Radiant Heat Systems

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Hi BPN,

    We are looking to replace carpeting with wood flooring in two small offices in our built out basement. I want to add hydronic radiant floor heating because we won’t have the warmth from the carpet to offset the freezing concrete. It also gets cold downstairs, so I was hoping the radiant heating would help offset the overall chill. My questions: does anyone have a recommendation for a floor guy or gal with radiant heating experience? Does anyone have radiant heating and have an opinion on whether this makes sense (we will probably do the same thing to the large family room if the smaller rooms work out well)? Any other thoughts or considerations? Thanks!

    I grew up in an Eichler with radient heating and absolutely hate it. It takes forever to heat up and cool down. If there's an issue with it you have to rip up your floors. If you have a functioning HVAC system I wouldn't mess with it. Invest in cozy, warm slippers instead. However,  my experience is with a system installed in the 60s, newer systems might work better.

    We have radiant heating and I wouldn't say that it makes the floors noticibly warm. It is just a different way to heat the space (as opposed to blowing hot air around, etc). If what you really want is a warm floor, then you'll need good insulation below and thick rugs will help regardless of the heat source. We like our radiant floors but it was (at the time) more of an environmental decision than a comfort one. However, now that heat pumps are on the market it's important to note that we're still a few years out from having a really usable heat pump for radiant flooring so you will be using a gas boiler which is considerably less sustainable.

    I recently visits Carmel Valley Manor that has radiant heat in some floors in bathrooms, noticeably warm for your feet, and you can set the temperature and time of day it goes on. It was pretty nice, and I would guess they'd let you know what company/product they used. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Hydronic Radiant Heat Contractor Recommendations

March 2014

We're in the process of buying a Victorian in West Oakland that needs a heating system. We'd like to install hydronic radiant heat, either in floor or wall or a combination of the two. Looking for recent recommendations for contractors. Thanks! Sarah

Once again We highly recommend for Tom Petersen of ATP Plumbing. We were very happy with the work he did for us on our Albany remodel. He almost entirely re-plumbed our house. They also installed a radiant heating system that includes a concrete slab that's approximately 1000 sq. feet and another 800 sq. feet or so under existing hardware floors. In addition to all the heating, the Munchkin boiler they installed also heats the tank that supplies the household hot water. we've always found him to be very responsive, honest and thorough. He's in Berkeley and you can reach him at 510-928-8807. Jack

We have a combined hydronic air handler (gets its heat from the water that was already being heated in our water heater) with a ducted heating system that was put in by Eco Performance Builders (http://epbuilders.com). We worked with co- owner Keith O'Hara (he owns the company with his brother) and we can't say enough great things about EPB. We've had the system for about three years and are still thrilled with it. It is completely silent. Our house is all one temperature (no hot and cold spots, no need to close off parts of the house) and our heating bills are cheaper than they were before we got the system. Fixing our heating issue in our home has really been life changing, as we couldn't enjoy our house before (except in summer). We didn't go with the radiant option, but (from EPB's website): 'We specialize in combined hydronic air handlers, heat pumps, ductless mini splits, sealed combustion furnaces and some radiant systems. We have been installing these systems with great success in the bay area since 1997.' I like that EPB works with more than one heating option, as well as other home efficiency products because this allowed them to look at our house as a whole and pick a heating option that worked best for us, rather than just sell us the one and only product they sell, like the other heating companies we talked to. Warm and Toasty

Hello, I'm glad to hear that you are considering using radiant heating for your Vic. I have a 189?yo Vic here in Berkeley that is now heated solely by radiant heating. I did the install myself using information I gleaned from the internet. I would suggest that you look up Radiantec (www.radiantec.com)I decided to go with their system for several reasons, mainly that it made sense. I'm a engineer with knowledge of plumbing and boiler systems, and appreciated their point of view. When I first started my project, which was over 15 years ago, Hydronic heating, at least here in CA, was pretty rare. So I did alot of research and felt that a system could be built into a 100+yo house that would work. If your house is much like mine, which I'm guessing it maybe, if you have the interest, you could do this yourself. If you'd like to talk more about this feel free to contact me. As to contractors, I have no idea, as I'm not sure unless you are interested in spending $$$ you will find one who know what to do. Sorry.

