This month our newsletter is all about radiant floor heating. We cover the different types of radiant floor heating, the components that are typically included in radiant floor heating, plans for installation of radiant floor heating and installation guidelines and tips. As always, we provide links that will provide more information and references to assist with planning and installing radiant floor heating in your new home.
Conventional heating systems in many homes in North America use a combination of either convection heating or forced air heating. In both cases, the air is heated and then circulates through the room or the house to heat the house and its occupants. It is circulated either using convection heating or a fan will force the warm air throughout the house. New radiant floor heating systems are being introduced; they are embedded in the floor and provide heat through either electrical or hot water circulation systems. With these new radiant floor systems, homeowners can utilize radiant heat under carpet, hardwood floors, or tile.
Radiant floor heating is becoming more popular, particularly for people who enjoy hardwood floors, concrete floors and tiled floors. As many of our readers can appreciate, walking on cold tiled floors in bare feet is not much fun in the wintertime. A warm tiled floor, heated by radiant heat, warms the entire body and keeps you warm even after you step out of the shower. These radiant floor heating systems are being introduced to add comfort to otherwise cold rooms and, in many cases, are being used as a primary source of heat in new homes.
In addition, in the summary section of this newsletter, under “Useful Links,” we have listed all of the web sites that we found to have interesting and helpful information regarding the selection, planning, and installation of radiant floor heating. You may want to utilize these references, as well as the ones that are specific to each section of this newsletter.
Some Useful Links:
The Basics - Types of Systems
There are two basic systems of radiant floor heating available in the marketplace: one system uses electricity and heating wires that are placed beneath the surface of the floor, while the other system uses water circulated through tubing beneath the floor, referred to as a hydronic system. Both systems work well, however, their construction and maintenance are quite different.
In addition, there are several types of hydronic systems. To begin with, there are open and closed systems. A closed system has a dedicated water heating system, such as a boiler, that heats and circulates the water; while an open system will use the same heater, often your hot water tank, to provide the water for your radiant floor heating, as well as hot water for the home. Closed systems can use a boiler to heat the water, a dedicated domestic water heater or steam that is circulated through the system. The source of heat for heating the water to circulate through your system can be oil, natural gas, wood, coal, solar, electricity, propane and geothermal, if available.
Electric systems are far simpler by design. They consist of wires embedded in the floor, which are resistive and, therefore, generate heat when electricity is flowing through them. Other than a connection to a power source and a thermometer, which is also connected to a sensor in the floor, the system is actually quite simple. As long as you have electricity you have warm floors!
One significant item to note is that homeowners intending to use radiant floor heating as a sole source for heat in their homes, may need to consider installing some form of air conditioning for the hot summer months, if they live in a warm climate. Radiant floor heating works by heating the floor, which then radiates heat into the room, and warming the rest of the house through convection.
In terms of design choice between radiant floor heating, using electric heating versus hydronic, the consensus appears to be that spot heating is best done with electric radiant floor heating, while homeowners intending to heat their entire home with radiant floor heating will tend to have a better economic result with hydronic systems. Prior to making a decision, homeowners are encouraged to have a design completed for both systems; compare the cost of installation, as well as operation over a one-year period.
Finally, electric systems consist of wires in the floor and a thermostat, while a hydronic system requires piping, a water heater or a boiler, which must be maintained. Some people will be very comfortable with either system, while others will prefer one or the other, based on home style and heating sources that are available.
Some useful links to check out
How Does it Work
Hydronic or Electric Heating
Types of Systems
Water & Electric
General Information about Radiant Floor Heating
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The components required for an electric radiant floor heating system include the following items:
- Heating Source
- Heating System
- Wire mesh with resistive electrical elements embedded in the floor
- Thermostat with temperature sensor in the floor.
The components required for a hydronic radiant floor heating system include the following items:
- Heating Source
- Can be electricity, solar, natural gas, propane, oil, wood, coal, geothermal or any other heating source.
- Heating Systems
- Boiler – houses the water to be heated
- Hot water heater for home
- Expansion tanks
- Water hammer arrestors
- Pressure control tanks
- Solenoid valves
- Check valves
- Back flow preventers
- Ball valves
- Balancing valves
- Pressure regulators
- Gate valves
- Pressure relief valves
- Drain valves
- Circulate the water through the heater and the tubing located under the floor.
