Hydronic (Water) Radiant Floor Heating: Cost, Pros & Cons, Types, Installation

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Imagine being covered in thick blankets and duvets, making you feeling warm and cozy all night in your bed. Then, your alarm starts ringing, and you know that it is time to get up.

Up goes your blankets, and down goes your feet. Surprise – your floor is too cold, and it feels like you just stepped on ice! No need for coffee – that feeling alone is enough to wake you up.

Unless you have carpeted floors, stepping barefoot on a cold floor is something you may be quite familiar with. And, you know that it is not a pleasant experience.

Do you hate cold floors but do you also hate the thought of constantly changing thermostat settings to get comfortable in a room? If so, floor heating is something you should check out.

Are you scratching your head right now, and wondering why you should even consider it? Don’t worry – we have you covered.

We will give you the basics on floor heating, especially on the hot water in-floor heating type known as the hydronic radiant floor heating system. Also, we will give you reasons why you should consider it as your next home improvement project, especially if your cold flooring keeps bothering you anyway.

What is Hydronic Heating and How Does it Work?

Homeowners aspire to make their homes as comfortable as possible, and it starts with getting the right indoor temperature. No one wants to live in a home that is as hot as the deserts of Dubai, nor as cold as the igloos in Antarctica.

Most homeowners rely solely on their HVAC systems to achieve this. However, it has its own drawbacks when flooring is concerned; although you have a warm room during cold nights, your flooring will often beg to differ.

HVAC systems are not capable of completely warming up floors. Radiators do a better job, but only to a certain extent.

This is where floor heating will come in handy, as a radiant floor heating system will make sure that stepping on cold spots will be a thing of the past.

Unlike traditional radiators that heat up the space only within its vicinity, a floor heating system evenly warms up your entire flooring and no spots will be left cold; every inch of your flooring will get warm enough for you to walk barefoot without feeling like you’re being stabbed by knives because of the cold.

What makes hydronic radiant floor heating way more effective than a usual radiator is because they are placed directly underneath your flooring, and it normally works this way:

  1. The hydronic radiant floor heating system’s boiler will run and heat up water through conduction.
  1. This water will then flow to the system’s plumbing manifold, which serves as the control center. Connected to the thermostat, the manifold system will determine if the water has reached the required temperature set on the thermostat in every heating zone of your home.
  1. The hot water will then flow to the tubing installed to heat up the floor above it.
  1. As a bonus, the heated floor will also warm up the entire room.

And if you are wondering whether this will work on your floors, it is likely that it will. This is because the heating system is integrated in the slab, and the concrete will absorb the heat produced by the tube. It then distributes this heat upwards to warm up your floors. Its efficiency will depend on the flooring material you have.

Pros and Cons of Radiant Floor Heating

Having consistently warm floors is not the only benefit to having floor heating installed in your home. You should also look forward to its other perks, which include the following:

  • It Requires No Floor Space at All – since it is installed under your flooring, there is more space available for you to use in a room. This is especially handy for homes with very limited space available.
  • You Get to Save on Your Utility Bills – compared to a radiator, a radiant floor heating only needs to run at a temperature as low as 84 °F or 29 °C to be as efficient in heating a room. Since there is no need for it to run at a high thermostat setting, less energy is consumed.

And the immediate effect of this? You pay less for your electrical bills. Doesn’t saving as much as 15% on your usual bill sound great?

  • It Will Effectively Heat Up the Floor, Even with Different Flooring Materials Present – radiant floor heating works with all kinds of flooring material, but it works best with those that have good thermal conductivity or heats up quickly. While stone and tile fit this requirement easily, even other flooring materials like , wood, , and carpet will also work.

The kind of flooring material hardly matters; what is vital for the floor heating system to do its job well is the thermal conductivity of your chosen material.

  • Very Minimal Maintenance Required – it only needs to be checked out by an once a year. Some even believe that there is no need to get them to undergo regular maintenance, but it is always good practice to do annual checks to make sure that it is still running smoothly.

Even with decades-long guarantees, we can never tell when a floor heating system will have issues. It is always best to catch any problems early.

