What Is Radiant Heating?

How to use natural heat to save energy and help the planet

If you have felt the warmth of a kitchen oven from across the room, you have experienced radiant heat. Radiant heating is accomplished by heating a large surface area, like the stove in the previous example, or a floor, wall or ceiling, rather than heating the air directly.

How radiant heating works

Homes that are radiantly heated do not rely on forced air or baseboards. The heating elements are installed in the walls; ceiling; and, more commonly, in the floors. Radiant heating systems generate invisible infrared energy, warming the surface area, which then radiates heat into the room.

Source of the heat

In floors, a radiant heating system uses tubes of hot water, air or electric heat transferring sources installed under the finished floor or subfloor often in concrete slabs. Water systems are heated using a boiler that can be run on electric, solar power, natural gas or diesel; air systems are heated using electric or solar power; and electric radiant heating systems use electric from traditional sources or solar energy. It is recommended you have stone, tile or concrete flooring to reap the greatest benefit of radiant heat. Wood and carpeting insulate the floor, reducing the amount of heat that ultimately transfers into the room.

Aluminum panels are used for wall and ceiling radiant heat. These can also be heated with electricity or hot water tubing. The panels can be individually controlled, allowing flexibility in heating specific rooms. Additionally, they can be turned down when leaving the room increasing energy savings.

Advantages of radiant heating

Overall, radiant heat is more efficient and environmentally friendly. Radiant heating has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing the carbon footprint left by burning fossil fuels. Your heat is not in the air as with forced-air or floorboard units; it is in the floor. Your heat stays put and does not blow out of the house if the door is opened. It does not require fans or a blower, which eliminates dust and allergens forced through the air by other heating systems. Radiant heating systems can be installed in creative ways, are silent and reduce the risk of fire.

Using radiant heating outdoors

Radiant heat is not exclusively for indoor use. Radiant heating units can be installed in driveways, walkways and on roofs. These energy-efficient electric snowmelt systems can eliminate the need for shoveling and de-icing concrete, asphalt, stone and brick surfaces. Radiant heat can also make outdoor patio seating areas more comfortable in chillier weather.

Cost of radiant heat

The cost of installing a radiant heating system in your home averages between $6 and $12 per square foot. In comparison to forced-air, the cost of operating a radiant heating system is between 25 to 50 percent less when properly installed and in good running condition. The exact savings will vary from household to household depending on its structure and its tendency to lose heat.

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