As the first major snowstorm swept through New England last week, many homeowners across the country faced the return of winter, no matter what the winter solstice would have us believe. Few people enjoy the winter cold. Bundling up with gloves, hats, and scarves is one thing, but many people find themselves uncomfortable in their own homes. The majority of home heating in the U.S. comes from forced hot air systems that create cold feet, irritated sinuses, and dry, cracked skin. You might believe this is an unavoidable reality of winter, but a heating system conversion will increase your comfort level and improve your health at the same time. While the home improvement industry is focusing on luxury kitchen and bath remodels, you might consider instead putting your remodeling dollars toward a more practical end. Radiant flooringalso known as hydronic heating systemswill reduce your heating bill and truly increase your quality of life.
Finally Be Comfortable in Your Own Home
The biggest problem with forced hot air heating systems is heat distribution. Thermostats set for 70 degrees, for example, do not create rooms with anything resembling comfortable temperatures from head to toe. If it's 70 degrees at your face, it can be 50 degrees or cooler on the floor and close to 100 degrees or more at the ceiling. You probably already knew this, holding to the truism that heat rises. You might, then, mistakenly believe that radiant floors create a similar dynamic. In fact, homes with radiant floors have slightly warmer temperatures near the floor, where temperatures are likely to be in the mid to upper 70s, while the temperatures near the ceiling hover in the upper 60s. Radiant heat warms through energy waves rather than air particles and aren't subject to the same distribution patterns. Essentially, you're heating your home in exactly the same way as the Sun heats the Earth. Radiant heat also helps explains why the temperature drops as elevation increases.
Green Luxury: The Energy Efficiency of Ambient Temperatures
Arguably, too much press is given to solar panel and geothermal heating; both systems are prohibitively expensive to anybody looking for value from their home heating. Radiant flooring, on the other hand, isn't given nearly enough play in the press. There are three key advantages to radiant flooring that help make it the most energy-efficient method of heating.
1. Energy Loss: Most radiant flooring uses hydronic heatinghot water pipesto transfer the heat from a boiler or, in some cases, a modified furnace to the rest of your home. This hot water warms your floor and the walls of your home, which then warms the air. The efficiency rating of a forced air furnace tells you how much energy is lost creating the heating source for your home. It does tell you how much energy is being lost during the transfer.
According to the Home Energy Magazine, typically 20 to 30 percent of your heating energy costs are consumed by this transfer. That said, exact percentages can fluctuate depending on the length and condition of your ductwork and your home's insulation, among other factors. Perhaps the biggest secret about hydronic is the fact that you don't lose that much heat or energy by opening doors or windows, making insulation less important for homes with this heating system. Plus, some of these advantages will be traded off by the heat loss of standing water, although this disadvantage can be neutralized by the heating of individual rooms or zoned heating.
2. High Ceilings and Wasted Heat: Forced hot air heating systems causes the air near your ceiling to be unnecessarily hot, which means you're spending quite a bit of money to overheat the top layers of air inside your home. This can be particularly frustrating when your toes are going numb. Of course, the higher the ceiling, the bigger the difference, but the problem is virtually ubiquitous.
3. Ambient Temperature: The perceived temperature of a room is also called its ambient temperature. Ambient temperature can also be used in a climatic context to describe the heat index during the summer and the wind chill factor during the winter. By heating the surfaces around youfloors and wallsradiant heating creates superior ambient temperature. To achieve the same feeling of warmth from a forced hot air heating system set on 70 degrees, you might need to set your radiant floor heating to 68 or even 66 degrees.
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Radiant Heating Installation and Costs
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "The cost of installing a hydronic radiant floor varies by location and also depends on the size of the home, the type of installation, the floor covering, remoteness of the site, and the cost of labor." That said, multiple home improvement sources estimate the cost, in most circumstances, to be between $4-$6 per square foot. The online referral site, ServiceMagic, collects data on the cost of specific projects and reports the average total cost of radiant flooring installation to be just more than $3,000. This most likely indicates a mix of homeowners who install radiant flooring for single rooms, most commonly bathrooms and basements, and homeowners who install comprehensive radiant floor heating systems.
Keep in mind that unless you're building a new home, your flooring will almost certainly have to be torn out to install the hot water pipes. For this reason, most people elect to install radiant flooring in combination with a larger remodeling project. Other homeowners who have an annual home improvement budget might take their home room by room and gradually convert their home, installing a zoned heating grid.