Electric Or Hydronic Floor Heating, What's Best For You?

When Should you go with Hydronic

Hydronic or Electric floor warming For spot warming or sole source heating of a portion of the house, it has been found that in 60% of cases electric radiant is more favorable than hydronic.

For sole source heating of the complete house, 90% of the time hydronic radiant heating is a better option for you than electric. However, even if you plan a whole house, the electric system will be a better choice in climates where you often need to heat only a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night.


When Should you go with Electric

Electric or Hydronic floor warmingFor both spot warming or sole source heating, it has been found that in 90% of cases electric radiant is better for you than hydronic.

You should expect to spend $400 to $800 to install an electric system for warming a small bathroom. An equivalent hydronic system would run $4,000 to $5,000.

Hydronic systems have high start-up costs because you have to buy a boiler. As a result, electric radiant heat is more cost-effective on 1 to 5 room projects.


What are the Advantages of Electric over Hydronic Floor Heating?

  • One difference is the floor elevation involved. The hydronic floor heating system elevates the floor by a couple of inches, which can be a problem in many remodeling jobs. Thin electric systems will elevate the floor by only 1/8".
  • Time to heat up: Hydronic systems are placed 1.5" or 2" into a cement slab. This is so deep into the floor that it usually takes 4 to 7 hours to heat up when they are first turned ON. Therefore, they are left ON for many months and consume energy during a longer period of time.
  • Energy Saving: The electric heating mats are placed above the sub-floor, just under the flooring material. They will heat the floor in 30 to 60 minutes under tile.
    They are controlled by a timer and a thermostat and in most cases, the homeowners will preset ON-OFF cycles to provide heat only WHEN he/she needs it and WHERE he/she needs it (selecting rooms and heating from your feet up).
  • Cost of Installation: In remodeling jobs or in select rooms of a new construction hydronic systems will cost more to install. In very large jobs (complete home in new construction), the hydronic radiant floor heating systems will often be less expensive to install.
  • Maintenance and repairs: Hydronic systems need to circulate water continuously and they use valves and manifolds, which are prone to sedimentation, mechanical problems and maintenance issues. Electric heating systems have no moving parts and require no maintenance. If a hydronic installation is faulty, it is difficult to find a leak and the system is difficult to repair. With electric systems an underground fault detector can find the exact location of the break and after breaking just one or two tiles it is easier to splice the electric cable and replace the few tiles removed.
  • Operating costs: The cost of electricity in America varies between 3 cents/kWh up to 18 cents per kWh, therefore, the cost of generating 1,000 BTU with a hydronic system may sometimes be lower than the cost of generating 1,000 BTU with an electric system. However, the real comparison needs to consider the different ways these two systems are used. The hydronic system will be ON for many months, while the electric system will be ON-&-OFF several times a day according to the ON-OFF settings of each room thermostat. Moreover, during each ON period, the electric system will only use electricity continuously for the initial period of temperature build-up. Thereafter, it will cycle between ON and OFF and will only draw electricity during 25% to 33% of the time remaining during the ON period.

However.... hydronic might be better in some cases:
Is is better for you costwise to use electric or hydronic radiant floor heating?

More info on Electric Radiant Heat.


A Major Misconception: Can Electric Underfloor Heating be my Sole Source of Heat?

Most people will readily say "no" and claim that only hydronic floor heating can be a sole source of heat.

A hydronic system in a cold state area (Nebraska, Illinois, etc.) will generally be designed at 18 BTU/hr/sq.ft. under tile and 30 BTU/hr/sq.ft. under carpet. If we translate this heating capacity in electrical watts it corresponds to 5.3-watt/sq.ft. under tile and 8.8-watt/sq.ft. under carpet. Compared to this design requirement the capacity of WarmlyYours systems are 15-watt/sq.ft. under tile and 10-watt/sq.ft. under carpet.

Clearly, the WarmlyYours electric system has enough heating capacity to serve as a sole source of heat.

Take a look at the installation of electric floor heating.


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