During the fall and winter months, fluctuating temperatures throughout your home can be a source of major frustration. It’s one thing to need to wear layers outside, but who wants to have to do so inside the house? All too often, though, we find ourselves keeping sweaters or blankets within easy reach in those typically chilly rooms or that one corner of the room that always seems cooler than the rest.

Most of the blame for these temperature variations can be placed at the feet of standard forced-air heating systems. Because hot air rises, the warm air being blown out of your vents goes straight to the top of the room. Rooms heated via a forced-air heating system tend to stay warm—sometimes too warm—near the vents or radiator, while the middle of the room remains slightly cooler than whatever temperature the thermostat is set to. You may be wondering if there’s a better option, and there is—radiant floor heating.

What Is Radiant Floor Heating?

Radiant heat systems are actually one of the world’s oldest interior heating methods. In Ancient Rome, rooms were kept warm by flues beneath the stone floors. Hot air entered these flues from fires that were kept active by slaves in a separate part of the building. Although this process was extremely effective, it required vast amounts of slave labor to maintain and, therefore, was usually reserved for public spaces.

Today, there are two primary types of radiant floor heating—electric and hydronic. Electric radiant floor heating systems consist of loops of resistance wire that are run underneath the floor in a zigzag pattern, and hydronic systems are made up of loops of polyethylene tubing filled with hot water. Both systems work via thermal radiation. Hot air will always rise, no matter the method used to heat it, but instead of simply warming up the air in a room, thermal radiation transfers heat directly to the people and objects inside it.

In chemical terms, heat is energy. That energy moves from its source—the wires or tubes under the floor—to everything it touches as it passes to the top of the room in the form of electromagnetic waves. This process causes people and objects themselves to heat up, rather than just the surrounding air. It is also the same process by which the earth is warmed by the sun and your hands are warmed by that cup of hot coffee. Because everything the electromagnetic waves come in contact with heats up on its own, nearby people and things don’t need to steal your body heat, and you stay at a relatively constant temperature.

Which System Is Right for Me?

Hydronic radiant floor heating is usually more cost effective than an electric system if you plan to heat several rooms or even your whole house. Water is cheaper than wire and requires little, if any, electricity to heat up; popular non-electrical methods include gas-, oil-, or wood-fired boilers and solar water heaters. Hydronic systems can also be linked to an outdoor temperature reset control, which automatically adjusts the water’s temperature based on the air temperature outside.

Electricity, on the other hand, is a rather pricey heating method, so electric radiant floor heating is almost always supplementary. It tends to be used in conjunction with standard forced-air systems to heat just one or two rooms and are common in bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. Electric radiant floor systems are also fairly inexpensive to install, so they work well with small-scale remodels.

Radiant floor heating can make you more comfortable inside your home. In addition to keeping temperature variations at bay, radiant heat systems do not blow allergens such as dust and pet hair throughout the house like typical forced-air systems. Radiant heat is also silent and draft free, and there are no unsightly radiators, ducts, or vents to take up space or otherwise interfere with the layout of your home. If the idea of having warm floors on cold mornings excites you, then call a local Best Pick to explore your options.

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Sources: EBSCOhost Home Improvement Resource Center: The Low-Down on Heating the Floor You Walk On, Warm and Toasty; This Old House; U.S. Department of Energy.

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