I’m sure most of you have heard of radiant floor heating and probably have heard that it is the best thing since sliced bread. What most people don’t know is why it works so well.
I have lived with radiant floor heating, and the best way to describe it is that the house was the right temperature all the time. I never thought about turning the heat on or off. There were no hot spots or cold spots, no noisy fans, no dusty air moving around, and, with a well-programmed thermostat, no adjusting the heat at all. It was kind of magical.
The reason radiant heating succeeds has to do with the way the human body perceives radiant heat. First, a quick physics refresher. There are three types of heat transfer: 1) convective—warm air blowing around, 2) conductive—the way a handle on a saucepan eventually gets too hot to touch even though it is not heated directly, and 3) radiant—heat radiating from a nearby source (or in the case of the sun, a faraway source).
The way we heat homes is either convective or radiant, and the body “feels” the two types of heat differently. If you are standing in a room and the temperature of a wall increases by 1 degree, it will feel the same to your body as the air temperature going up 3 degrees. This heat “bonus” is due to the fact that you have an uninterrupted connection to the radiant source of the heat, much like stepping from the shade into the direct sunlight feels warmer, even though the surrounding air is largely the same temperature.
When the heat source is located in the floor, we are close to the radiant source all the time, and we feel consistently comfortable. Because heat rises, forced-air systems that heat a space from the top down are extremely inefficient and not always comfortable. If you want cathedral ceilings, you’ll definitely want to consider radiant floors.
Radiant heating systems do cost more up front, but the quality of life they give you can be worth the initial expense. If you are going to splurge on something in your project, things that enrich your daily life are the best candidates. It could be a luxurious shower or a glass wall that opens your house to the outdoors—and I recommend considering radiant floor heating, as well.
For an even deeper dive into how and why it all works, this article does a good job explaining the details.