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Some folks say that feet are your body’s thermostat. If that’s true, you know the chill you get when you step onto a cold tile or wood floor. Fortunately, there’s an energy-efficient solution: electric radiant floor heat.

The concept is simple: Heat the flooring and the objects on the floor, and they’ll radiate the warmth into the room. And, according to the Radiant Professionals Alliance, you could see a reduction in utility costs by using radiant heat in place of (or to supplement) more common heating methods.

Here’s how radiant flooring works. Grab a mug filled with hot coffee. You’ll not only feel the heat rising from the hot brew, but also will feel the warmth radiating from the sides and the bottom of the mug. Radiant energy is the transfer of heat to a cooler surface – in this case, into your hands holding the mug. While heated air rises, heat energy radiates in any direction – but always toward a cooler surface.

Your comfort at home relies both on the temperature of the air around you and radiant heat transfer. During winter, your forced-air furnace or heat pump blows warm air on you, but your feet may be cold. That’s because heated air rises, and the coolest air swirls around your toes. Radiant floor heat delivers controlled, comfortable heat where it matters most – where you live in your home, not 8 or 9 feet above the floor near the ceiling.

In most cases, you should hire a professional contractor to install your electric radiant heating system (although do-it-yourself kits are available). The cables, mats, films or mesh netting – each with a heating element – go in the “mud” under ceramic tile or stone, in concrete before final finishing or beneath hardwood floors; they’ll add, on average, anywhere from an eighth to a half inch to the thickness of the flooring. Note that radiant heat is a little less effective in areas that are carpeted, due to the insulating nature of the carpet and the pad underneath it.

For a retrofit to an existing bathroom or other room over a basement, you can use electric panels that go between the floor joists to warm the floor above, although the installation won’t provide quite as much warmth as one above the subflooring.

The benefits of radiant floor heat include warming up specific areas of your home when and where you need it. For example, you can use a programmable thermostat to preheat the bathroom floor before you get up in the morning. In addition, you can heat rooms by zone in your home to lower energy consumption, asking the system to cycle on and off in specific areas to match your family’s schedule.

With the diversity of products and applications available, there’s virtually no limit to where you can use radiant floor heating technology in your home. It’s a particularly good choice for solving heating problems for a room addition or remodeling project where tapping into a heating system – or installing a new, larger unit – isn’t an economical or practical solution.

By the way, water-based hydronic radiant heating systems also are available, often used in conjunction with the installation of a new ground-source heat pump. However, putting in a new hydronic setup can have a major impact on your bank account, unless it’s figured into the cost of a new house or included in the budget for a major remodeling project at an existing home.

Before you buy, talk with a few installers about designing a system specific to your needs, and make sure the radiant heating products are UL listed and approved for use with your specific floor coverings. Ask about the safety aspects of the installation too, including whether the heating elements are grounded and the electrical circuit is protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter. Finally, take a look at the available control units; if possible, choose a programmable thermostat for the most versatility and greatest energy savings; some are compatible with home thermostats you can control from your mobile phone or tablet.

If you’re going the do-it-yourself route, all of the safety points listed above still apply. Measure carefully (at least twice) and double-check each step of the installation – especially electrical connections – before you add the final flooring. Once the flooring is down, it will be very difficult to correct any problems with the system.


These companies sell radiant heating products.

Applied Radiant Technologies
WEBSITE: elect.htm
PHONE: 215-258-0930

Step Warmfloor
PHONE: 877-783-7832

Warmly Yours
PHONE: 800-875-5285

Watts Radiant
WEBSITE: products/heatweave
PHONE: 800-276-2419

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