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Monday, March 25, 2013

Radiant Heat Floors

Living in Florida, heating isn't usually a huge issue. But I long for Asheville ... so I want to make sure I can stay warm (especially since I'm sooooo acclimated to Florida winters!!) I cannot sacrifice a hearth in my home so I will be using the amazing miniature cast iron wood stove my Mom found for me. I have no idea where she found it but she has a real knack for finding awesomeness at flea markets and yard sales! ($5 bread maker? Yes, please!) But the wood stove will require tending & tinder and carries the risk of fire. With just 150 sq. ft., one mistake and I'm cooked! So, I've settled on radiant heat flooring as my primary heat source. Here's the run-down of what I've learned:

There are two major types: Electric and Hydronic. I personally didn't give much consideration to hydronic systems. The system is thicker, taking up vital space in my house AND I can just envision the nightmare scenario where one of the pipes burst and there's moldy, soggy devastation everywhere. No thank you. (Apparently leaking isn't much of an issue these days because of PEX ... I still don't want to risk it.)

The electric systems are supposedly easy to install. I'll let you know if that's true in a few weeks. But for now, we'll assume it is a snap.

  • super duper energy efficient
  • doesn't make a peep during operation
  • kind to your nose: avoids blowing allergens around & doesn't dry out the air
  • heat rises! and warm toes
  • less drafty
  • a breakdown in the system likely requires extensive work to access it (i.e. ripping up the floors)
  • electric heat is not the cheapest method (I'm curious how a solar set-up would handle the draw of an electric system ... if using the Hydronic system, solar heating is quite efficient)
  • more expensive than traditional forced hot air (electric system is ~$6 per sq. ft for materials but very inexpensive labor/install costs)
  • not all flooring is compatible with radiant heat (wood expands and contracts with humidity)
    Post coming soon: flooring choices when using electric radiant heat

As a chemist, I got a kick out of this description I came across...

Wood as a hygroscopic material - changes in moisture results in a change in dimension.
Wood - a hygroscopic and anisotropic material
Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a block of wood from an elm tree. At top is a transverse section and at bottom is a longitudinal section. Xylem vessels (larger tubes) transport water and mineral nutrients from the roots throughout the plant. Its thick lignin walls also provide structural support for the stem. Due to woods cell structure a change in moisture content results in a change in dimension. 
Image credit: Andrew Syred/Science Photo Library

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