Providing superior indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is top of mind for consumers, who understand health starts in the home.
While hydronic radiant heating has been around since the Roman times and has been the main form of heating homes throughout Europe for decades, the United States has lagged behind in adopting this technology. Currently, only about 4% of homes are heated using hydronic radiant systems while the majority use forced-air HVAC.
However, with the need for greater energy-efficient solutions, more homeowners and home builders are looking to radiant not only for its efficiency but also for its extreme comfort and superior indoor environmental quality (IEQ) benefits.
1. Energy Efficiency
Here’s an interesting fact: Water has the capacity to transport energy 3,500 times greater than air. With heating and electricity generation accounting for nearly 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, radiant helps manage energy usage with a system that uses water to transport energy instead of air.
In a hydronic radiant floor heating system, warm water circulates through flexible PEX pipe embedded in the concrete slab or under the floor between the joists. As the warmth radiates up from the floor, it warms both people and objects in a room.
This is a much more efficient form of creating comfort because the heat stays hear the floor where people are located, not up in the ceiling (since hot air rises). In addition, most people are more comfortable with radiant at a lower thermostat setting, such as 68°F, than with forced-air at a higher thermostat setting, such as 72°F. That several-degree adjustment can make a big difference in energy use.
Best of all, radiant floor heating systems work really well with sustainable heat sources, such as geothermal and solar, making the system even more energy-efficient.
Anyone who has ever experienced radiant floor heating will say it is the most comfortable form of heat imaginable. Think about stepping out of a shower onto a warm floor instead of cold, hard tiles, or imagine laying on a warm basement floor instead of cool carpet in the winter. The reason radiant is so comfortable is because it most closely aligns with the ideal heating curve for the human body.
Forced-air HVAC systems, on the other hand, are the most divergent from the ideal heating curve for the human body. So, it’s no wonder homes with forced-air heating systems always have a blanket on the couch.
In addition, because radiant systems provide an even heat that reaches every area of the floor, there are no hot or cold spots like with forced-air systems. With radiant, there is a consistent, even comfort that stays near the floor at all times.
3. Air Quality
Since hydronic radiant heating systems use pumps to move water instead of fans or blowers to push air, the system does not circulate dust and allergens throughout a home. In fact, many people with severe allergies install hardwood or laminate floors, as opposed to carpet, along with radiant floor heating systems to minimize the allergens in their homes.
In addition, radiant floor heating does not circulate odors throughout a home, adding to improved air quality. With radiant, a home can be free of dust, allergens, odors and other nuisances that can be part of the air system.
As an added bonus, since radiant systems don’t require ductwork, it also offers greater architectural freedom from bulkheads and vents in the floor.
4. Peace and Quiet
Anyone with a traditional HVAC system knows the sound a furnace makes when it kicks on as well as the sound the air makes as it’s rushing through the ductwork (not to mention the expansion and contraction noise of the ductwork as it heats and cools back down).
With radiant floor heating, that’s not an issue. Radiant is a quiet system. The various parts, including manifolds, actuators, pumps and boilers, all silently work as they bring comfort throughout a home. In addition, as an added bonus, radiant systems don’t require the type of maintenance (air filter replacement, furnace tune-ups, etc.) required with traditional HVAC systems.
5. Various Installation Options
Finally, one of the best features of radiant is its ability to install in zones. That means a home can have just one or two rooms, such as a master bathroom or basement, or the entire house can have radiant.
With zoning, each room has its own temperature setting, adding to the comfort and efficiency of the system. And there are many different installation options to meet any application, including staple down, wood panels, aluminum joist plates, knobbed mats and more.
There’s so much to benefit from a comfort, efficiency, and IEQ standpoint with radiant. It makes sense to seek out how radiant can improve the homes you build.
To learn more about the benefits of radiant floor heating systems as well as the various installation methods, see Uponor's radiant heating solutions or visit these industry websites: Radiant Professionals Alliance, Heating Help, or Healthy Heating.
Steve Swanson is the national trainer for Uponor North America, providing training at the factory and around the nation to contractors and installers on radiant heating and cooling, hydronics and commercial plumbing. He has 47 years of experience in hydronic heating and plumbing. Swanson is on the Board of Advisors for the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA) and an ASSE-certified hydronics trainer. Kim Bliss contributed to this article.