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Every home needs some form of heat, and when it comes to efficiency and cost-savings, it’s difficult to beat radiant floor heating systems. But trying to find clear information on radiant heat can be difficult; knowing the pros and cons of a heating system is almost mandatory before you make a final decision about what to install in your home.
At its most basic, a radiant floor heater is a system that warms you from the ground up. Some methods of heat transfer warm your floor, and from there, heat radiates upward warming your entire home. Because the heat warms the mass of your home rather than the air itself, your home stays warmer using much less energy. Knowing the differences between traditional forced air heat and radiant floor heat is sometimes technical, but it’s important to know so you can make an informed decision.
One key reason that many people are turning to radiant floor heat is that you don’t have the air blowing around that you do with forced air heat. This means that people who suffer from allergies don’t have to worry about dander, pollen, or other micro-contaminants being blown about improving the climate in your home. That means that they don’t have to invest in more expensive filters like MERV-13 rated filters and above.
Additionally, the lack of air blowing around means that the humidity levels are relatively constant without the need for n HVAC humidifying attachment. A person using radiant floor heat can decide if they want to add more moisture, but the radiant heat isn’t going to change the relative humidity of the air by raising its temperature.
That’s what this article and guide are for. It’s going to help you decide if a radiant floor heater is best for your lifestyle. First, there’s going to be a few reviews of some best radiant floor heaters, discussing what they are and how they work with some bullet points giving you the most essential takeaways. After that, it’s going to get into the nitty-gritty of how radiant floor heating works and why it works so well.
The next section will give you some pointers on what the difference is between the two major types of radiant floor heaters and a few questions you should ask yourself before investing in one.
- 1 Radiant Floor Heater Reviews
- 1.1 Heatwave 120V Floor Heating Cable w/GFCI Programmable Thermostat
- 1.2 Seal 120V Self-Adhesive Floor Heating Mat
- 1.3 Happybuy 120V Self-Adhesive Floor Heating Mat w/Programmable Thermostat
- 1.4 Warming Systems Radiant Floor Heating Cable Set
- 1.5 Warming Systems Radiant Floor Heating Mat w/Programmable Thermostat
- 2 Radiant Floor Heater Comparison Chart
- 3 Radiant Floor Heater Buying Guide
- 3.1 Section One: Radiant Floor Heating: How does it work?
- 3.2 Section Two: Hydronic vs. Electric Radiant Floor Heating
- 3.3 Section Three: What You Should Be Asking When Shopping for Radiant
- 4 Conclusion
Radiant Floor Heater Reviews
These are five radiant floor heater reviews which will give you an idea of some features that you’ll find when you’re installing them during a remodel.
- Coverage: from 8 to 120 square feet
- Volts: 120V
- Dimensions: 15.3 x 15.1 x 5.7 in
- Amps: 1 to 8
- Weight: 8.6 pounds
- Warranty: 20 Years
- Coverage: from 10 to 120 square feet
- Volts: 120V
- Dimensions: 20.7 x 7.3 x 7 in
- Amps: 1.25 to 12.3
- Weight: 8.25 pounds
- Warranty: 20 Years
- Coverage: from 7.5 to 90 square feet
- Volts: 120V
- Dimensions: 20.7 x 7.3 x 7.1 in
- Amps: N/A
- Weight: 7.35 pounds
- Warranty: Manufacturers
- Warming Systems
- Coverage: 30 square feet
- Volts: 120V
- Dimensions: 12.2 x 9.4 x 4 in
- Amps: 16
- Weight: 3.8 pounds
- Warranty: Manufacturers
- Warming Systems Mat
- Coverage: 20 square feet
- Volts: 120V
- Dimensions: 20.2 x 5.8 x 5.3 in
- Amps: 2.0
- Weight: 4.8 pounds
- Warranty: 25 Year
Heatwave 120V Floor Heating Cable w/GFCI Programmable Thermostat
This versatile floor heater is easy to install and thanks to the clips and loose cable, it can be laid anywhere you need heat in whatever shape you want. No more struggling with a mat that has to be trimmed to fit an awkwardly shaped bathroom heating area. The installation strapping allows you to nail down a guide so you know exactly how to lay the cable.
