Is in-floor heat right for you?

Determine whether you'd like to install hydronic radiant in-floor heating in a new home or retrofit your current floors.

By Jessica Ross


Toasty-warm floors feel great underfoot. But how does a hydronic radiant in-floor heating system stack up to other heating methods?

What are the major advantages of hydronic radiant in-floor heating?

  • It puts the heat where you are. You’ll feel the heat through the floor everywhere in the room.
  • You can avoid installing ductwork or radiators, which both take up space and restrict how you arrange your furniture. “It’s invisible—your floors become your radiators,” says Ron Robinson, a hydronic specialist with Oakville, Ont.-based Atlas Care.
  • It’s cleaner than a forced-air system because you aren’t blowing dust around.
  • It’s efficient. While it’s difficult to compare precisely, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) notes that hydronic radiant in-floor heating doesn’t heat the entire room space, focusing instead on the floor level up. Rooms or zones can be controlled independently. “You can save money by keeping certain rooms cool,” Robinson says.
  • Because in-floor heating is considered a premium heating method, it may add to the resale value of your home. Check with a local real estate agent for input on the return you might get from such an investment.

Are there any disadvantages or tradeoffs?
It’s just a heating system, not a full HVAC system. You may need to install other equipment, such as a wall-pack AC system and a heat-recovery ventilator. Robinson concedes, “It does add to the cost of an overall mechanical system, whereas forced-air systems combine both heating and cooling.”

How does a hydronic in-floor heating system work? What are the key components?
A heat source warms up water. (Usually, that’s a boiler; but, in some small installations, a hot-water heater certified for space heating can be used.) That warm water is then circulated through pipes in the floors via a circulation pump. A thermostat allows you to control the water temperature by zone or room.

What’s in those pipes?
According to Robinson, most residential hydronic systems use water, but a glycol solution, which freezes at a much lower temperature than water, should be used in seasonal homes or cottages. (The freezing point of the glycol solution depends on the concentration of glycol used.)

Could the system leak?
What types of warranties are typically offered?
Of a typical hydronic installation with PEX (which is “cross-linked polyethlene” pipe), Robinson says, “We’ve never had a leak. Properly designed, installed, maintained— we’ve never had leaks.” If your home will go unheated for more than a week in subzero conditions, you may want to drain the hydronic system as you would other plumbing systems. The pipes should come with a 25-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects. Other parts of the system may have differing warranties.

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May. 19, 2014

9:43 am

Also see for infloor heating installer.


May. 19, 2014

9:43 am

See also for a Canadian installer of infloor heating solutions.


Jul. 17, 2012

1:03 pm

You may also want to check out Radiant Link by Embodied Energy. It basically uses the heat from a furnace to supply the hydronic system. This has the advantage of not requiring a complex boiler package, it also provides the ventilation for the house with the same unit, it can be easily added to an existing furnace system and if using a high efficiency furnace, it gives the high efficiency of a condensing boiler without the cost.

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