  • Its Operation Is as Simple as It Can Get – you can just set its thermostat to run until the desired temperature is reached, and it will just operate to maintain that temperature. Some thermostats can even be programmed to run at specific hours set by homeowners. And some even allow you to set the thermostat remotely using your tablet or mobile phone.

This means being greeted by an already warm flooring after a rough day in the office.

  • Safety Concerns are Hardly an Issue – with a radiant floor heating, its heating components are tucked away, and there is virtually no chance of anyone getting burns or scalded because of them.

Also, the indoor air quality in a room improves, because the radiant heat produced causes indoor oxygen levels to increase. Radiators work oppositely.

  • Installation is Easy – despite having a seemingly complicated system, a radiant floor heating is not that hard to set up. And, you can even get it installed on your existing flooring. But, professional installation is still a must.

Unfortunately, a radiant floor heating also has its own share of criticisms. Some of them are:

  • It Raises the Floor Height – because the floor heating is installed underneath the floor, the floor itself must be raised up to accommodate this. Normally, the floor height will only be increased by half an inch or so on average, but this small increase is already enough for some to grumble and complain about.
  • Completing the Installation Will Take Some Time – despite being an easy install, radiant floor heating systems, especially the hydronic type, require homeowners to wait for a few days or up to an entire week before they can take their first step over their now heated floors. In most cases, this means staying at temporary lodgings or rentals until the work is done.
  • Expensive Installation – hydronic radiant floor heating installation is known to be expensive, even more so than an electric type. And if you will have them installed on already existing flooring, expect to pay more for it.

Getting a radiant floor heating for your home is not an easy decision to make, especially due to the initial cost of installation. But considering all the benefits, it is no wonder why plenty of homeowners see it as an excellent investment for their home.

Water (Hydronic) Vs Electric Underfloor Heating

Radiant floor heating systems come in two types: electric and hydronic.

An electric radiant floor heating system makes use of pipes or wires heated by electricity to warm up the floor, hence it is known as a dry system. And if you recall, a hydronic one uses hot water that passes through tubes to produce the same result. This is why the water-based hydronic system is known as the wet system.

Looking at it, the result is the same. Which kind of heating system to install in a home will ultimately depend on preference.

To help you understand their differences, we have come up with a guide on the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • More efficient in producing heat and retaining a consistent temperature in a room
  • Can operate for lengthier periods without being switched on and off every now and then
  • Easily covers large spaces
  • Total heating cost is minimized, which helps you save a lot on your utility bills
  • Less energy is needed for its continued use once the desired temperatures are reached
  • Very efficient; it only needs to run at low temperatures to heat up the room or even your whole house
  • Generally does not have any ducts, so heat loss is minimal or non-existent
  • More options for heating the water to be used. You can choose natural gas, solar, geothermal, or LPG energy sources for it

Cons:

  • Harder to repair, and there is a chance of if one of the pipes ruptures or breaks
  • Installation is a lot more expensive, especially if setting it up on already existing flooring or at higher floors
  • Takes some time to start heating up the floor
  • Ideally should be installed not just in specific rooms but the entire home
  • Installation on upper floors is more complicated than on the ground floor or basement
  • Not suitable for homeowners who tend to switch it on and off intermittently, or like to change thermostat settings every now and then
  • Will raise the floor higher than an electric floor heating system, which may also require you to make adjustments to your home to adapt to the new structural load

Electric Radiant Floor Heating

Pros:

  • A lot easier to install even on higher floors, that experienced DIYers can even do so themselves
  • Installation cost, including labor charge, is cheaper than hydronic systems
  • Ideal for those who only want to heat up the floors of specific rooms
  • Can be set to run only on certain times
  • Faster to heat up the floor than a water-powered system
  • Minimal floor height increase
  • Limited installation area because of the load limits. 120V systems are limited to covering 150 square feet, while 240V systems are only capable of heating a maximum of 300 square feet on average
  • Low maintenance and easier to repair

Cons:

  • It can get very expensive to use, especially if you make it your primary heating system
  • Relying solely on electricity, letting an electric floor heating run for long periods will result in very expensive electric bills
  • More efficient in supplementing your existing heating system, not as the primary source of heat in a room
  • Heavy objects, including your furniture, may affect its operation. Moving them around should also be done carefully to prevent damaging the system
  • Its heating capability is limited to single rooms, not the entire home

The gist of it is that electric radiant floor heating systems are ideal if you want to heat up the floors of a room or two, but you should opt for a hydronic system if you want to use it as your primary heating system for your entire home.

