Here’s a quick homeowner’s guide to how radiant heating works

Used since the time of the Romans, radiant heating has endured the test of time and continues to be one of the most effective ways to heat a home. Built into floors or walls, radiant heating offers homeowners energy-efficient heat without the need for ductwork. In this article, we’ll review how radiant heating works, the different types of radiant systems, and if it’s worth installing in your home.

For more HVAC advice and services here in Buffalo and Western New York, contact our team here at Reimer! We’re your local heating experts, and we repair, maintain, and install radiant heating systems. If you’re looking to upgrade, give us a call to get started. We offer free in-home estimates.

In this article, we explore how radiant heating works in homes.

Hydronic radiant heating installation in a new home build.

How radiant heating works

A standard furnace combusts fuel—typically, gas—to generate heat energy. This energy is then transferred to air and blown through your home with the use of vents. However, there’s a problem: air is a relatively poor conductor of heat energy, and there’s plenty of chances for that energy to dissipate or be lost before it even reaches the living spaces of your home.

Water and metal are much better carriers of heat energy. When heat is transferred through either, less energy is lost on its way to your living spaces. That forms of the basis of the two main types of radiant systems: electric and hydronic.

Electric versus hydronic systems

Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the principle by which they heat your home is similar.

Electric radiant heat, the less common of the two, is a good retrofit option in existing homes. It uses resistance wire. The conductive wiring is razor-thin and sits just under the finish floor. The system is connected to a thermostat and uses electricity to heat up the wires. There’s no boiler or pipes required.

Hydronic systems, on the other hand, use water to radiate heat throughout the home. In the past, copper pipes were used for their conductivity. However, copper corrodes; today we use resilient plastic PEX tubing, which is cheaper to produce and lasts for decades.

What are the advantages of radiant heating?

As mentioned previously, forced-air systems lose a lot of energy while pushing heated air to the living spaces of your home. Then, in many cases, the air is sent out of air vents near the ceiling. Since hot air rises above cold air, this leaves your living room cold. You turn up the thermostat more and the vicious cycle continues.

How radiant heating works is by dissipating that heat energy in the living space. Since the heat energy was carried by water or wire, less of it was lost in transport. Plus, since radiant heating is most often located underneath floors or at the bottom of walls, that heat arrives where it’s needed.

Plus, a radiant heating system can hold heat for longer. Water in the boiler and pipes remains hot long after the system turns off. The net result is a consistent temperature throughout the home and much lower energy bills throughout the winter.

A final advantage is simply comfort. By heating your floorboards, radiant heating can reduce that horrible feeling of walking on cold tile or wood floors during the winter.

What does this cost?

Due to some of the costs associated with tearing up floors, hydronic radiant heating is typically installed at the time the house is constructed or being remodeled. Many older homes here in Buffalo have radiant heating systems that utilized copper pipes, but some newer ones are getting retrofitted with radiant heating.

Once operating, hydronic heating holds its temperature better, requiring less energy from the boiler to retain heat. Electric systems constantly drain power, driving your costs up. Though cheaper to install, electric floor heating costs much more to run, especially in large areas.

For more on radiant heating, call your friends at Reimer!

At Reimer Home Services, we’re experts in radiant floor heating installation and maintenance. To find out more about how radiant heating works, or to get a free in-home estimate for adding radiant heat to your Buffalo home, give us a call!

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