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Electric vs. Hydronic: The Case for Electric Floor Heating

Stock Photo Living Room Tile Floor

Radiant heating continues to grow in popularity for homes - new construction and remodeling projects alike. For the homeowner, the goal is to begin enjoying the warm comfort and luxury that radiant heating offers without breaking the bank or expending too much energy or work to install. The decision to install radiant heating splits between installing hydronic or electric radiant heating and the question on the homeowners' mind is which type will be more efficient, cost-effective, and the easiest to maintain? In an effort to explore these questions, here is our case for electric radiant heating.

Hydronic radiant heating works well if you already have a hydronic boiler, pumps, and valves and other related hydronic plumbing, however, the cost to install hydronic heating along with all of its necessary components tends to be very costly. Warming a bathroom floor will be much faster, easier, and wallet-friendly using electric floor heating, because extensive construction may be required in order to install a hydronic radiant heating system. Hydronic systems are not maintenance-free and there are moving parts that can wear out and fail. In the future, a professional will need to be called in to make any repairs, big or small. In comparison, electric systems are virtually maintenance-free without the risk of leaking or eroding hydronic pumps.

So beyond the intensive maintenance and high installation cost, many people choose electric heating for the quick heat up time. Electric heating systems are placed above the sub-floor, just under the flooring material so that the heat can rise, usually within 30 to 60 minutes, this compares favorably to water-based alternatives which are often placed 1.5" or 2" into a cement slab and can take up to 7 hours to heat up when they are first turned ON.

On the other hand, hydronic heating takes longer to warm up overall, and because of this, many people simply leave their water-based systems ON for months at a time, which consumes energy over a far longer period. This coupled with the thermostats that allow you to preset ON-OFF cycles to provide heat only when and where you need it makes electric systems the more energy efficient.

Here are some other reasons that you may prefer to go electric:

  • Floor elevation - Thin electric systems will elevate the floor by only 1/8" compared to adding a couple of inches to your floor’s elevation when you add water-based systems.
  • Cost - When dealing with remodeling jobs and smaller bathrooms, it’s most likely that installation costs, maintenance costs and operating costs will all be lower using an electric floor heating system rather than a water-based one. The $2000 price quoted is a bit high. The floor heating materials in many average bathrooms can be sourced for around $500, plus electrician fees (final hook-up and circuit installation if needed).

The sheer ease of installation, along with the more attractive cost and non-existent maintenance fees make electric floor heating systems a natural choice over their water-based, or hydronic, counterparts in many cases. For more on electric radiant heating, visit our Radiant Heating Knowledge Center and review an excellent article written by Angie's List called, "Radiant Heating: Pros and Cons for Your Bathroom Floor."

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