The programmable thermostat has a 5 milliamp Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter built in so you know that if anything goes wonky, you are protected. The thermostat has 4-event programming and comes with 2 sensors. The first is a floor sensor that determines what the heat output at floor level is, and the other is an air sensor built into the thermostat itself. The thermostat allows a wide range of temperature control from 41 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
When laying the heating cable, do not place within 6-inches of the toilet gasket or under the vanity or other permanent fixtures. You can put this radiant floor heater in a shower, as long as it is embedded in a thin-set or mortar. As with any electrical installation, proper safety procedures must be followed while this mat is being installed. Ensure power is turned off at the circuit breaker and install a lockout switch to ensure nobody accidentally reactivates power while you are working.
• Kits available to cover anywhere from 8 to 120 square feet or any combination in between
• Includes 7-Day programmable thermostat with GFCI
• Pulls 1 to 8 amps depending on the area covered
• ETL listed to show compliance with North American Safety Standards comparable to UL
Seal 120V Self-Adhesive Floor Heating Mat
Mats are an easy way to install radiant floor heating. You can trim the mats to fit anywhere you need them to (just don’t cut the cable). These mats are designed with an adhesive to make it easy for you to lay down the radiant heat and seal it in mortar or thin-set. Shape this mat around the vanity or the tub or anything else that you don’t want to heat.
This mat is built with heavy-duty dual wires that are braided to prevent interference with electronics. There’s also a cold lead that reduces the electromagnetic fields generated by electrical flow.
This mat is UL listed, meaning that you can trust in its safety, construction, and workmanship when choosing this mat for when you redesign or revamp any living space in your home. As with any electrical installation, proper safety procedures must be followed while this mat is being installed. Ensure power is turned off at the circuit breaker and install a lockout switch to ensure nobody accidentally reactivates power while you are working.
• Kits available for coverage from 10 to 120 square feet
• Pulls 1.25 Amps to 12.3 Amps depending on the size of the mat.
• UL Listed
• Dual wire 16 AMG with a 10-foot cold lead
Happybuy 120V Self-Adhesive Floor Heating Mat w/Programmable Thermostat
When you want an easy way to install radiant floor heating, an electrical mat is an easy and quick option. This electric radiant floor heating mat allows you to put the heat where you want it, whether that’s in the bedroom to avoid cold floors in the winter, or in the entryway to help keep the snow and slush from building up.
This kit comes with a digital thermostat that has a full 6 events able to be programmed into it. It has a floor sensor that prevents the temperature from dropping below a minimum, making it ideal for installing in spaces that have water pipes to prevent bursting.
The wiring in this radiant floor heater is made with an aluminum cable ground and protected with PEP insulation. Additionally, it has a PVC cover that complies with UL and VDE standards to ensure that your heating system is as safe as it is warm. As with any electrical installation, proper safety procedures must be followed while this mat is being installed. Ensure power is turned off at the circuit breaker and install a lockout switch to ensure nobody accidentally reactivates power while you are working.
• Kits available for coverage from 7.5 to 90 square feet
• Pulls 12 watts per square foot at 120 Volt
• UL listed
• Includes programmable thermostat with 7-day 6 event capability
Warming Systems Radiant Floor Heating Cable Set
This radiant floor heating system comes with a Honeywell Aube Floor sensing thermostat (TH115-AF-1205) that comes equipped with a floor sensor wire to ensure accurate climate control. The heating wires are only 1/8” thick, so when you install this during a remodel, your new floor height will not be dramatically higher than it originally was. This is important so that your doorways don’t require much adjustment or a complete rehang.
The loose spool of wire and included spacers make it simple for you or your contractor to lay the wires three-inches apart across whatever area you need to heat. Remember not to install the heating system in areas that are not walked on or under permanent fixtures.
When installing, an included installation monitor will ensure that the heating coil is intact. This means that before you lay the thin-set or mortar, you can be sure that there is no damage to the system or that any lead wires have come loose from any terminals. As with any electrical installation, proper safety procedures must be followed while this mat is being installed.
