Everything You Need to Know About Radiant Floor Heating

Get the scoop on the latest trend in flooring.

Crawling out from under your warm down comforter in the morning is hard enough as it is, but throw frigid floors into the mix and the prospect of starting your day just might give you cold feet — literally. Luckily, we've found a pretty killer solution to this winter-time woe: radiant floor heating. While heated floors might seem like a luxury, radiant heating is actually a convenient, energy-efficient heating option.

Radiant heat is much like the heat you feel from the sun—you can still feel its warmth on a cold day, but the sun didn't need to heat the air to make you feel that way. Subfloor heating systems work in a similar fashion and are based on a network of pipes or wires set beneath floor level. They not only provide a comfortable surface to walk on, they can actually supplement your heating system (it's time to say sayonara to those space heaters).

Intrigued? Here's everything you need to know before taking the plunge and adding it to your home.

There are three types of radiant heating systems.

There are three types of radiant heating systems: hydronic, electric and hot air. Hydronic and electric systems are preferred, as hot air-based radiant heat is the least energy efficient of the bunch.

Hydronic systems generate heat via hot water tubes that run below your home's floors, while electric radiant heat relies on the electric wires. There are advantages and disadvantages to each system. Electric systems are affordable and easy to install, but they can be pricey to operate. To minimize running costs, reserve electric systems for small areas, like bathroom, or place the system under a thick material like concrete and heat the floor during off-peak hours.

Hydronic systems have higher costs up front and can be more difficult to install, but they are the most efficient of the bunch, relying on water heated in a boiler then pumped through channels of flexible tubing.

It's efficient.

If you're worried about your electricity bill skyrocketing, listen up! Radiant floor heating is far more efficient than you think. Because heat rises, radiant floors put heat where you need it—at floor level—and don't suffer from heat loss in the way force-air systems do.

It's great for people who suffer from allergies.

Traditional forced-air and baseboard heating might keep you warm, but they won't do you any favors in the allergy department. Hot, dry air and dust, which are often associated with these types of systems, can have negative impacts on asthmatic or allergy-prone homeowners. Radiant heating, on the other hand, is hypoallergenic and doesn't release any allergens and doesn't require cleaning, unless you're counting passing the vacuum over your floors, of course.

It's cost effective.

Raise your hand if you don't want to save money on your heating bill. That's what we though. Radiant floors can actually help you save some $ on your heating bills, especially if you choose the right system. Radiant systems with high conductivity have the potential to heat the air in your home well enough that your other systems won't have to work as hard or use as much energy. Now there's an idea we can get behind.

It distributes heat evenly.

Your days of huddling around the heater are officially over! Radiant heating systems generate and distribute warmth evenly throughout your space, meaning less fussing over thermostats or random cold patches.

Not all flooring options are suitable.

The type of flooring you have can affect the efficiency of radiant heating. Concrete, stone and ceramic are best suited for radiant heating and will allow you to reap its full benefits. Vinyl and carpeting, however, pose a number of issues, including poor heat transfer and discoloration. Wood is an option as well, but professional installation is essential in order to manage potential shrinking or swelling resulting from fluctuating temperatures.

Costs vary.

For new construction, a radiant floor system will likely cost more than a traditional forced hot air system or baseboard radiators, but the choice will ultimately save you money in the long run. Installation costs for retrofitting can be pricey as well, especially if the renovation is extensive or if you are installing on second or third levels where the ceiling of the rooms below may need to be removed in order to access the subfloor.