2010 - 2012 Advice

Radiant Heat Under Wood Floors?

Feb 2012

I'm wondering whether anyone has installed radiant heat throughout their house underneath the existing wood floors. I have original 90 year-old oak floors with a subfloor underneath and wondering if it's possible/worthwhile to have radiant heat installed. I currently do not have a heating system so I would be starting from scratch. If you have done this in your home, are you happy with how it is working? What was the approx cost/sq foot for installation? And what are the approx costs to run the heat? Any recommendations on installers, or other advice, things to consider? Thanks! wants warm toes

We have radiant heat under our wood floor and it's great! We installed a floating engineered wood floor on top of our wooden subfloor because real wood floor would shrink and expand too much with the temperature change, it is not recommended for use with radiant heat. With regular nail down wood floor there is also the danger of accidentally puncturing the pex tubing the water runs through.

The bid we got for our 960 sq ft home was over $23,000 and they tried to up sell us to get a bigger boiler than was needed. So we decided to do it ourselves with the help of a friend who is a professional electrician and also knows about plumbing. We spent about $8000 for supplies and probably couple more thousands on labor for our friend. The company we got the parts from is Cal Steam, it's local and they were very helpful. The boiler runs on gas, and we have set temperatures on the thermostat in the house, so the heat is only on when we are home. Our bill has been very low. Feel free to email me for more information. unomi

I built a photo studio with 300 square feet of radiant heat so pregnant ladies and babies could feel comfortable. I LOVED IT until I got the PG & E bill : 0 Look into efficiency ratings.... Reenie

Though I have not installed radiant heat underneath our own existing wood floors, I have designed a number of remodels which included this approach to heating. It is certainly possible, and it seems worthwhile because my clients have been quite happy with the results. We did one with radiators in some areas and in-floor tubing in other areas. I believe the cost in that case was in the range of $15-20 per sq.ft. depending on access and size. I don't know what it is costing her to run the heat, but I'm sure it is at least 25% less than forced-air. This is a very comfortable way to heat, for two main reasons: the heat is coming up from the floor you walk on, and it is nearly consistent heat (as opposed to forced-air). A forced air unit also stirs up the air each time it cycles into operation, causing asthmatic symptoms in some people. Radiant heat obviously does not. Another thing to consider is that radiant heat works very well with solar collection.

Sorry I missed the original question regarding radiant floor heating, but it is definitely the way to heat your house if possible. I've retrofitted my entire 1890's Berkeley Vic with radiant heating. I believe that my heating gas portion for the entire house (1500+/-sq.ft.) is around $160 per month when we have to heat. As for systems look into Radiantec out of New Hampshire. Their ideas and theories work. I've been heating my house now for about ten years with my self installed system. As for cost, I probably have about $5k, or less, in materials, plus my labor. Most significantly, DO not use a boiler, as most typically recommended. I use a gas DHW heater. I could go on for hours. Good luck, and love my toasty toes! Tim

Thinking of installing radiator heating system

March 2010

Hello. Our house, built in 1922, has no furnace. We are thinking about installing a radiator heating system. I would very much appreciate hearing from anyone who has installed such a system, if you are pleased with it and if you would recommend the installation company. Thanks a lot. anon

We installed radiant heating in our house--in the floor on the first level and with radiators on other levels. Eran Getraide was our contractor, and we recommend him very highly. His number is (510) 812-5207. He can come off as a little brusque sometimes, but he's a terrific guy and very nice to work with. He and his assistant are very conscientious and thorough. comfortably warm

2nd floor radiant heating?

