Concrete Floor Radiant Heating Types, Benefits, Installation Tips

How and why to install concrete floor radiant heating. Radiant floor heat in concrete slabs for your home or driveway heating.

Types and benefits

There are two types of concrete floor radiant heating systems; one is using a large thermal mass of a concrete slab floor while the other lightweight slab over a wooden subfloor.

Concrete radiant heating is the great option as the main heating system; it is the cheapest, saves the energy and it provides healthier and comfortable living. It is a perfect solution for residential homes.

The temperature of the radiant floor heating in slabs is consistent and easy to control, there are no drafts and uncomfortable air blowing into your face.

In hydronic heating, hot water circulates through the heating pipes so these are known as "wet installations".

Electric heating can also be used in radiant heating, and it is cost-effective as long as it heats the thick concrete floor, with the affordable electricity rates, of course. A thicker floor will store the heat longer and make your house comfortable for hours without any further electrical input.

Radiant heat in concrete slabs is retained so the open doors or large windows will not affect the temperature inside your home as much as with the forced air heating systems. Concrete floor with the high density (high R-value) insulation placed below the slab makes the floor one big radiator.

Installing concrete floor radiant heating

The best time to install concrete floor heating is when installing a concrete slab.

Why?

Installing a concrete floor radiant heating is not a hard DIY project, but it needs some skills, knowledge and the right tools. This is also known as the slab-on-grade installation.

Here is the video example: How to Install Radiant Floor Heat Tubing in a Slab On Grade.

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If you are already paying for the installation of the slab, a recommendation is to install the floor heating also, since the only cost is adding very affordable PEX tubing, plus labor of course.

In this case, when installing the concrete floor heating for the whole house, there will be no need to buy pipes or heaters that will occupy your valuable home space.

PEX tubing is the best option for the installation and once installed inside the concrete slab, it has to be protected against the damage and transport the hot water freely.

During the installation of the concrete floor radiant heating, the reinforcement wire mesh should be positioned properly in the slab area and prior to pouring the concrete. Polyethylene vapor barrier and the insulation are also needed for the efficient heat distribution. PEX tubing is then attached either with the wire ties or special clips. The idea is to secure the tubing, and the best will be to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

PEX tubing will be looped inside the concrete floor and the spacing between the loops will provide more or less heat. The recommendation is to keep the loops one foot apart to make the bending easier and provide the unobstructed hot water flow.

The depth inside the concrete slab at which you will lay the PEX tubing will also determine are you going to use hot water with the higher or lower temperature and how long does it take to heat the floor. The recommended concrete slab thickness should be between 4 and 6 inches.

The location for the most efficient and safest installation is somewhere in the middle of the concrete slab and installation should be without any joints. Use the full length of the tubing whenever you can as there is always a possibility of leakage where the joints are.

With or without joints, new floor radiant heating system should be checked before concrete is poured, to see are there any defects in the system. This is done by using the air pressure of 50 psi, and the tubing must maintain the pressure for 24 h without leaking.

Covering for the radiant floor heating

Covering that goes on the cement floor also has a great impact on the heat transfer. Tile floor, for example, has much better heat transfer than the carpet. Installing the insulation under the subflooring can control the efficiency of the radiant heating. The recommendation is to buy and install the insulation with the R-value that is greater than the R-value of the floor covering, so heat can go up, not below.

Installing the thin-slab floor radiant heating system

Thin-slab concrete floor radiant heating is a better choice than the above solution. If you already have an existing concrete floor, a radiant heating system is installed above the larger slab. On the wooden flooring, you can pour the thin slab of concrete over the PEX tubing, allowing retrofitting over existing concrete floor and without raising the floor height significantly.

PEX tubing is secured to the wood subflooring, not to the reinforcing wire as in the example above. The height of the thin-slab of concrete is usually 1.5 inches or 38 mm so the tubing must be installed tightly to the floor to prevent protrusion through the concrete.

The thick concrete slab system, due to its high heat capacity, is perfect for storing the heat from solar heating systems, which are having the fluctuating heat output. The disadvantage of the thick concrete floor radiant heating systems is their slow thermal response time.

› Concrete floor radiant heating systems

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