Things to Look for in a Hydronic System

If you want to have the best hydronic system possible, it must meet most of the following requirements:

  • Initial cost of the system, from materials to installation, is economical when considering your needs. You don’t really have to go for all top-of-the-line components if cheaper ones are as effective
  • User-friendly
  • As “green” as it can be
  • Can be powered by solar energy
  • Operational cost, as evidenced by your utility bills, is also low
  • Sturdy and expected to last decades
  • Dependable to run for long periods of use

One way of achieving this is by using an open direct radiant heating system. Instead of going for the traditional method, that is, getting a boiler installed or connecting your hydronic system to your existing boiler, it will be connected to a water heater instead and no longer requires a heat exchanger.

A lot cheaper than boilers, a water heater will not only heat up water necessary for your hydronic system, but this water can also be used for domestic purposes. There is no need to separately heat up water for your hydronic system and for your household use.

Do note that this kind of system is quite controversial, as some believe that it can cause various health issues. They say that a bacterium called legionella will easily breed in such an environment. Because of this, not all HVAC technicians are willing to set up an open direct system.

Best Flooring Material for Hydronic Floors

More often than not, hydronic systems are installed under concrete. Homeowners either choose to leave them as they are, since concrete floors are becoming increasingly popular nowadays, or they get their chosen flooring material installed over concrete.

If you have no idea what flooring material to use that will work best with a hydronic system, you should choose among the following:

  1. alone
  2. , whether porcelain or ceramic
  3. Natural stone, including terrazzo, marble, and granite
  4. Engineered timber
  5. Laminated wood
  6. Carpet, but only those that has an underlay that is compatible with heated slabs

Whichever flooring material you use, always ask the supplier about its compatibility with floor heating systems. Some materials, namely vinyl and natural hardwood, will badly react to heat and become deformed over time.

Types of Hydronic Heating

Hydronic heating is not limited to underfloor installations. In fact, there are a total of three types for you to choose from:

  • Hydronic Radiant Floor – installed under the flooring
  • Baseboard – also referred to as “hot water baseboard,” the tube where hot water flows is hidden under a steel housing disguised as the baseboard on the wall
  • Hydro-air Heating – consisting of ducts and one or more air handlers that contain heat exchangers that receive hot water that produces warm air that gets released into the ductwork.

Hydronic radiant floor heating systems are made up of several components, namely a boiler or water heater, thermostat, manifold, tubing, pump, heat exchanger, and liquid medium. Before getting your hydronic system installed, you should be aware of your options for its various components, particularly in terms of the boiler and liquid you can use:

Boiler

Available options differ on the energy source and function:

  • Solar Water Heater
  • Tankless Hydronic Water Heater
  • Geothermal Heat Pump
  • Combined Hot Water and Heating Systems Boiler

Liquid

Although water is traditionally used, some modern systems mix them up with other liquids. In closed loop systems, Glycol is frequently added.

Hydronic systems can be customized according to your needs, so aim to get a setup that is optimized for your home.

Where Should You Install It?

While you know that hydronic radiant floor heating systems are installed under your flooring, did you know that there are also different places on a floor to do so?

  • Basement Installation – because of its , they can efficiently warm up the entire home even when only installed in the basement. Heat is effectively distributed because of all that concrete, that is why some only opt for basement installations.
  • Below-Floor System – installed under both the subfloor and the finished flooring of the home
  • Above-Floor System – the hydronic system is found sandwiched between the subfloor and finished flooring

Do note that among the three, the above floor system is the most complicated. It also requires the use of a panel installed under the finished flooring, which will increase its height.

