Set Your Feet on Radiant Heat: Your Next Smart Purchase for Your Older Home
There’s a growing trend with the renovation of older homes, and it’s one that absolutely floors us – radiant floor heating.
All puns aside, the benefits of radiant floor heat are starting to outweigh its initial investment, especially in historic homes that often rely on equally historic radiators or traditional forced-air systems.
Radiant Floor Heat vs. Radiators
Older radiators are often noisy, sometimes dangerous, and always take up way too much space in rooms where square footage is at a premium. While they do distribute the heat well (even after they are turned off), they do get very hot — which is a downside for certain locations, certain wall types, and almost anyone with kids.
Radiant Floor Heat vs. Baseboard Heat
A common sight in New England homes are baseboard heaters. We see them collecting dust and hear their creaky metal as they expand and contract. Since baseboards can only be installed on walls, this creates unique challenges for extra large rooms, kitchens flanked with cabinets, and furniture pieces that block the flow of heat. None of these barriers exist for radiant floor heating since heat covers the full surface area of your floor. So while baseboard heat gets the job done, it does so with lackluster results.
Radiant Heat vs. Forced Air Systems
Forced-air systems create heat “pockets,” as well as dust and sometimes additional trips to the allergist. This is due to blown heat rising, cooling, and then falling. This phenomenon creates the warmest stratifications at the highest points of your rooms (where you, obviously, are not hanging out). It’s also why you experience what we call “the cool 70,” which is what you feel right after the hot air stops pumping through your vents.
Radiant heat, by comparison, involves no searingly hot surfaces or heated breezes — it warms right through the floor. Today’s most popular radiant heating systems are “hydronic” and involve moving heated water through PEX tubing that runs in a specific pattern underneath (or on top of) wood, tile, or concrete floors. This special tubing won’t erode like copper and can be installed with fewer fittings, reducing the chance of leaks. This method turns your entire floor into a giant radiator that warms you and your family from head to toe — starting with your feet.
Hydronic systems are clean, silent, and remarkably efficient and easy to maintain. Unlike traditional forced-air, hydronic radiant heat provides constant, comfortable, radiated warmth from the ground up, putting the heat where you are and ensuring you and your family get the best of your heating.
Radiant floor heat is especially conducive to warming the ground floor of older homes because we can often install tubing from underneath the existing floor (with access to basement or crawlspace). In basements, PEX tubing fits nicely on top of concrete slabs, which we then cover with your favorite ceramic tile or other flooring. On upper levels, where access to joists is less likely, tubing can also be installed directly on top of your subfloors and then finished to meet your style needs — tile, wood, and carpet all receive radiant heat well.
Given all of the benefits, why isn’t everyone choosing radiant floor heating? Often, the price tag is an immediate deterrent. However, the investment pays for itself. Radiant heat, while 50% more than a forced-air system to install, can be up to 30% more efficient, depending on how well your home is insulated. That’s a balmy improvement, ensuring the system eventually pays for itself. With the quality of the heat, these returns, and with the added luxury, this makes radiant heat the best choice, feet down.
But, don’t forget, you don’t have to do it all at once. Not in the market for whole-house radiant heat? Consider these alternatives…
- Zone It: With hydronic radiant systems, it’s possible to zone your house so that you are delivering different amounts of heat to different rooms at the same time. Rather than installing radiant flooring throughout your whole house, consider starting with your most “lived-in” portion of the house and radiantly heat those zones.
- Be Toasty in the Bathroom: Consider starting with your bathroom(s) for that luxurious, coveted warmth upon stepping out of the shower. These spaces often make the most sense for radiant heat and are most-appreciated.
- Create Some Space: Focus on areas where you can remove clunky old radiators or baseboard heaters and realize even more creative potential in your older space.