Stay cozy and warm this winter with in-floor radiant heat

By Cynthia Ramnarace
December 18, 2015, 6:54:31 AM EST


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If you have ever walked barefoot across a New England tile floor in winter, then you know it's true when they say that heat rises.
But what if the heat actually started at your toes, instead of blowing in from a vent near the ceiling or a radiator in the corner of the room? Radiant heating systems, in which the warmth actually runs uniformly underneath the floor, do just that.

What is Radiant Heat? Using either electricity or warm water, these networks circulate heat underneath the floor. Want to keep your bedroom toasty but not the guest room that's rarely used? Radiant heat systems can use multiple zones based on your preferences. This flexibility, which can lead to lower utility bills as well as a reduced carbon footprint, is growing in popularity. Between 2000 and 2006, sales of hydronic, water-based heating systems have more than doubled in the U.S., according to the Radiant Panel Association.

"People like the idea of comfort," says Lars Andersen, owner of AIM Radiant Heating in Acra, N.Y., which creates customized radiant heat systems for contractors and do-it-yourselfers. "Also, it is not something that you have to work around as far as your furniture placement or where you are putting in cabinets."

Radiant heat systems can also save time -- as well as your back. Outdoor systems installed underneath driveways and walkways use sensors that monitor temperature and moisture. When it snows, they switch on, which means you can sell your snowblower at your next yard sale. The same technology can help prevent snow and ice from collecting on your roof and in your gutters.

"Our most popular product right now are the snow melting systems," says Tracy Stanger, president of Warmzone in Salt Lake City, Utah, a radiant heat system supplier. "Most of our business is done for exterior snow removal, snow melting in the driveway, the sidewalk and loading docks."

Radiant heat systems come in two varieties: hydronic and electric. Which system to choose depends on your heating needs. If you are building a new home and want a totally radiant heating system, hydronic is the most cost-efficient. If you're renovating your home and want to add supplemental heat, such as to a bathroom or kitchen floor, then electric is best.

"The cost of electric floor heating per square foot is significantly higher than the hydronic system," says Nicolas Mottet, marketing communications manager with Warmly Yours of Chicago, an electric radiant heat company. "As a result, you are going to find electric floor heating in small spaces. The bathroom is the number-one selling room and then the kitchen or maybe a basement. It is basically to add controlled extra warmth to just a couple of rooms in your home."

Installation Depending on the size and complexity of the job, both hydronic and electric systems can be do-it-yourself jobs. AIM Radiant Heating specializes in a "Boiler Room in a Box," which are customized units that come with simple step-by-step directions for installing the tubing and the pre-assembled central heating element. Money can be saved because the homeowner can do most of the labor. However, a licensed electrician or plumber is needed to do the final system hook-ups.

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