3 Different Types of Radiant Heating Explained

Radiant heating is an old practice that has been in occurrence since centuries. A radiant heating system functions in a vastly different manner as compared to traditional forced air heating systems. Radiant heat systems pass on heat through radiation. People and objects in the heated area feel the warming effect much sooner than with a conventional heating system. Radiant heating systems are basically divided into 3 categories: electric radiant systems, hydronic or water-based radiant systems and air-based radiant systems.

1 - Electric Radiant Heating Systems

An electric radiant heating system consists of electric coils that produce heat when electricity is passed through them. The coils are made of metals that have a high resistance to electricity. As a result, they emanate heat when the electricity is turned on. The coils are wrapped in sheets of polymer. These sheets are good conductors of heat and as a result the heat is passed on to them. They then heat the ceiling, wall or floor, depending on where they are installed. You can install radiant heat systems under the wall, floor or ceiling. Overall, under floor radiant heating systems are the most widely used.

The benefits of electric radiant heating systems include minimal maintenance and high longevity. The drawbacks include high running costs, because of the ever-increasing price of electricity. Electric radiant heating systems are more cost-effective if used in small areas or sections of a home. Also, a thick concrete floor that will retain heat for a long time is the preferred choice for under floor electric radiant heating systems. In contrast, wood or carpeted floors will lose the heat quickly, required more electricity to generate heat.

2 - Hydronic Radiant Heating Systems

These systems used heated water to transfer heat to your living space. A central boiler pumps the heated water through a network of pipes. Similar to electric radiant heat systems, hydronic systems can also be installed underneath the ceiling, floor or wall. However, the chances of puncture and water leaks are higher with wall and floor installations. Hydronic radiant heating systems are cheaper to operate as compared to the electric ones. This is because you have a wide choice of fuels with which you can heat up the water. You can choose between natural gas, propane, oil, wood, solar power or electricity. For heating up an entire home, a hydronic system is the most cost-effective choice.

If something goes wrong with a hydronic radiant heating system, repairs can be very expensive and complicated. There is also the risk of water damage in the building. However, these systems are made of very strong pipes that can last you for many decades. So the chances of such damage or repairs are very remote.

3 - Air Radiant Heating Systems

These systems carry heated air that helps in heat transfer. Of all the radiant heating systems, the ones that use air are probably the least efficient. This is due to the fact that air has the least capacity to carry and retain heat.  

Overall, hydronic radiant heat systems continue to be the most popular because of their cost-effectiveness and efficiency, especially in colder climates.