The Scoop on Radiant Floor Heat

We are renting a home with hydronic radiant floor heat and recently started it up for the season. It's not a small decision, as the system is slow to heat up and slower to cool down. So, even though we were anxious to try it out, we waited until the outdoor temperature was consistently getting down near the 30's...

It took about 24 hours to reach the full thermostat setting. Now that it's on, the radiant floors keep the home interior at a constant 70 degrees. The advantages we've noticed in the first week of use (we're used to heat by steam radiators in our Brooklyn apartment):

  • The heat source is invisible. Tubing is laid into the concrete floors and carries hot water through it, warming the slab, and thus, the space.
  • The system is silent: no hammering radiators or swooshing air.
  • The heat is comfortable. There is a slight, consistent warmth underfoot throughout the house.
  • The system is clean. It is a fully closed loop of hot water pumped underfloor. No dusty ductwork or harmful dry air.
  • They system is efficient. Water holds heat well and we're expecting to see the results in the propane bill (the boiler that heats the floor system is fueled by propane). Also, the heat source is the floor itself, so the heat starts low and slowly rises up, warming you where you need it.

All of our raving is not to say the system doesn't have its drawbacks. It has high initial installation costs (though since we're renting, we didn't encounter this). And you must plan for its use. It's not at all instant heat. We kept an eye on the forecast for several days and waited out turning it on until it seemed absolutely necessary. For this reason, it can help to have a forced air backup system to provide heat during transitional periods.

We do feel the advantages by far outweigh the drawbacks and can't wait to install a similar system in our own home one day. To learn more about hydronic radiant floor heat, see radiant-floor-heating.com. Image: Lowes