DIY Network

Radiant Floor Heating Basics

Alternative heating can include more than adding a fireplace or two or some space heaters. Radiant floor heating is an innovative heating method that works in an unusual way but is highly efficient.

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radiant floor heating is efficient system for home

Radiant floor heating is a wonderfully efficient heat-distribution system that takes advantage of the whole floor to heat the home, as apposed to forced air coming out of one small vent and trying to heat a huge space.

How does radiant floor heating work?
This innovation in home heating provides warmth for a house from underneath the floors. It's an effective method of heating that works in an unusual way -- hydronics or water going through a PEX tubing in the floor. The water in the tubing radiates the heat into the structure. It's an efficient and cost-effective way to heat a house.

Running hot water beneath the floor -- or hydronics -- is becoming more popular in residential homes thanks to a flexible plastic tubing called "PEX" -- a polyurethane, durable tubing that has a lifespan of more than 100 years. It serpentines underneath the floor and uses the whole floor as a heat-distribution system.

Comfort and efficiency are two reasons why new homeowners like radiant floor systems. Comfort, in fact, is the No. 1 advantage with its warm-feet, cool-head environment. And because the whole floor is used, it's an extremely efficient system. The aesthetic quality is another reason some homeowners love this system. The heating system remains hidden beneath the floor; there are no vents or radiators in sight. This can be a huge advantage when it comes to interior design.

Three Types of Radiant Floors
There are three radiant flooring systems that can be applied to a home:

  • Radiant Air Floors -- Don't hold large amount of heat, and for this reason they are used mainly in commercial buildings.
  • Electric Radiant Floors -- Do a great job at heating any kind of home, but they're extremely expensive.
  • Hydronic or Liquid Floors -- These cost less and are, therefore, used more often in residential construction.

Radiant floor heating is a distribution center for the home by taking advantage of the floor and putting tubing throughout the whole floor, mild temperatures of water and concrete application. Beautiful tile, marble and slate floors are being utilized in homes, but they're ice cold. With radiant floor heating, it's possible to have a beautiful floor and barefoot comfort.

Using a hydronic floor system is a great way to heat a home, but it also can be used on a smaller scale, such as in a basement.

Note: Since a radiant floor system is different from a traditional centralized heating system, your builder will need to hire specialized contractors with experience in this area.

Installing a Radiant Floor System
There are two categories of installation for radiant floor heating -- wet and dry. Wet installation is most commonly used in the ground floor.

Here are the five steps to the wet installation on a ground level:
1. Excavate the area to be heated. This will be the sub-base.
2. Add a layer of insulation to create a base over which the rest of the floor system will lay.
3. Add rebar to the space. This will add strength to the floor system.
4. Add plastic tubing, tying it to the rebar for support.
5. Use concrete to create a slab foundation for the floor.

When installing a radiant floor system on the upper floors of a home, the most common method is called "dry installation," which is a system that suspends the tubing underneath the subfloor, between the joists.

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