Feb 2010

We're looking at adding a 2nd floor to our Craftsman Bungalow. We're considering using hydronic, radiant heating instead of forced air. We currently have forced air heating on the first floor, and will probably keep that. We know radiant's going to be more expensive, but thought that it might make for a more comfortable environment and better air quality.

We wanted to see if anyone has any advice (for or against) on whether or not to put radiant heating on a 2nd floor.

One builder told us that since the second floor has a heat source under it (i.e., the 1st floor), and with all the well-insulated windows, walls, ceilings that the new addition will have, radiant heating might not be worth it, since we won't need to run the heat that much. Anyone out there with a new 2nd addition (with forced air or with radiant heating) have any thoughts on that?

Thanks for your help! Katie

Katie, This can be very tricky. I have had one negative experience with a small (less than 500 sf) addition in the Berkeley Hills. The size of the unit, whether it is in-floor, under-floor or radiators, and the size of your addition are very important. Also important is whether you are heating your water with the same unit. (Btw, I have had lots of positive experiences with radiant floor systems.) Make sure you consult with an installer who has lots of experience. Because our addition was so small, the consultant thought it was a slam-dunk. Not so!!! Be careful. Andus H Brandt, Architect

2008 - 2009 Advice

Looking to have system installed

Jan 2009

Looking to have system installed and need a good referal for someone. Mathew

We put in radiant (love it!) and interviewed 3 or 4 different people -- we chose Alan Forbes, of Alan Forbes Plumbing, and we think he's just great. System works beautifully and he's been very available and quick to respond whenever we've had questions or needed anything else from him. His number is: 510-559-3575 isabel

Considering switching to radiant heat

May 2008

We are embarking on a house remodel, and we currently have a gas furnace. We are considering switching to radiant floor heating and/or air-to-air heat exchanger. I'm interested in hearing about any good or bad experiences with alternate heating systems. suzie

Two years ago we put in hydronic radiant heat. It was a hard sell for my husband because it was more expensive than a new forced air system, but now he loves it! Alan Forbes Plumbing did our system and I would recommend him. The heat itself is lovely -- our house always feels comfy cosy but there's no smell (or the parching dry air) like with our old forced air system. We put it in under an existing, quite old, wood floor and there are a lot of ''popping'' and cracking sounds when it first comes on as the boards expand/contract, but there doesn't seem to be any damage to the floor itself. It also seems to be very economical -- our winter heating bills are much lower than all our neighbors! Big Radiant Fan

Want to install new radiant heating system

April 2008

I want to install a radiant heating system in my house, anybody done that lateley? I have no clue who to turn to, and would appreceate any info, feetback or comments, and referals!!! Thank you Mia

When we installed radiant hydronic in our house a couple years ago we interviewed three or four different guys and went with Alan Forbes of Alan Forbes Plumbing (510) 559-3575. He's been *great*, we love our system and any time we've had any questions or needed anything he's been very quick to respond -- on the phone or in person, at our house if necessary. Can't say enough good stuff about Alan. (As a side note, our PG bills went way down with the radiant, so we feel it was worth the expense. Plus it just feels wonderful!) Radiant Enthusiasts

Radiant heat vs. forced air heating

Jan 2008

We are building a new house and are trying to decide how to heat our house. I really love the idea of radiant heating because it keeps your feet warm, the heat is more evenly distributed, and forced air blows dust, etc all over the house. My husband worries about not having a way to circulate air around the house and that radiant heat is only really good for tile/linoleum flooring. Can radiant heating be used effectively on carpeted floors? What about ease of maintenance/repair of a radiant heat system? I've read that radiant heat cannot be used for hard wood flooring, but we really want wood flooring in some parts of the house. Does it make sense to have part of the house heated with radiant heat and part of it with forced air, or would that be a wasteful, expensive option to install two different heating systems? anon

