This Article is About
electromagnetic waves
wise decision
energy bills
Radiant Heat Systems
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Radiant heat systems transfer thermal energy via electromagnetic waves. Because radiant heat systems heat objects rather than heating the surrounding air they have a tendency to maintain a more comfortable environment due do the lack of air stratification (layering of air due to different densities)which gives you a nice even heat, opposed to forced air which can leave you feeling hot on your upper body while your feet are cool. They are also usually able to maintain a lower internal air temperature than with forced air systems due to the fact you are being heated by an object rather than warm air while feeling the same comfort level. Which for the home owner equates to lower energy bills.

Radiant heat systems can be supplied either hydronically (with water), or electrically in floors walls or ceilings. The most comfortable, economical, and efficient way is by far the heated floor so this article will concentrate on this style of heating but keep your eyes out for future articles discussing other options.

A radiant heat system is almost always most economical if installed in a new construction application. Usually cross linked polyethylene (pex) tubing (although you could use other materials such as copper or pex aluminium pex) is fastened to your subfloor and then a light weight gypsum compound is poured over top. Your floor coverings are then installed over top of the gypsum compound. It is always a wise decision to discuss your floor covering options with your heating contractor because certain floor coverings can add a considerable amount of insulating properties which could lead to insufficient heat transfer if not planned for ahead of time.

Although a Radiant heat system is recommended in new construction this is not to say you can not install it as a retrofit application. Certain points to consider in retrofit situations are, first and foremost can your floor joist handle the additional weight. When dry a 1.5 inch gypsum thin slab adds approximately 14lbs per square foot opposed to concrete which adds approximately 18lbs per square foot. Second would be the added height, meaning items such as doors will need to be modified, ceiling height is lower which could cause code issues, cabinets may need to be removed and reinstalled causing issues with plumbing, electrical, and ducting, all issues that need to be considered.

Another viable options for a retrofit Radiant heat system is a staple up radiant heat system. In this type of application the tubing is installed on the under side of the flooring and is attached to large aliminium heat transfer plates which evenly distribute the thermal energy. With this type of system you have to consider the possibility of items such as piping, electrical, and duct work limiting where you can run your tubing. It is also very important to properly insulate so that as much heat as possible is directed upwards.

The third and final option for your retrofit radiant heat system is installing your tubing above ground but instead of poring concrete or gypcrete you incase the tubing between plywood strips called sleepers and install the floor covering over top of them.

Although all these types of radiant heat systems have their place it will be up the installer to weight their options and determine which type of system best suits the application. Some Pro's and Con's of radiant heat systems.


  • Even Temperature
  • Lack of air transfer throughout the house
  • Simple Zoning
  • Very Efficient
  • Quiet


  • Usually requires Heat recovery ventilators or Energy recovery ventilators to ensure proper air flow
  • Floor covering are usually limited
  • Slower response time than forced air
  • More expensive than forced air

My name is Mike and I have been a HVAC contractor for more than a decade, if you found this article helpful and informative please check out my site at

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