Installing Hydronic Heating

When it comes to hydronic systems, you have two installation options available, namely wet or dry installations.

Wet Installation

Hydronic systems are ideally installed under concrete slabs to become efficient, and wet installations take advantage of this feature. The heating tubes are placed on wet concrete that will also act as its protective barrier when it hardens.

This is the classic way of installing a hydronic system, and there are two methods available for this option:

  • Thin Slab – tubes are installed on the subfloor, and concrete that is self-leveling is poured on top of it. This increases the floor height, and adjustments are vital to ensure that your home can support the extra weight created by it.
  • Slab on Grade Foundations – tubes are connected to the rebars or any other reinforcing structure of the slab, before the thick layer of concrete is poured over it. This is common for homes that are still being constructed.

Dry Installation

Also known as the plate system, it makes use of panels that are prebuilt with spaces where the tubes will be inserted. It will then be covered up with your chosen flooring material. Insulation and heat reflectors are necessary for this option for efficient heating.

There is also another way of getting a hydronic system installed in your home without having to place them under the flooring, and this is through the radiator and baseboard installation. While radiator installations are obvious, as they are akin to classic radiators, baseboard ones allow the tubes to be cleverly hidden under the baseboard.

Mistakes to Avoid

Just like installing a home appliance, setting up radiant floor heating systems in your home needs to be carefully thought out and prepared for. They are complex systems that need to be properly installed to prevent issues that can affect not just its operation but potentially cause damage as well, such as:

  • Cause leaking that can seep through your flooring and ruin them
  • Allow air to enter the tubes, which can produce noise while your hydronic system is in operation. The air present can also cause corrosion to the components and promote scale buildup
  • Freeze any liquid inside the pipes when not in use

Although these seem like minor issues that are easy to fix, the fact that the system is installed under your flooring will make inspection and repairs harder to do. And with hydronic systems, any issues encountered with it likely means removing your entire flooring and doing costly repairs.

All these can be avoided, if your hydronic system is properly installed. Make sure that you avoid these common mistakes when doing so:

  • Use of wrong flooring material – check the thermal conductivity beforehand. You don’t want to use flooring materials that are inefficient at distributing heat, or react badly to it that will require you to get new floorings every now and then
  • Lack of insulation in the foundation – under slab insulation on the tubes is needed for wet installations to make sure that the heat produced will rise to your floors, not go down to the ground
  • Poor insulation and lack of heat reflectors – hydronic systems can be installed not just on basements or ground floors, but also on higher floors of a home and crawlspaces. Left alone, heat it produces will end up anywhere, instead of redirecting to the needed rooms or areas.

Also, it is important that the location where your system will be set up can handle all the heat it will produce. This is even more important if you are installing them on preexisting floors, as they may have issues that you are unaware of that can eventually affect its operation.

Always make sure that your preexisting subfloors or floor joists where your hydronic systems will be installed are inspected first by a contractor.

Manufacturers

With so many manufacturers out on the market, homeowners like you are probably wondering which one you should go for, since at the end of the day, they will all give the same result anyway. That is, for you to have heated floors in your home.

If you want to play it safe, going for established manufacturers is a practical option. Here is a list of known companies that you can consider, as well as the options they have available:

  • WarmUp – focuses on radiant heating products, including electric radiant floor heating systems, that work with stone, carpet, vinyl, and laminate. Their systems are compatible with concrete and joist installations.
  • Nuheat – widely distributed all over the United States, they have a wide array of electric radiant systems that can be installed under engineered wood, tiles, laminate, and stone. Nuheat is also part of Pentair Thermal Management.
  • Janes Radiant – their hydronic and electric systems can work with the following flooring materials: carpet, hardwood, stone, tile, laminate, and vinyl.
  • Warmboard – boasts of hydronic floor and outdoor radiant heating systems with energy-saving features. They can be installed under a variety of flooring materials or as a standalone subfloor. You can also make online purchases with Warmboard.
  • ThermoSoft – catering to your electric in-floor heating needs that can be installed in both concrete and joists, ThermoSoft’s systems work with various flooring materials, like vinyl, ceramic, carpet, stone, laminate, and wood.
  • InFloor – has a wide variety of radiant heating systems, including those that work indoors and outdoors. Their products can also be used with all kinds of flooring materials and subfloors.
  • Radiantec – their hydronic floor heating systems can work with most flooring materials. Also, they have solar-powered products that can be integrated with hydronic systems, allowing them to use sunlight as its energy source.
  • Warmly Yours – focuses on electric radiant floor heating systems that can be installed on concrete and floor joists, as well as those for outdoor use. Their indoors systems can even work with floating wood, carpet, and laminate flooring.
  • Orbit Radiant Heating – they have electric systems that can be placed under most floor coverings and installed on joists and concrete. You can order online or through their distributors all over the country.