When we remodeled we put in radiant heat and we LOVE it. (Alan Forbes plumbing, terrific.) And we have wood floors! We all think we're getting less colds just from not being so dried out all winter from the forced air system we used to have, but who knows. What I do know for sure is that our PG bills are low, which is great. It probably doesn't make much sense to have radiant *and* forced air, but maybe you could do radiant and radiators all running off the same boiler? I don't know if that makes any sense either, probably the best person to talk to would be a radiant installer. We've had our system for two years now and it's been just terrific, and any time we've had any trouble or questions, Alan helped us out right away. I'd say give him a call and see what he thinks. I think this is still his # (we haven't had to call him for anything in while) Alan Forbes Plumbing: (510)452-2844 Love That Radiant Heat!

Bravo for you in considering radiant floor heating. Definitely go with RH if you can. About 8 years ago I installed a RH system in my 100yo home in Berkeley. Prior to that I had electric base board heaters in some of the rooms, a very comfortable heat, but expensive to use. Since you did not mention where your are building your new home you might have some different issues. First, RH is an incredibly comfortable heat, especially if you are a 'shoeless household''. It is great to get up in the morning and walk across the nice warm floor in your stockng feet. One issue is the mannor in which the house heats. With RH there is a significant delay if you want the house warmer . As for maintenance of the system that will really depend on how the system is designed and the components used. I use a domestic HW heater rather than a boiler. (inexpensive) I believe that most system mfgs. will tell you it is permissible to go with hardwood floors, and we have them here and so far I have not seen a problem. You might want to consider a back up/or booster system but that really depends. Also, you could go solar and virtually heat your house for free! The design of the house might change depending on which type of heating system you go with, so hopefully you are not too far in the design process. Do you need AC? That will need to be forced air. Lastly, get a copy of ''Fine Home building'' and contact the advertisers about their systems. I used Radiantec. Good luck, Contact me if you'd like Tim

2006 - 2007 Advice

Replace gravity heater w/ hydronic radiant system?

Nov 2007

As part of a long overdue kitchen remodel, we would like to replace our old gravity furnace system with a staple-up hydronic radiant system. Our home is two stories and apporx. 2500 sqft. I am wondering if you have: 1) Any counsel on a forced-air versus hydronic radiant system; 2) Any experience with a hydronic retrofit installation; 3) Recommendations re: contractors/installers? Grateful for any advice. ADA

Hydronic heating is definitely the way to go, but you need to understand how it works and the pluses and minuses. I installed it in my house and even avter gas rates have tripled, I still heat my 100 yro Vicfor around 130/mo in the winter. There are lots of systems out there but I installed a Radiantec styled system and think their ideas on boilers makes alot of sense. I could rant on for ever, if you want more info contact me. Good luck Tim

We replaced our home's heating system with hydronic radiant heat and we all LOVE it. It's on a timer so when you wake up in the morning, the floors aren't jarringly cold -- even the tiles in the bathroom are pleasant to bare feet. Our kids play on the floor a lot and it's a very comfy place to be. It's a subtle, slow heat -- you can't just crank it on and get warm fast, but it's lovely and comfortable, never drying or smelly like our old forced air. And it's much cheaper now! Our PG bills seem to be about a third of our neighbors. We used Alan Forbes Plumbing, and he's been terrific -- he has personally come out whenever we've needed him, and is just a swell guy to deal with. Radiantly Happy

Want a modern boiler & radiator system

Feb 2007

Are there recommendations/referrals for a Radiator - Boiler - Radiant heat installer or contractor? We want to replace our forced air gas furnace and ducting with a modern radiator and boiler system (one that has basebard radiators rather than under-the-floor heating). We have a small house, less than 1500 sq feet, but want to regain the space taken up by our current system. We're eager for recommendations on East Bay contractors or any advice from others who have installed similar systems Kathy

Your desire to install a radiant heating system is a great choice. I installed a system in our 100 yr. old Vic. here in Berkeley. Previously to that we had electric baseboard heating. Nice heat, but very expensive to operate. I'm wondering why you do not want to go under floor. The installation with 'radiators' will be somewhat simpler, but it will probably cost you more to operate this kind of system. If you have no access to the floor joist spaces, then it is really your only choice. One issue with radiators, is it takes much hotter input to acquire the amount of BTU's need to heat your space. For my house I am using my domestic hotwater heater for both domestic and heating needs. If I had gone the way of radiators, I'm not sure that I would have been able to do that as the heat output of a water heater is probably inadequate. You mentioned a boiler, there are issues with using boilers, which I will not go into here.

