Radiant floor heating has become a popular way to heat homes. Although this is becoming more favorable, the concept of radiant floor heating isn’t new in itself. Ancient Romans used hot water pipes to warm floors, and since the 1970’s radiant floor heating has been the preferred heating system in Europe.
Modern radiant floor heating is a bit more complex then it was for the ancient Romans and may leave you questioning the benefits and the dangers of this source of heating for your home.
We are going to dive in all things radiant floor heating, starting with how it works, the benefits, potential dangers like EMF radiation, and then go over some alternative options for heating your home.
Radiant Floor Heating, How Does it Work?
Radiant floor heating (RFH) involves the installation of either water-heated tubing or electric heating coil under your home’s floor. The heat from the floor warms everything it touches and then radiates from the ground up resulting in warming the room it is in.
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating Systems
Many people find that the amount of power it takes to heat an entire house with an electric RFH system isn’t cost-effective. This leads to the alternative option which is hydronic radiant floor heating systems.
A hydronic system uses a dedicated water heater or a boiler as a heat source and a circulating pump to move the hot water through PEX tubing and back to the heater.
If looking at radiant floor heating for new construction a hydronic system is the best choice. Although you can install a hydronic system into an existing home you would have to tear up all of the floorings, which would be time-consuming and an additional expense.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating
An electric radiant floor heating system uses heat-conducting plastic mats containing coils warmed by electricity. The coils are a form of resistance wires, that are wrapped in a water-resistant polymer.
These wires are zigzagged through a mat and then wired for electricity. A great way to picture this is its kind of like a large, rolled-up electric blanket but without the fabric.
Benefits of Radiant Floor Heating
Radiant floor heating has some a lot of benefits to offer, here are the top ones to consider:
More Consistent Temperature
One of the main benefits of using radiant floor heating is the temperature throughout the room is more constant than with your standard forced-air system.
Using RFH is more economical to operate than furnaces and can slash heating costs by 25-50%.
There is no loud air ducts or furnaces to deal with when using RFH making it a quieter heating choice.
Easy to Operate
Once you have your radiant floor heating installed there is virtually no maintenance and most have at least a 30-year warranty. Many radiant floor heating options can be controlled easily and set automatically to your preference.
Better for People with Allergies
The use of RFH eliminates the blown air from other standard heating and can reduce dust mites by up to 80 %.
More Energy Efficient
Radiators needed to be heated to the high temperature of 149-167 degrees Fahrenheit in order to heat up a room. When we look at either kind of radiant floor heating the temperature only needs to be about 84 degrees Fahrenheit or less (the variation will depend on what kind of flooring is down). This results in consuming less energy making radiant floor heating a more energy-efficient option when compared to traditioned heating options.
It Doesn’t Take up Space
No radiators on the wall or huge furnace in the basement, using RFH is a great option for those who are very limited on space or simply prefer to not have their heating source in view
Does Radiant Floor Heating Emit EMF Radiation?
As you can see there are some really great reasons and potential benefits for installing radiant floor heating in your home but what about any potential dangers, specifically with EMF radiation?
Both kinds of Radiant Floor Heating emit EMF radiation because All electrical heaters produce EMF radiation. So that leaves us with the question, is the amount of EMF radiation emitted from the radiant floor heating considered dangerous?
Is Radiant Floor Heating Dangerous?
We know the RFH emits EMF radiation but one of the main dangers of RFH is the distance and constancy you are exposed to the radiation. Unlike other forms of heating which are typically localized in one room of your home RHF, is throughout your house.
Your radiant floor heating is throughout the house which increases your exposure but another thing to consider is you are walking just 6 or 7 inches away (that is about how deep RFH is in the floor) throughout the day. This close proximity means you have constant exposure at a pretty close distance virtually all the time.
The use of an unshielded electric radiant floor may be exposing you to 20-40 times the daily average exposure to EMF radiation. The scary thing about this is that is the same kind of exposure as putting your face right next to a microwave while it’s in use and then just leaving it there all day long.
The good news is some radiant in-floor heating companies will shield their wiring to limit the amount of EMF radiation. However, we need to remember that although shielding is a great option it is not 100% effective and some EMF can get through.
Additional Negatives of using Radiant Floor Heating
Besides the EMF Radiation concerns, there are a few other negatives to consider when it comes to using radiant floor heating.
One potential negative is the time it takes to install radiant floor heating. You usually, need to apply a self-leveling compound on top of the electric underfloor heating system which will take a few days to completely dry.
Water-based underfloor heating takes longer to install, however, most people who choose this option are doing so as a part of a new build or a bigger renovation so time may not be as much of a concern.
We talked about how radiant floor heating could save you some money in the long term above but we do have to remember the cost of installing this kind of flooring.
A good bracket estimation is you will be spending about $ 10-$20 per square foot depending on what kind of system you choose to have installed. You will also need to consider the cost of hiring a qualified electrician to connect the system to your power supply. This could take a few hours so could cost you an additional couple hundred dollars depending on where you live.
Difficult to Access for Repairs
Most of the radiant floor heating is located under the floor which makes even basic diagnostic or repair work inconvenient and potentially costly. Although uncommon this is still something to keep in mind.
Low EMF Radiant Floor Heating
Now that you are aware of some additional negative os using radiant floor heating lets talk about some low EMF radiant floor heating options.
One of the best options I found for Radiant Floor Heating is from a brand called WarmWire. It is one of the only products that has undergone testing for EMF or Electro Magnetic Field emission.
How does WarmWire work? They spiral two wires side by side so the fields cancel each other. They have a 25-year warranty whether it is being used with CableStrap or other manufacturers’ heated floor membranes.
Since there is no practical technology to passively shield RFH the only protective option is to actively shield. This is done by canceling the H-field of one of the heating elements with the H-field of another parallel element.
SunTouch Floor Heating Mats are another safer option when it comes to low EMF radiant floor heating. Unlike other companies who sell only single-wire systems that release very high levels of EMF. They innovated the approach discusses above with a complex wire made using two insulated heating wires and running them in parallel with a patented helical twist.
Final Thoughts on Radiant Floor Heating
Radiant floor heating provides some great benefits for those looking for alternative ways to heat their home or a specific room, however with those benefits also comes some serious concerns.
The main concerns for us at Honest EMF is all radiant floors emit EMF radiation, even the few that provide shielded wiring. Of course, if you choose a low EMF radiant floor heating that is a much better option than other radiant floor heatings.
The other potential negatives are there are installation costs and times to consider as well as potential difficulties for maintenance.
The benefits are you will have more consistent heating, long term it is a cost-effective option, easy to operate, silent, better for people with allergies, doesn’t take up space, and is more energy-efficient than other standard heating options.
There are some definite benefits to radiant floor heating and personally, I would consider it as an option but only if I were to use one of the Low EMF alternative mentioned above.