Untangling Tiny: Radiant Heat
Radiant heat is all the rage these days. Everyone seems to be talking about it. You’ve seen them– the men in suede oxfords and round tortoise reading glasses huddled around Carrara marble bistro tables. They converse endlessly about the effectiveness of radiant heat while sipping caffe au laits. All after, of course, debating the best shaving brush fiber on the market. Boar or badger?
Radiant heat is a new method of heating that is gaining traction. It is designed to keep the floors of a home warm, essentially heating the space from the bottom up. Quite unorthodox, right? But heating your floors doesn’t sound so crazy when you live in 90 square feet. Is radiant heat an effective method for heating a tiny house? We’ll see about that.
Having heated floors seems so luxurious to me. I always imagine my grown-up self in silky pajamas walking across warm tiles in an elegant bathroom while sipping lavender tea, but that’s just me. So when I came across radiant heat in my research, it sounded quite counter-intuitive. One sacrifices so much in an effort to live “organically”, and then turns around and proceeds to complain about cold feet? Something didn’t sound right. But by now, I think I’ve untangled the mystery surrounding radiant heat. Here’s what I’ve got so far…
Radiant heat is produced by a system of small pipes that run under or sometimes within the floor boards of a house. A boiler or hot-water heater is used to heat and pump water through the pipes. This warms the floors, releasing heat that concentrates in the lower part of a room.
With typical heating systems, after hot air is blown into the room, the heat quickly rises. This leaves the bottom portion of the room, where people spent more of their time, chilly. And you know the drill… turn up the thermostat, wait, feel warm air, get cold again, turn up the thermostat, wait, feel warm air, get cold again, and turn up the thermostat. You are then left with a pretty nauseating heating bill and a runny nose.
Starting to see where this is going? I was surprised too.
With the heat generated beneath the floorboards, your feet will be warmed almost instantly. Typically, your body will begin to warm up too if your feet are nice and toasty. As hot water continues to circulate below your feet, you’re less likely to become cold again like you would with a traditional heating system.
With a traditional system the heat rises too quickly, robbing you of the warm air you payed for. You end up wasting money reheating the room every half hour. A radiant heat system allows you to keep the heat a little lower than usual, which saves money. This is because the heat the system produces is used more effectively, and eliminating the “re-heating issue”.
A radiant heat system will generally cost from $6 to $12 per square foot plus a water boiler which could run you from $4,500 to $7,000. A traditional heating and cooling system costs about $4.75 per square foot. Yes, at first glance it looks like the traditional system is more cost effective, but remember, the heat will have to be set at a higher temperature and run more often.
So I think we’ve come to a conclusion that radiant heat is an effective and monetarily responsible way to heat a home. But before we can say that radiant heat is better for a tiny house than a traditional heating system, it’s important to research real testimonials of tiny home owners who use radiant heat.
Macy Miller (pictured above) is an architect by trade. She built a beautiful tiny house some years back almost completely on her own. She sells blueprints of tiny houses for enthusiasts to use as a sort of skeleton in designing their own tiny houses. She keeps a blog entitled MiniMotives that archives her whole experience while also sharing tips and tricks she’s learned along the way.
In her post about radiant heat, she ultimately concludes that there are better ways to heat a tiny house that are cheaper and more effective than radiant heat. It should be noted that Macy used electric-powered radiant heat instead of hydro-powered radiant heat (or hot water-powered). The concept is the same, but the radiant heat system is heated electrically instead of with hot water. She has a good point in her decision to bypass the hydro option. She explains that electric-powered radiant heat seemed more fitting for a tiny house, as the foundation is not built to be 100% stable. This allows for some “give” when transporting your tiny house via car. With all the movement the tiny house could experience if it were to be transported, hydro didn’t seem like a good idea. A pipe could crack or break, and then we’ve got big problems on our hands. Her ultimate conclusion is this, “In a small house, especially one with two doors there is a lot of thermal bridging where the thresholds meet the floor. There isn’t enough square feet to make up for that deficit, at least in my place. This makes for a cold space unless heated (paid for) in winter.”
From what I’ve researched, radiant heat seems like an effective method for heating a traditional home. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for a tiny house. Macy is an expert on tiny houses, and I think she has a great point. It doesn’t seem like there is enough square footage in a tiny house to offset the cost of radiant heat and actually save you money. So, stick to traditional methods of heating, use high quality insulation and windows, keep the door shut as often as you can, and wear socks.
Radiant heat, untangled.
Macy’s Blog: minimotives.com