Is Underfloor heating better than Radiators? 

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Heating system photo created by senivpetro –

When you undertake a home improvement or new build project, there are never-ending decisions and choices you’ve to make. One of those decisions is determining whether to choose underfloor heating Vs radiant heating as your heating system. However, before you get there, you’ve got to ask yourself; is underfloor heating better than radiators? 

In the past, radiant heating would have been the go-to option for heating your home. But in recent years, this conventional heating solution seems to be getting stiff competition from UFH (Underfloor Heating) systems. Underfloor heating is becoming increasingly popular in various regions, thanks to its unrivaled comfort and luxury. 

However, when choosing between radiators and underfloor, several factors come into play including design practicalities and ease of installation. Besides, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to choosing a heating system for your home. So, read on to determine whether it’s worth installing a UFH system or if you should just keep existing radiators in your home! 

What’s a radiator? 

Usually made from aluminum, steel, or cast iron, most modern radiators have 2 panels that are connected by side panels and a top grille. In addition, they have convector fins fitted between the 2 layers to create an airflow that distributes heat throughout the room. More importantly, this kind of heating system warms the surrounding air through convection, causing the heated air to ascend towards the ceiling. When the air cools, it goes back down, where it’s reheated the radiator’s convection, thus creating a floor of cool and warm air around the room. 

What’s underfloor heating? 

As the name suggests, underfloor heating transforms your floor surface into a radiant heat emitter. There are various types of underfloor heating systems including electric and water-based (hydronic) systems. 

A water-based UFH system comprises a network of pipes laid beneath your home’s floor surface. When these systems are turned on, warm water flows through the pipe, warming the floor surface above. 

On the other hand, an electric/ dry UFH system runs off your home’s electric supply. It consists of heated cables, either embedded into a heating mat or in lobster wire form, laid beneath the floor surface. Like hydronic systems, these systems heat the floor above when they’re switched on. 

Comparison: Radiant heating Vs Underfloor heating 

1. Heat distribution 

Your choice of a heating system will determine how heat is distributed throughout your house. As already mentioned, underfloor heating generates radiated heat that makes you feel warm.

 On the contrary, radiators heat the surrounding air through convection. As a result, the heated air rises towards the ceiling where it cools down and falls back to the ground to be heated by the convection from the radiator again. This creates a flow of cold and hot air, which can lead to the issue of cold and hot spots across the room. Simply put, areas that are close to the radiator will feel warmer compared to other areas in the room. 

That said, radiators and underfloor heating distribute heat differently. Underfloor heating ensures uniform heat distribution, while radiator systems cause uneven heat distribution. This causes some areas to be overheated while others take much longer to heat with a radiator. Consequently, cold and hot spots develop across the room, which can reduce desired comfort levels. 

2. Comfort & Efficiency 

Heat distribution also plays an important role in determining the comfort and efficiency of a heating system. Radiators heat objects directly and maintain the natural room humidity, while convection of warm air reduces humidity in the room, making the heated space feel stuffy. 

Similarly, if the entire floor is heated through UFH systems, heat will be spread out uniformly across the room. However, conventional heating via radiators heats one area at first and takes some time to circulate to reach the desired comfort levels. At the same time, the rising air temperature heated by radiators can cause overheating and discomfort. This can in turn minimize oxygen levels and ultimately cause breathing problems if the surrounding air is too warm. 

In terms of efficiency, there are some key factors you need to consider when comparing radiators vs underfloor heating. 

First, underfloor heating works at a temperature of about 35 deg C, while radiators work at temperatures of up to 70 – 90 deg C. Therefore, UFH systems run at lower temperatures than radiators, making them more energy efficient. In addition, you can boost the efficiency of your underfloor heating even more by pairing it with a heat pump. 

Another factor you need to consider when choosing a radiator or underfloor heating system is the thermal performance of the building material. If heat is leaking out through insulated floors, walls, or roofs, whether you choose a radiator or UFH to heat your home will not matter. So, remember to ensure that your home is well-insulated to increase the efficiency of your heating system. 

