Which Radiant Heating System is Best?
Installing an in-floor radiant heating system is perhaps the most efficient and comfortable way to heat your home. In contrast to forced air systems, underfloor heating is quiet and delivers the heat in a very even manner. Unlike steam radiators, there aren’t any gasses being used at dangerously high pressures.
When it comes to choosing the right radiant floor heating system, you have 2 options: electric or hydronic. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
In terms of overall heating, electric systems are generally thought to be better than hydronic. This is because they are more efficient in how they spread the heat throughout the floor. The hydronic systems provide heat by sending water through pipes under the floor. The water can be heated through a number of different methods, whether it be using a wood stove, tankless water heater, and can even be used with a heat exchanger integrated into your hot water supply.
Electric uses 100% electric power to warm the house. This makes them a bit less efficient. Worth noting: for those who live in higher elevations, electric seems to work the best.
Since water systems only use about 65-85% as much electricity, they are almost always the cheaper option. However, keep in mind that they do require more upkeep, as you have to change the filter every year. Also, the pipes that transport the water will need to be changed from time to time as well. However, you will still generally save money with hydronic systems because of the reduced monthly electric costs.
The exception to this rule is if the structure of your home is not capable of supporting the additional weight. The fluid necessary for an in-floor hydronic heating system is pretty heavy, and the mortar that the piping is installed into is even heavier still. Upgrading the structure of your house would be a prohibitive expense, and so you’d almost surely be better off going with an electric system in such a case.
The electric systems operate via a central location in the floor, whereas the water systems need the use of the entire floor. For this reason, the hydronics use more space, and therefore are less convenient than the electric systems. They are certainly more difficult to put in, and therefore might be more expensive for the initial installation.
If you are looking to save money then the hydronic systems are the way to go. If you have money to spend, then the electric systems tend to be more effective and they also do not require as much space or upkeep. Also, if you live in a higher elevation area, the electric system is probably the way to go.