Ensure power is turned off at the circuit breaker and install a lockout switch to ensure nobody accidentally reactivates power while you are working.
• The set covers 30 square feet
• Includes Honeywell/Aube Digital Floor Sensing Thermostat
• UL Listed
• 1/8″ thick wiring reduces height increase during remodeling
Warming Systems Radiant Floor Heating Mat w/Programmable Thermostat
When you install this radiant floor heating mat, you and your family will never have to worry about cold floors ever again. This mat has heating wires spaced 3-inches apart attached to construction-grade mesh with self-adhesive backing.
If you don’t want to install wire guides manually, a mat is a great alternative, allowing you to trim and cut the material. As you cut it, you can lay the mat in angles or areas where you need the heating. Just be sure not to cut the red heating element or you will break the entire system.
If you aren’t sure if you’ve nicked or damaged the heating element, the included installation monitor will alert you. It detects any faults or breaks in the element or the lead wires.
This mat kit comes with a programmable Honeywell Aube TH115-AF-1205 thermostat. It also includes a floor sensor to ensure that you have complete control over your climate. The simple design and backlit display ensure that you can adjust the seven-day schedule easily.
As with any electrical installation, proper safety procedures must be followed while this mat is being installed. Ensure power is turned off at the circuit breaker and install a lockout switch to ensure nobody accidentally reactivates power while you are working.
• The kit provides coverage for 20 square feet
• Includes Honeywell/Aube Digital Floor Sensing Thermostat
• UL Listed
• Pulls 2.0 Amps at 120 Volts for 240 Total Watts
Radiant Floor Heater Comparison Chart
|Heatwave||8 to 120 square feet||120V||1 to 8||8.6 pounds|
|SEAL||10 to 120 square feet||120V||1.25 to 12.3||8.25 pounds|
|Happybuy||7.5 to 90 square feet||120V||N/A||7.35 pounds|
|Warming Systems||30 square feet||120V||16||3.8 pounds|
|Warming Systems Mat||20 square feet||120V||2.0||4.8 pounds|
Radiant Floor Heater Buying Guide
Now that you’ve read some electric radiant floor heating reviews, it’s time to talk about how radiant floor heating systems work and why it works so efficiently. After that, you’ll read about electric radiant floor heaters vs. hydronic radiant floor heating and what the pros and cons of each are.
Finally, you’ll see what some of the more important topics are and what questions to ask when it comes to radiant floor heating.
Section One: Radiant Floor Heating: How does it work?
To understand how a radiant floor heating system works, first, you have to understand how heat behaves.
When heat wants to move from one place to another, it has to follow the rules of physics. Specifically, it has to follow the rules of thermodynamics, which governs how heat acts.
Essentially, heat will always move from an area of high heat to an area of low heat. It gets from one area to the other via one of three methods of heat transfer. Those three methods are conduction, convection, and radiation.
Conduction is when heat travels through a solid material. Think of when you have a hot cup of tea and you use a metal spoon to stir in your two lumps of sugar. If you leave the spoon in the tea, eventually it’s going to get hot. The heat traveled through the metal of the spoon.
Convection is when heat travels through a fluid. This can be water or even the coolant in your air conditioner. It can also be air; yes, in physics, the air is considered a fluid. This is how standard forced-air HVAC systems work. Air is warmed up by passing over a heater core and blown through your house. The hot air swirls around your cold toes and makes them warm.
Lastly, radiation is when heat travels through radiation. The sun is a great example of a radiating heat source. So is a campfire. When a solid object like a car or you is exposed to a radiant heat source, it absorbs the heat via absorption of infrared radiation. This radiation is fast but usually has a fairly short range with a rapid drop off of its effect. Think of a campfire. It’s blazing hot when you’re close, but get a few feet away and you can barely feel it. With radiant heat that has warmed all of the walls around you, you’re going to feel heat gently radiate from all around you.
Believe it or not, a radiant floor heating system uses two of these methods if it is an electric system; it uses all three if it is a hydronic system. The heating tubes or wires transfer heat to the flooring through contact which is conduction. Once the flooring warms, then it warms your home through radiation. And if you have a hydronic system, that’s using hot water to carry heat from your hot water heater to the floor that’s being warmed. In some cases, depending on how powerful you need your heat to be, you’ll need a dedicated hot water boiler to provide enough heat to the system.
