Radiant Heat: The Hottest Trend in Luxury Real Estate

Posted by — March 1, 2005

By Jen Schaefer

If you have ceramic, slate or marble tiles in your kitchen or bathroom, you are probably no stranger to tip-toeing across the floor on chilly winter mornings. Tile may look great, but on cold days it can freeze your feet. Luckily, it is possible to enjoy the beauty of tile while keeping your toes toasty with radiant heat, a heating-distribution system that uses the whole floor, rather than forced air coming out of a few small vents, to heat a room or house.

Popular for more than a decade in Europe, radiant heat is increasingly found in well-outfitted homes in the United States. “Most luxury homebuyers have added radiant heat to their list of ‘must-have’ features,” says Matt Johnson, a Portland, Oregon-based contractor who has installed residential radiant floor systems for more than four years. “Not only is radiant heat a more comfortable method of heating a home, it has many other benefits as well.” These include:

• Functionality. Radiant heat heats a home uniformly and quietly, without the hum of forced-air heat.• Energy efficiency. The evenly distributed warmth allows the thermostat to be set two to four degrees lower than with forced air, reducing energy costs by up to 40 percent.• Aesthetics. Since radiant heat is hidden beneath the floors, there are no vents or radiators in sight.• Versatility. Radiant heat can be customized to suit all different floor types and rooms; for example, by creating a “wall of heat” in front of a window.• A healthier home. Radiant heat doesn’t spread dust, pollen or germs. European research has shown a 50 to 80 percent reduction in the domestic dust mite population in households with radiant heat.

Hydronic vs. Electric HeatTwo types of radiant heating systems are generally used in residential homes: hydronic heat and electric heat. Hydronic heat works by circulating warm water through tubing embedded in the floor, while electric heat uses a network of cables. According to Matt Johnson, each system has different benefits depending on your heating needs. 

Hydronic heat is the most popular type of radiant heat, mostly because it has been around the longest. This type of system is usually used for heating an entire home because it is less expensive to install and operate when heating a large area. “The bigger the area, the better the chance you will want a hydronic system,” says Matt. However, you may pay more later; since hydronic systems are more complex than electric systems, maintenance costs are higher. Another consideration is that hydronic heat can take more than four hours to bring rooms to a comfortable temperature, so it probably isn’t the best choice for areas where you frequently turn the heat on and off.

Electric heat is usually used to heat a single room, such as a kitchen or bathroom. This is the easiest system to install and requires very little maintenance. “Another benefit of an electric system is that it only raises the floor about an eighth of an inch, where a hydronic system can raise the floor a couple of inches,” says Matt. “Sometimes the extra height can be a problem in remodeling jobs.” 

Whether you choose a hydronic or electric system, having radiant heat in your home will likely warm your heart along with the rest of your body. Says one homeowner, who recently had radiant heat installed in her bedroom: “I can’t describe how wonderful it is to step out of bed on cold mornings onto a toasty, 75-degree floor.”For information about this article, e-mail jen@luxuryrealestate.com.

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