When the weather outside is frightful… picture yourself warm and cozy inside in the most comfortable, healthy and cost-effective way possible. Space heating is the largest expense in the average American home, making up 45% of the energy bills. The decisions you make impact your budget for a long time. So what are your options?
First, let’s get an overview of heat delivery systems. The overview shows how radiant heating differs from other systems. A more in-depth explanation of radiant heating follows the overview.
All heating systems have three parts: the heat source, the heat distribution system and the control system.
Heating systems include furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, active solar heating and electric heating. Furnaces, heat air; boilers, heat water; heat pumps, grab heat and release circulating air; active solar, heats liquid or air and uses it immediately or stores it; and electric heating involves converting electricity to heat.
Heat distribution systems include forced air systems, steam radiant, radiant heating, hot water baseboards, and electric baseboards. A forced air system distributes heat throughout the home from a furnace using a system of ducts and vents. Steam radiant heating uses radiators. Radiant heating transfers heat directly from a hot surface to objects and people in the room. Hot water baseboards, similar to radiant heating, use hot water to heat a space with wall-mounted baseboard units, and electric baseboards release heated air out the top while pulling in cooler air at the bottom. Typically, the latter are zone heaters. The most common control system is a thermostat.
Beyond whole house heating systems, there are several kinds of space heaters, including wood and pellet stoves, fireplaces and portable and direct vent wall heaters.
Radiant heating is a heat distribution system, reliant on a heat source. Compatible heat sources include boilers, heat pumps, active solar heat and electric heating. Heat delivery is through floor, ceiling or wall panels. Heat is most effective when it comes from the floor since heat rises. The warm floor panels keep your feet (and you) warm, and natural convection occurs as the warm air rises. If you select radiant heating, experts recommend installing a masonry floor over the floor panels to provide more thermal mass.
Conversely, radiant cooling is most effective as ceiling panels since the warmer air rising to replace cool air will use natural convection to push the cooler air to your level in the room.
Radiant heating has one important drawback: installation is expensive, and repairs, should something go wrong, are as well.
On the other hand, radiant heating offers many advantages. It is “more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates duct losses”. It’s good for people with allergies because it doesn’t distribute allergens like forced air systems. It’s a good choice if you’re off the power grid because the liquid-based systems use little electricity and a wide variety of energy sources to heat the liquid.