- Bleed valves
- Water circulates in tubing running beneath the floor in the concrete, under wood floors, or on a sub floor of wood, pre-cast concrete, or slab-on-grade concrete.
Useful Web Links
Components for Hydronic Systems
Planing Your Flooring
Radiant floor heating has progressed a great deal in the past few years to the point now where you can almost install radiant floor heating in just about any floor situation, including outdoor installations. Having said that, there are some basic decisions that you need to make that can be addressed by a number of questions. Note that many of the web sites that we have referenced, have both installation videos, as well as planning tools available. In addition, many will provide you with estimates once you submit your requirements.
Basic decisions you need to consider are:
- Do you plan to heat your entire house with radiant floor heating or
- Spot heat specific rooms, such as the kitchen, bathrooms etc.
- What is your heating source and type?
- Do you have sufficient room for a boiler, etc., to provide the heat that is required for a hydronic system?
- What type of flooring do you have or plan to have, i.e., carpet, wood, tile, concrete?
As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, the experts appear to feel that zone type heating is better accomplished with electric systems, while heating the entire home is better accomplished with hydronic systems. Of course this depends on the cost of fuel and the amount of construction required to install each system, whether you are on a slab or have a basement, etc.
If you are installing a concrete floor and have not considered radiant floor heating, consider building the radiant floor heating tubing into the concrete now, even if you have no current plans to use it. It will be a great selling feature for your home and you may also reconsider adding radiant floor heating sometime in the future. Even new, hardwood floors can have radiant floor systems installed for future use!
Useful Web Links
Radiant Floor Design
Online Design Tool
Consumers planning on installing electrical based radiant floor heating themselves can learn a great deal of information regarding step-by-step methods. There are combinations of both manual step-by-step instructions and videos that are illustrative of how to go about installing electrical based radiant floor heating systems. Visit several of the useful web links for more information regarding step-by-step installation details.
Readers can also download detailed manuals for installing radiant heating tubes and hydronic systems that are designed for do-it-yourselfers who can accomplish this with excellent results.
Every state will have its own specific building codes, and we strongly recommend that you review your locality’s building code requirements. We have included one reference site that lists some of the building code bodies with links and further discussion on building codes.
Details, Details, Details
There are many details concerning the installation of both types of systems, so we have developed some generalized installation tips. We recommend that you read up on all of the installation manuals and guidelines provided on the various websites to properly prepare yourself for either a self-installation or even if you plan on hiring an expert to complete the installation for you.
These are just a few details that apply to installation tips.
- Complete a dry run if possible
- Read all of the FAQ’s before starting
- Pre-fit all of the connections to ensure proper fitting and to make sure that you have the correct ones
- Only do a wet run when you are satisfied that everything is ready
- Plan your tubing and tanks so that air bubbles rise to the highest point
- Clean all pipe fittings well in preparation for soldering
- Utilize the services of the various web sites to assist in planning your installation
Useful Web Links
Quick Installation Overview
Electric Radiant Heat Installation
Step by Step for Electric System
Designing, purchasing, and installing a radiant floor heating system can be simple and straightforward, if you properly plan your system to meet the needs of your home. Readers must first decide if they are going to use spot radiant floor heating or equip their entire home with radiant floor heating. In moderate climates, radiant floor heating can be the main source of heat. However, if air conditioning is required, separate arrangements will need to be determined.
Your decision regarding electric or hydronic radiant floor heating comes down to a number of factors on which only the consumer can assess and make a decision. Room size, house size, zone heating, budget, wiring and heating sources are all elements that every consumer must take into account.
Radiant floor heating can now be installed in existing homes. However, the best time to install radiant floor heating is when your home is initially being built. In fact, even if you do not plan to use radiant floor heating, installing the tubing or electrical cabling gives you the option in the future to add it, as well as increasing the potential resale value of your home.
Finally, there is a great deal of quality information covering everything from building codes, selection, to video installation guides available to assist people to learn more about radiant floor heating. Readers can download installation manuals and review videos that will demonstrate how to install radiant floor heating.
Useful Web Links
Radiant Floor Heating – Concrete Network
Backwoods Home magazine-Radiant Floor Heating
Thought For The Day
"Arguments might make you win situations, but not hearts. So next time you indulge in them, before going any further just ask yourself - what is more impartant, the situation or the person?" - Anonymous
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