Radiant Heating Can Warm Your House from the Ground Up

Edmonton’s increasingly expensive housing market continues to leave Edmontonians looking for cost-effective housing solutions. One of the best ways to do that is to build houses that make use of normally wasted space in the basement.

Basement development is a terrific and very cost-effective way to increase the living space in a home – and improve its resale value. The main problem with basement living spaces in this part of the world is that they’re hard to keep warm.

Though winter is a long way off, now is one of the most popular times to start building new homes, so we’re going to look at radiant (or ‘in-floor’) heating, as one very effective way to heat a basement. Our next column will look at a couple of other options that are also available.

Rising Heat

As anyone who has ridden a hot air balloon knows, heat rises – so to ensure even heat distribution throughout a room it makes sense to get your heat source as low to the floor as possible. That’s the principle behind radiant heating – the heat comes from right inside the floor.

Hundreds of years ago Romans used radiant floor heating in their bathhouses, and Koreans have heated their royal palaces in this manner for centuries. Though the technology has been improved, it is still based on the idea of running metal or plastic pipes throughout the basement, inside the concrete floor. Today’s installations also include a layer of insulation under the concrete to keep the heat from escaping below the floor.

The second part of the system – where most of the new technology comes in – is the heat source. A plumber will design a system where a hot water tank or boiler (sometimes with a holding tank as well) is used to heat the water, and a thermostat dictates the rate of hot water flow through the pipes to ensure proper room temperatures. The water travels in cycles, and once it returns to the boiler or tank it is reheated and sent back out.

Radiant heat can actually be used above grade as well, especially under tile floors. If a water-based (called a ‘hydronic’ system) is installed for the basement, a set of pipes is run upstairs to go under the tiles. If not, there’s an electric version that is becoming increasingly popular for smaller areas. In-floor heat in generally not installed as the main heat source throughout the homes in our region because for that application an air exchanger is required, making the system quite expensive (when used in the basement, some air from the main furnace is blown downstairs to circulate the air).

Right for you?

Really the main downfall of radiant heating is that it is VERY expensive to install in existing concrete basement floors, especially where the basement is already developed. If you’ve got your heart set on it there are ways that it can be done, but there are other, far more cost effective ways to heat an already developed basement.

Many years ago there were also concerns about leaks, but that’s been remedied by using new, continuous loop systems where there are generally no joints in the floor.

The systems can be somewhat expensive to install, but some of this is recovered in the long term through lower operating costs. Radiant heat tends to offer more comfort at lower thermostat settings, plus you’re able to set the temperature in each room (so you can keep the temperature low in unused areas). It has also been reported that compared to forced air systems, radiant heat can reduce air pressure and lower heat loss.

Finally, one tip that is seldom considered: choose your flooring before installing your underground heating. Carpet insulates more than linoleum, and wood surfaces cannot get damaged by excess heat, so your installer should know what flooring goes where in the basement prior to installation.

1 thought on “Radiant Heating Can Warm Your House from the Ground Up”

  1. I remember when heated floors were a thing of the future. My dad worked in construction for a long time, and he was always super impressed by the technology, but only recently has it gotten affordable enough to make it widespread. Like you mention, it’s still expensive, but it’s getting cheaper. I’m looking at putting a radiant heating system in my own house, so this was good information to know.

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