Radiant heat utilizes a warm surface to directly heat people and objects in your home unlike most electric heating systems that distribute heat by circulating warm air.
Radiant electric heating systems are usually located in the ceiling or floor. Each radiant heating unit is equipped with a separate thermostat, making it easy to heat just the rooms you use. This zone-heating strategy is an excellent way to reduce heating costs. Proponents of radiant heat claim that it can provide superior comfort to electric baseboard heaters or heat pumps, while allowing lower indoor temperatures and saving up to 30 percent on heating costs.
The most common types of electric radiant heat utilize either electric heating cables imbedded in concrete floors, electric heating cables imbedded in plaster ceilings, gypsum ceiling panels with factory-imbedded heating cables, or radiant panels which attach to the ceiling. The radiant heating panels are probably the quickest-recovery heating devices commonly used in residential buildings. If occupants turn the radiant panels on and off as they enter and leave rooms, they may consume the least energy of any electric heating system. And, unlike other heating systems, radiant panels occupy no interior space, requiring no mechanical room and allowing complete freedom to place furniture.
Radiant heat has some disadvantages, too. Some homeowners with radiant ceiling heat complain about their heads being too warm, or that fluctuating room temperatures are uncomfortable. And if you always need heat in every room of your home, you won’t be taking advantage of radiant heat’s zone-heating benefits.
One of the most effective uses of radiant electric heat is in locations where only occasional heat is needed, such as in a shop or vacation cottage. But like any type of electric heat it must be carefully controlled to prevent high energy bills.
Like all electric heat, radiant panel heating can be expensive. However its careful use can result in low energy bills.
See The Homeowners Handbook to Energy Efficiency or Residential Energy: Cost Savings and Comfort for Existing BuildingsChapter 6 for more information. For professional information about heating systems and energy efficiency see Saturn Hydronic Systems Field Guide.