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How to Buy a Radiant Heating System

Whether you're about to do a major remodel in your home or you're simply looking for a new way to heat targeted areas, it's hard to go wrong with a radiant heating system. With some forethought and a bit of research it's easy to purchase the perfect radiant heating system for your home.

You may also be interested in how radiant heating works.

Time, Money, and Labor

The Initial Cost is High

The first thing you'll need to do when preparing to install a radiant heating system is to get some capital ready, especially if you're retrofitting your home. Even if you're already building a new home or doing massive renovations, the high cost of quality radiant heating equipment combined with the fees associated with installation can have a significant impact on your budget.

Expect to pay around $6-$16 per square foot, or anywhere from $9,000-$22,500 for a 1,500 square foot home, and be prepared for two to four days of work time.

Don't Overlook the Warranties in Your Home

If you've opted for a radiant floor heating system, be sure to check the warranty of your flooring, as the addition of radiant heating beneath it could void it. As with any expensive equipment, be sure to sign and return the warranty after purchase, even if it means asking the contractor to give you the warranty. Most radiant flooring manufacturers offer warranties. If the manufacturer doesn't offer a warranty you may want to look for a different brand.

Your Best Bet Is a Radiant Heating Specialist

Since radiant systems go behind the interior surfaces of your home, this can involve several different tradesmen who could have conflicting schedules or communication issues if you contract the work out yourself. To get everyone cooperating and on the same page, it's best to find a contractor in your area who specializes in installing radiant heating systems. You might be able to save some money by doing it yourself, but the work is risky, complex, and best left to experienced professionals.

Before you start down that road, be sure to read this article on direct-to-consumer equipment to save money and make sure you have all you need. Remember, some of the materials used can add a lot of weight to a room and necessitate additional supports below, which can really add to the budget and difficulty of the project.

Consider a Targeted Approach

Still need to save money? Consider only adding radiant heating to the specific rooms where you spend the most time. If you're relying on radiant heat for your whole house, think about heating auxiliary rooms with simpler technologies, such as a wall heater or radiator.

Selecting the Best Radiant Heating System

Keep Your Climate in Mind

If your winters are very humid, radiant heating might not be the best choice, because it doesn't dry the air as a furnace does. In this case, your best bet might be to find an alternative means of controlling humidity, such as:

  • Making sure that windows and doors are properly insulated and airtight
  • Keeping blinds and curtains open to let in sunlight
  • Using exhaust fans in your kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room

Hydronic vs. Electric Radiant Heating

The two primary means of powering radiant systems -- both panel and floor systems -- are hydronic and electric. Radiant air heating also exists, but it's not considered as efficient.

If you don't have a boiler, it might not make sense to use a hydronic system, which relies on hot water to circulate heat. Hydronic systems pump hot water from the boiler through a series of tubes. The heat from the water is transferred to either a wall or ceiling panel or flooring.

Meanwhile, an electric system doesn't use water and can be installed without a boiler. It uses wires or conductive mesh to heat the thermal mass in which it is embedded.

Think About Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is the metric that dictates how well a material stores and radiates heat. Building materials with a demonstrably high thermal mass include concrete, tile, sand, and special paneling made specifically for radiant heating surfaces. Budgetary constraints and personal preference may dictate what thermal mass materials you use, but keep in mind that you want to conduct and radiate the heat energy, not insulate it.

Heating Panels or Floor Heating?

Before you charge into installing a radiant heating system, you'll need to determine whether you want a radiant heating system that relies on floor and wall panels or a radiant floor heating system that uses infrared radiation to transfer heat directly to the floor.

Once you've selected either an hydronic or electric radiant heating system, and you've chosen your thermal mass materials, you must determine from where your heat should emanate. Radiant heating systems come in one of two varieties: standard radiant heating systems that use wall or ceiling panels to disseminate heat and radiant floor heating systems, which transfer heat to conductive flooring materials.

Even though hot air rises, remember that radiant heating doesn't move using the air and can therefore be implemented from any direction. If you have to have carpet on the floor or you want to bring more heat into an addition, it might make sense to put the radiant system in the walls.

If budgeting is your primary concern, radiant ceilings are easiest and cheapest to install.

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