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Electric vs. Hydronic Radiant Heat

Aug 18, 2007
If you've decide warm floors would be nice and you are thinking of installing a radiant heat system, you already know it's not quite that simple. If you've typed radiant heat into Google you may become quickly confused at all of the options. Which is best? Electric radiant heat or hydronic radiant heat. The answer depends on what type of project you are doing.

Each system has a type of installation that it's best suited for. So let's have look at both electric radiant heat and hydronic radiant heat.

Hydronic radiant heat is actually the oldest of the radiant floor heating systems and it still remains the most popular. The system is made up of a boiler or hot water heater, manifolds, pumps, thermostat, pex tubing, and either gypcrete or wood panels.

Although hydronic radiant heat is the most popular it is also the most complex system requiring professionals to both design and install the system. Hydronics can be installed under any flooring type. But the biggest challenge has always been getting the hot water tubing installed in the light concrete bed and sometimes the floor height must be adjusted. Recently there have been some new products that are both lightweight and allow the tubes to be fitted into pre-cut wood panels that make the entire installation much easier.

If you want to heat a small area like a kitchen or bath, then hydronic radiant heat is not always the best choice. This is a cost and complex system that has long-term maintenance and thus is much more suited to installation into a larger area. Smaller areas are more suited to electric radiant heat.

Electric radiant heat is quite often called a line voltage system and they are really gaining in popularity recently and it is perfect for areas up to 300 square feet like kitchens, sunrooms, and bathrooms. The system is made up of heating cable and a thermostat. These systems are considerably less expensive and the way they are installed allows you to lay the install out just how you like it. You can even cover every inch of the floor if you like.

All cable systems have the same effectiveness, which leaves you with examining other elements before you make your choice. Consider warranty as well as how easy the installation process is, and of course price.

One last system, which we'll briefly mention, is the low voltage radiant heat, which is perfect for areas ranging from 300 to 3000 square feet. This is a very low profile system. It's beginning to catch on and one reason it's appealing is the size range it can be used on. It uses a 12" wide wire mesh that looks like the material used in a screen door. The appeal is because it's so thin that it means there is no big problem with having enough clearance or having to install into concrete. Rather the mesh installs directly to the tile, carpet, or hardwood.

Now that you have a lot more information on electric radiant heat and hydronic radiant heat, you are in a much better position to decide what's right for you.
About the Author
Terry Fitzroy is a professional author and heating specialist with expertise in radiant heating, in-floor heating and radiant floor heating.
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