Cost of Hydronic Flooring

After reading all the information we presented to you, you are probably wondering by now exactly how much is it going to cost you.

In most cases, a hydronic system unit’s total cost can be somewhere between $2,500 to $14,000, or a minimum of $6 for every square foot. This already covers material costs and labor.

Note that the cost of materials takes up the bulk of the total cost, as labor charges average between $300 to $2,000. And if you are using a separate boiler, you need to pay an additional of around $4,500 or more for one.

There are a lot of factors involved that will drive up or lessen the total cost, such as:

Joist installations have a per square foot price of $0.85 for 7/8” PEX tubing and $1.25 for ½” PEX tubing. Meanwhile, concrete installations per square foot cost $0.70 for 7/8” PEX tubing, $0.80 for ½” PEX tubing, and $0.50 for commercial structures that have a lot more floor area.

  • Total area to be covered. Note that larger spaces will have cheaper costs per square foot
  • Cost of labor
  • Floor level
  • Installation on pre-existing flooring or while the home construction is ongoing
  • Means of installation
  • Choice of flooring materials, which greatly varies.

Per square foot, porcelain tiles cost between $2 to $4, ceramic tile is roughly $1 to $15, stone is around $7 to $20, carpet is $2 on average, hardwood is around $3 to $10, and engineered wood is $3 to $5 on average.

Regardless of material, the installation cost is around $3 to $10 on average.

  • When the quote was given, as contractors give better rates between the late fall and early winter seasons
  • Whether a closed or open system is used, and the number of heating zones needed

Closed systems range from $550 to $700 for one zone, while open systems are between $450 to $600. Two zones for both systems cost around $1100 to $1250. Beyond two zones, you need to pay an additional $300 to $400 for each one.

Upfront, the cost of hydronic floor heating systems is enough to make homeowners think twice about getting them installed in their homes. But in the long run, all that expense is going to be worth it.

Hydronic systems will not only help you save a lot on your household bills the very second you switch it on, but your entire household will also get a level of comfort unmatched by other HVAC systems.

Also, there are a few ways for you to cut costs in its installation, as well as receive financial benefits. Some companies offer packages or promos that will give you discounts on the overall costs, if you get all the materials from them and let them handle the installation. Certain states also give tax incentives to homeowners who have heating systems that use minimal energy, such as a hydronic one.

Getting Quotes from Competing Contractors

With all the knowledge you already have when it comes to hydronic radiant floor heating systems, you are one step closer to experiencing firsthand how amazing it feels to walk barefoot in your home every time without complaining about cold floors.

Your next step is to find qualified contractors to install them. But, don’t walk out the door with your car keys just yet.

What if we tell you that there’s a better and much faster way of finding, requesting quotes from different contractors, and comparing these quotes? All these without having to leave your home!

Our free service – yes, free! – allows you to get as much as four quotes from contractors in your area just by filling out our form. Contractors themselves will give you their quotes, and you no longer have to ask them individually for it.

And because they know their rival contractors will also be doing so at the same time, expect to receive competitive quotes or promos from them.

But if you receive subpar quotes that are not enough to convince you to get their services, you are free to reject their offers. We don’t require you to select one contractor from those who send in their quotes when you use our service; you are always free to say no.

Why not try it out now for yourself? It’s free anyway.

Let’s make constantly warm and toasty floors in your home a reality by installing a hydronic system in your home with the help of a contractor!

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