Putting it all together
Now that you know how heat travels, showing how a radiant floor heating system is more efficient than a standard forced-air HVAC system is fairly simple.
In a forced-air standard system, the air is heated by the heat pump and blown into rooms, usually through floor registers. This takes advantage of the fact that hot air rises, the warm air is supposed to circulate through and warm you. As the air rises, however, all of the heat rises with it, so while the ambient temperature in the room might be 72 degrees in the winter, at the floor, it might only be 69 degrees.
This can be extremely inefficient, and many times, homeowners fight the rise of warm air by installing fans that force air back down. But as you push warm air around, it loses heat to everything it touches. The heat contained in a forced-air heating system isn’t enough to warm the walls or anything else, so those surfaces act as heat sinks that suck heat out of the air as well.
On the other hand, a radiant heat system uses infrared heat radiation to spread the warmth. That means that when your floor emits warmth, it’s not just warming you, it’s also warming the walls and the ceiling. So when you’re sitting or standing in that room, it’s like being wrapped in a big warm hug. The air doesn’t change temperature, but you still feel the heat.
Because the walls and such are being warmed by the radiant heat, they contribute to the total thermal mass of your home. Thermal mass is the ability of your home to store heat, which prevents temperatures from varying too wildly. The idea of thermal mass is why you want your radiant floors to be made of certain materials, specifically those that can absorb and retain heat well.
What Materials Work Best?
When designing and installing a radiant floor heating system, you want a flooring material that is going to absorb the heat and release it slowly. They also need to be able to withstand the high heat generated by the heating cables. These natural materials include stone, concrete, and ceramic tile. You can also work with solid wood, but the heating and cooling cycles can cause wood floors to warp and gap.
Three materials you should avoid are vinyl, laminate flooring, and carpet. Vinyl and plastic laminates, of course, do not hold up to the heat of a floor heating system. The carpet will insulate too much and will severely reduce the amount of heat that is able to be transferred through.
Now that you know how radiant floor heating systems work, let’s discuss the two major types; electric and hydronic.
Section Two: Hydronic vs. Electric Radiant Floor Heating
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems use tubes instead of wires. These tubes carry hot water from a hot water heater throughout the heating coils. This system is designed to heat entire homes, not just specific rooms. In general, hydronic systems go into new construction because of the work it takes to install them. That’s not to say that you can’t install them when you’re renovating a home, you just need to be aware that t’s going to cost a lot more and be much more work upfront.
Hydronic radiant floor heating is installed in one of two ways: wet or dry. In a wet install, there is a layer of concrete beneath the floor. This concrete can be between the subfloor and floor or underneath the subfloor. In a dry install, there is no concrete at all. The heat goes directly from the heating tubes to the floor.
Having the concrete in place lets it act as a thermal mass that not only allows heat to pass through but also retains a part of that heat as well. That means that essentially you have a large chunk of hot rock underneath your floor that will keep you warm. But you also have to warm up this large mass of concrete, so you’ll need to run your system longer to get your living spaces as warm.
In dry installs, there is no thermal mass to heat up, so there’s no need to run them longer. However, because there is nothing to store the heat, the system runs at a higher temperature to make up for that missing thermal mass.
When it comes to the maintenance of a hydronic system, you need to watch the hot water boiler. Usually, an annual check-up is all that’s needed. Most modern pumps use water as a lubricant, so they tend to be worry-free in most cases.
If something does go wrong, however, it can be an extremely expensive fix. This is because a repair may be complicated, or something may need to be replaced.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating
The other option for in-floor heating is an electric radiant floor heating system. Heat is generated in this case by electricity passing through wires. The wires are formulated to provide resistance to the electricity, which generates heat. The wires are usually made of an alloy of chromium and nickel called nichrome. Copper used to be used, but most manufacturers are looking for longer-lasting and more durable solutions.
These wires are wrapped in plastic that’s sealed to be waterproof and then either put into rolls for installation or placed in a mat in a back and forth pattern. Most people and contractors opt for mats because they are much easier to lay out. If the space to be wired is oddly shaped, then loose cable with guides can be used.
