cost-effective systems. Hydronic systems pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid beneath the floor covering. These systems can be used throughout a home or in a single room.

Radiant panels can also be installed in walls and ceilings. They are most commonly made of aluminum. Although they can be either electric or hydronic systems, electric panels are more popular in walls and ceilings because of concerns about leaks. These can become somewhat expensive to operate and they heat whatever is closest to the panels. This often means that they benefit only the person sitting directly in front of the panels and that ceiling panels are not terribly comfortable because they heat the top of the head and leave the rest of the body cooler.

Radiant floor heating panels have become very popular in recent years for several reasons. First they offer an affordable alternative in home additions, where it would be very costly to extend the primary heating system or where it is not practical to extend the primary heating system. Second, they provide a great luxury in bathrooms and bedrooms because they warm the floor in areas where you step from the warmth of the bed, shower or tub onto a floor that would otherwise be cold. Third, in homes build on a concrete slab in areas subject to cold winters, they offer a cozy supplement that keeps the floor warmer. Finally, in warmer climates, they might offer a cost-efficient alternative to other types of heating systems for a few cool days and nights.