One of the biggest advantages to radiant heating is the fact that it plays against the natural tendency for hot air to rise and disperse much of the heat in your home into the space overhead where it isn’t needed.
Heat being emitted from the floor slowly drifts up into the room over time, rather than being rushed in via hot air, for a better distribution of heat. Plus having toasty feet helps you feel more warm, so overall you need to heat your house less to be comfortable.
Why doesn’t everyone use radiant heat all the time, then? First, it can definitely be pricey to install. You can expect to spend $4 to $6 or more per square foot on top of your other flooring costs, which can add up if you’re looking to upgrade your whole home. Also, radiant heating is much less effective under materials like carpet that insulate the heat from entering the room, so if you prefer a lot of cozy carpet, radiant heat may be too inefficient to be worth it.
Radiant heat systems come in three types. The first, forced-air based (where hot air carries heat through channels in the floor), is rarely ever used in homes. The second, hydronic based, tends to be the most efficient, using hot water to carry heat through a network of tubing.
Those who live in areas where electricity is priced lower during off-peak hours can sometimes save a lot by heating their floors on an overnight timer and letting the warmth radiate slowly throughout the day. This makes the electrical radiant heating systems much more cost effective. So if your energy bill is priced like this, it’s an option worth investigating.
Every manufacturer has subtle differences, but there are two main types of installation: wet and dry. Wet installations are embedded in concrete during the initial build (that is, when the concrete is still “wet”) or in a layer of additional concrete added for this purpose. Dry installations are layered below or above the subfloor (or sometimes sandwiched between two layers of subfloor) and below the finished flooring. Dry installation systems are newer technology and the more popular choice for new installations. They’re especially good when retrofitting a system into an existing home because they don’t require additional concrete to be poured.
A popular way to use in-floor heating is as more of an accent than an all-over installation. For example, heating an area around the toilet (which is often immediately next to the tub-shower) will go a long way to keeping your feet warm, and this often can be achieved with a single presized heating mat, acquired at a lower price than a full-room custom mat.
For skilled DIYers, installing a presized mat before laying new tile is an achievable project with the right tools and a little research.
It is definitely possible to use a partial-room heated floor and then tile the entire room to one finish. However, keep in mind that, since radiant heating is permanently trapped under the flooring, it’s smart to change the flooring material in the heated area. This not only can create pleasing visual breaks in the space, but it also saves you from a potential disaster if the system fails at some point and needs to be repaired.
The flooring will have to be removed and thus typically destroyed to access and repair a radiant heat system, so defining a smaller area with its own flooring finish will reduce the area that must be retiled after.