Keep in mind that this type of radiant floor heat can be quite expensive to run, especially if you’re planning to heat your entire home. It’s more common to see this type of system in one or two rooms, such as the bedroom and the bathroom; places where you’re more apt to be barefoot or want the extra heat that this provides.
Section Three: What You Should Be Asking When Shopping for Radiant
Now that you know the major differences between hydronic and electric radiant floor heating, there are four major questions that you should ask yourself to help you decide what system is right for you.
Question One: Who is going to install it?
If this is a home renovation, then one of the key questions you need to consider is if you are going to put in the time to install it yourself or if you are going to hire a contractor. Each has its own ups and downs.
If you plan on installing the radiant heating system yourself, then you’ll need to plan accordingly. The installation of a radiant floor heating system has several steps.
The first step is to estimate how much heat you’ll need for the given space. Because radiant floor heating heats from the floor, one of the most pressing concerns is how much heat the room or space will lose. There are four typical ratings for any room or house when it comes to heat loss. Look at the chart below to get an example of how much heat your planned room will likely lose.
Insulating Factor Heat Loss per Hour per Square Foot
Heavily Insulated – this rating is for a home or space that Is extremely well insulated or built. Typical R-values for the walls are 30+. R-values for the ceiling are 50+. If there are any windows, they are triple pane high performance. There are also less than .25 air changes per hour. 0.1 BTU heat loss per square foot per hour per degree Fahrenheit
Well Insulated – this rating is for a home that is fairly well insulated. R-values for the walls are usually 19+, with ceiling R-values of 38 or higher. Again, if there are any windows, they are of the low-energy high-performance variety. Most new construction falls in this category. 0.3 BTU heat loss per square foot per hour per degree Fahrenheit
Fairly Insulated – Most modern houses fall into this category. Walls have nominal R-values and ceilings have R-values of 20+. Windows are airtight and there are no significant sources of drafts. 0.6 BTU heat loss per square foot per hour per degree Fahrenheit
Poorly Insulated – This type of home Is of older build and is difficult to heat. It’s hard to estimate heat loss in these areas and homes without a professional examination and rating. Often 2+ BTU heat loss per square foot per hour per degree Fahrenheit
Using the above chart, let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you want to install radiant flooring in a bedroom that is 11 feet by 12 feet, for a total of 132 square feet.
Next, you need to figure out what you want the internal temperature to be as well as the coldest temperature it can get in your area. So if you want the inside temperature to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature at its coldest is -5 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a temperature difference of 75 degrees.
You decide that your bedroom is fairly well insulated, so doing some quick math; you can see that on the coldest day, your bedroom will lose 45 BTUs per square foot per hour. That means that you will need a radiant floor heater that is capable of heating the floor to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit in order to compensate for the heat loss and your desired temperature.
From a safety and design perspective, floor radiant heat systems should never be run to maintain that high of a temperature, so you would want to look at supplementary heating to assist. Radiant heating isn’t just for floors. You can also install radiant heat in walls and even in the ceiling. A ceiling installed radiant heat system would use reflective backing to ensure that 100% of the heat would be reflected in the desired space being heated.
As you can see, the designing of a floor-based radiant heat system can be fairly complex. Make sure that you do the calculations necessary to ensure that the kit you choose will be able to handle the heating requirements you need.
If you decide to hire a contractor to do the installation, make sure that you talk to them during the design process. Your input is necessary to ensure that the heating system you choose to have installed in your floor is up to the task of keeping you warm and toasty.
These design parameters were for electric radiant floor heating. If you decide to go with hydronic floor heating, then you’re going to have to decide what kind and size of a boiler or hot water heater you will need. You want to ensure that the heating loop that the hot water runs in is short enough that it doesn’t lose too much heat, but not at the cost of making the loop design too complicated.
This is only the design portion of installing your radiant floor heating. The actual installation is a lengthy process because it involves ripping up your existing flooring to expose the subfloor.