3. Speed 

One downside of underfloor heating is that it takes more time to heat up compared to a radiator. Specifically, a UFH system can take about 1 – 2 hours to thoroughly heat the room, while a radiator only takes 20 – 30 minutes. In addition, radiant heating takes longer to cool than radiators. However, you can program your UFH to heat around the clock to ensure that the room never goes below 16 deg C. That way you don’t have to wait for the system to heat up when you’re at home. 

4. Installation

Installing a new radiator is a relatively straightforward task since you only need to fit it to a wall. And if you’re replacing an existing unit, the task will only take a few hours. Best of all, the new radiator will be ready to go in no time, once you secure all the connections. However, if you are installing a different unit, such as replacing a conventional horizontal unit with a vertical radiator, you may require more time to find the best position for the system. 

Contrarily, underfloor heating system installation can be a bit difficult, depending on the scenario. For instance, installing UFH in a new build is straightforward since you can fit it before you lay the screed or final flooring material. But if you’re retrofitting underfloor heating to an existing floor, it can be messy, costly, and time-consuming since you’ll need to dig up the floor. 

Another thing worth mentioning is that electric underfloor heaters are easier to install compared to other water-based counterparts. All in all, you’ve to adequately prepare the subfloor and wait for the sacred layer to dry before you lay the floor finish. The bottom line, radiators have the edge over UFH when it comes to ease and speed of installation. 

5. Running Costs 

Your monthly utility bills are influenced by the kind of heating system you’re using as well as the thermal performance of your home. Generally speaking, the running costs of underfloor heating and radiators are comparable. Nonetheless, UFH systems that have a higher efficiency level can be more than 25 percent more efficient than radiators, leading to more energy savings. 

In addition, your monthly bills for underfloor heating will depend on the kind of system you install. In that regard, water-based UFH systems have higher initial installation costs than electric systems. However, electric systems have much higher running costs than water-based systems. The same case applies to electric radiators compared to units powered by a gas boiler since the cost of electricity is greater than the price of gas. 

Overall, the initial cost of installing an underfloor heater is likely to be higher than that of installing a radiator. However, if the UFH system is efficient, it will help you accomplish long-term savings over time. 

6. Aesthetics 

Underfloor heating systems do not take up any floor space since they’re embedded with the floor surface. For that reason, they’re more suitable for decorating your home than radiators. Bulky radiators, on the other hand, tend to take up space in the room and get in the way, thus affecting your home’s decor. This can be particularly problematic in small areas like bathrooms where you need every inch to make the most out of the room. Also, this can be restraining in retail facilities, where the space is needed to display goods & products. 

7. Longevity 

A robust and reliable radiator can provide a service life of about 8 – 10 years. And with proper maintenance, the unit can last for more than 15 years. All in all, frequent use subjects radiators to wear and tear, thus affecting their efficiency level over time. Regular maintenance will prevent the buildup of substances like dirt and rust, helping to extend the radiator’s lifespan. 

Interestingly, the piping of wet UFH systems can last for over 50 years. However, it’s important to ensure that the system undergoes regular professional servicing and maintenance. 

8. Hygiene 

Radiators tend to attract and accumulate dust and other particles. Not to forget that they’re very difficult to clean in and between. More notably, they use convection to circulate heat as well as dust particles around the room. Therefore, radiators are not the most hygienic option since they promote the movement of dust and allergens. This can lead various health issues to anyone suffering from allergic conditions or asthma. 

On the other hand, UFH systems generate radiant heat, which helps to keep the movement of dust particles around the room to a minimum. Similarly, underfloor heating keeps the air moisture at a minimum, thus depriving the common house dust mite. 

Which is better; an Underfloor heating system or a Radiator?

Overall, underfloor heating seems to win on several aspects including energy efficiency, comfort, and long-term cost. However, choosing between underfloor heating and radiators usually depends on your needs and lifestyle. For instance, if you own a modern, well-insulated house, a UFH system may be the best heating option for you in terms of efficiency. But if you live in an older home, a radiator might be the best fit due to its higher temperature output. Alternatively, you can combine both radiators and UFH systems, depending on your lifestyle. 

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