According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), radiant floors use infrared radiation technology to heat up a room by delivering heat from a hot surface. The main types of radiant floor heating systems include:
Electric Floor Heating System
This type of heating system is made up of special electrically conductive plastic materials that are usually installed underneath the floor surfaces of buildings. In essence, you should avoid this system because it does not offer much in terms of energy efficiency. However, you can consider this system if your utility company offers time-of-use rates/plans during off-peak hours, you do not mind paying higher heating costs or you intend to power it using solar, wind or geothermal energy.
Air-Heated Radiant Floor Heating System
This type of heating system relies on heated air to keep radiant floors warm. However, air-heated radiant systems suffer from the same drawbacks as electric floor heaters: cost and energy-efficiency problems. For these reasons, the DOE recommends considering other types of floor heating systems that do not consume a lot of energy.
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System
Unlike the heating systems described above, systems that utilize hydronic (fluid) technology are energy and cost efficient. They heat floors via hot water pumped through tubes installed under a floor. In addition, they come with valves/pumps for controlling water flow making it easier for homeowners to regulate room temperature.
Before installing a radiant floor heating system, there are two considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, you can take advantage of a thermal mass, such as a concrete slab floor, to act as a heat-carrying medium when installing a radiant heating system. Building contractors call this technique “wet installation.” Secondly, you can sandwich heating system between a wooden subfloor and a wooden floor. This technique is called “dry installation.”
The most popular technologies behind heating systems for radiant floors include hydronic, heated air and electric technology. Out of these, heating systems based on hydronic technology are popular because they are energy and cost efficient.