Radiant Heat Flooring Options

workers laying radiant floor heating tubes on yellow pegged mat

While radiant heat flooring has been used to heat buildings in Japan and Korea for decades, due to their low petroleum resources, it is fairly new to North America. Two primary types of radiant heat flooring are currently available, electric radiant and hydronic radiant. Learn more about these two options and their costs below.

Radiant Heat Flooring Overview

When you consider the physics behind heating a room, heating the floor makes a great deal of sense. Heat rises in a room from its lowest point to the highest, so it is logical to place the heat source as close to the floor as possible. Radiant heat flooring is suitable for use in just one room, like the bathroom where you want the floor to be warm all the time, or it can be installed throughout the house easily when you upgrade the floors. In independent tests, radiant heat flooring warms an entire room more effectively than baseboard heaters or steam radiators. Depending on the price of electricity where you live, either electric radiant floor heating or a hydronic radiant floor system will be the best option for your home.

Electric Radiant Heat Flooring

With this radiant heat flooring system, an electrically wired mat is placed on top of the room's subfloor just below the floor finish. Electric radiant floor heating is suitable for use under hardwood, tile, and carpet finishes. It can be used for just one room or throughout the house. Installing electric radiant floor heating is cost-effective. You can outfit a bathroom with this heat source for between $300 and $900. It will have its own thermostat, so you can turn it on and shut it off as required. Electric radiant heat flooring takes only about half an hour to warm a room completely.

electric radiant heat flooring system

Hydronic Radiant Heat Flooring

This steam-activated heat system for floors is usually installed for an entire house at the construction stage. The plastic tubing mats are laid into the subfloor, raising the main floor covering about two inches. It is ideal for climates where the outdoor temperature is most often below 70 degrees F. (21 C.). In a hydronic system, a boiler and pump are installed in the house's basement and continuously circulate hot water through the pipes. Subfloors need to be accessible for maintenance, and the floors must be built to higher weight specifications to support the tubing and its concrete base.

The cost to install hydronic radiant heat flooring is substantially higher than for electric, at up to $5 per square foot for materials for a home of 1,500 square feet. Where the cost of electricity is higher than average, hydronic radiant heat flooring is more cost-effective in the long term than electric radiant heat flooring. You can use any energy source to power the boiler: electricity, natural gas, oil, or even solar energy collectors. The system is left on to keep the rooms at a comfortable temperature all year round.

To heat individual rooms in your home, choose electric radiant heat flooring. For whole-home heating, consider hydronic radiant heat flooring.