Your floor is made up of multiple layers. On the very top is the covering that you choose. This can be the carpet, tile, or stone. Underneath that is the underlayment. The underlayment is the surface to which the covering adheres. Like when you lay tile in your bathroom, the underlayment is the layer to which you spread thin-set for your tiles to lay on. In most cases, this is a sheet of plywood or cement board.
The underlayment is where your radiant heat system will be installed. Once the existing flooring is ripped up, then you would lay down the mat or cables for the electric radiant floor system. In order to protect them and to give the floor surface layer something to attach to, you’ll cover the mat and cables in a layer of material that is dependent on what the flooring will be.
For example, if you are putting down ceramic tile, you want to ensure that the tile is at least 2″ x 2″. You lay down thin-set mortar and apply the matting into the mortar. Let the mortar set. While the mortar is curing, you may want to lay down boxes over the mats to prevent edges from curling. Over that, you need to install the tile directly over the mats using another layer of thin-set mortar.
Question Two: Does the room have multiple doorways?
This is a question meant to make you think about how you’re going to install your floor heating system. That’s because when you install radiant floor heating, you’re going to cause the height of your floor to change. Depending on the type of floor surface you’re changing to compared with your current flooring, the height can change by almost a couple of inches.
If your doors swing into the space where the radiant heat is being installed, you may have to rehang the doors. This means that you have to take the door off the hinges, then move them up so they don’t scrape the new floor level.
In some cases, you might have to cut into the drywall above your existing door and reframe the entire door. If you aren’t comfortable doing this on your own, make sure you talk to your contractor about this aspect and that they are willing to do the work.
In other cases, if you aren’t interested in reframing your door, you can trim the bottom of the door so that it is flush with the new flooring. You’ll need to install some sort of door trim at the entrance to the space to ensure a seal to minimize heat loss through a new gap.
Whatever way you choose to adjust the doors to accommodate your new floor’s height, you should also be aware of the change if anyone in your home is exceptionally tall. The change in floor height could lead to some bumped foreheads and embarrassment at the very least.
Question Three: Will this be your only source of heat?
If this radiant floor heater will be your only source of heat, then you will need to ensure that it is up to the job of keeping you warm. If it isn’t going to be your only source of heat; that is, if you’re going to pair radiant floor heating in your bedroom with traditional forced-air heat as well, then your floor heating doesn’t have to be as robust.
You will need to account for the heat that your heat pump will bring to the table when calculating what the optimum BTU output for your radiant floor heat will be. In some cases, you might just want to set your desired temperature to 60 degrees so that the floor is warm to the touch for your feet in the mornings and let your smart thermostat and remote sensors do the work of adjusting your forced air automatically.
If you will also have forced air heat, make sure that your existing registers are accounted for when you or your contractor installs the new flooring.
Question Four: How much are you willing to invest?
This is an important question because you need to know how much you’re willing to put into upgrading and renovating your home. The remodeling of a home is never something that should be taken lightly. When it comes to deciding the cost, you’re going to have to decide where you’re going to put the radiant floor heating system.
When planning the location of the heating, keep in mind three important things.
• Never install radiant heating underneath a permanent fixture or within six-inches of a toilet. The reason for not installing near a toilet is obvious; you don’t want an accidental leak to interact with your heating coils. The reason you don’t want to install them underneath a permanent fixture is twofold; first, the heat has nowhere to go and could end up damaging whatever is above it. Secondly, if you need to take up the floor to repair the system, a permanent fixture will complicate repairs.
• Only install the radiant heating where you’re going to walk. This is just so you don’t waste money heating that one-foot space behind the door that nobody walks on. In general, when deciding the square footage of the location for your heating system, look at where you walk and stand the most. That will make installation much easier and keep costs down.
• Keep in mind what flooring materials you’ll be installing. This is something that you should keep in mind when you’re installing an electric radiant floor heater. Carpet’s insulating properties make it a poor choice for flooring, but if you have your heart set on carpet, then it can be done. It just means that you will have to get a specially designed carpet pad for your heating choice.
Now that you have all the tools in hand when it comes to radiant floor heating, you can make the decisions on everything else. Shopping for radiant floor heating can be a difficult process, but with time and some thinking, you can get the system that will fit your lifestyle and your needs.