Also, sort of as a final note, when I designed my system PGE was pushing the use of natural gas, now that we have all gone that route it's ''OOPs, gee we do not have the capacity therefore we need to raise the rates!''. It is still less expensive to heat the house, but with the developement of solar power, you could install a system and then heat your house by (free/cheap??)electricity.Now with radiant, my bill have usually been 70-90$/mo. vs. 120-150$/mo with electric base boards. In Jan with the cold our bill was $112. As for contractors that do radiant here in the bay area, I do not know, but for materials and system help, pick up a copy of ''Fine home Building'' and look for the adds. Fell free to contact me if you have any questions. Good luck, Tim

Alan Forbes - see review below.
We Love our Radiant Heat

I do not have experience with switching systems, but do have a hydronic heater that I love. We have old cast iron (?) radiators throughout the house that put out a gentle, delicious heat.

I would recommend Pacific Piping, in the yellow pages under boiler repair, for any service you need. They may do new installs too. And unfortunately have to recommend against ever using Alaska Heating, as they really don't know what they are doing. anon

Earlier advice about radiant heat systems

May 2005

Does anyone have recommendations or information about installing electric under-floor radiant heating in just one room? I have dreams of a warm bathroom floor. The floor is small - I'd probably be heating about 12-15 square feet. It's currently got ceramic tile one it (12). So - any idea what it would cost to do the work (including re-tiling the floor)? Any recommendations on contractors? Experiences to relate? Thanks, Footsicles

I'm interested to hear if anyone has experience with NuHeat, an electric radiant heat system, or the like. The recommendations on the list are several years old, and all deal with water systems. Remodeller

Concerning radiant floor heating, Three years ago we remodeled our own bathroom, and put in radiant floor heating. It was a fun, easy and straightforward project. We bought the system from Art Tile on Broadway in Oakland. At the time there were two owners, both very helpful and supportive (Royal was one of the guys, I forget the other's name) We did out own measuring of the floor, they helped us figure out how much floor heat we would need for the space. Its basically a wire system webbed through a cotton netting that you shape to go around your toilet and tub etc. by making cuts in the cotton webbing. Its tacked into place and then you tile over it.

My husband wired the system himself, we have it on a timer, and all the components are in a cupboard so we don't have to look at any of the hardware. When we get up in the morning, the floor is toasty warm, every day can be set for a different time if you like.

We love our bathroom, had fun doing it, and I'd recommend it. My biggest suggestion is plan and read and plan and read some more. Good luck. CB

Dec 2004

We love our radiant heating, I can't describe how great it is to always be the right temperature. It was installed in a new slab on gade by Mark Fineau at MDF plumbing. He was effiecint and reasonably priced. The sytem is beautiful, literally a work of art. You can reach him at 510-508-6589 Susannah

August 2002

I'm interested in adding radiant-floor-heating to one room in my home (100 sq. ft). Does anyone have a recommendation for an installer/contractor? Cynthia

To Cynthia, who wanted referral for hydronics installer: Though he doesn't do installations, Alan Forbes of Forbes plumbing (ph. 510-452-2844) can give you information and a solid referral. He has done fabulous, thorough and reliable repairs on our radiant heating system. I would NOT go with J.W. Lunt, who is one of the bigger names in this area--my experience with him was that he was expensive, arrogant, didn't return calls, and said some things ''wouldn't work'', when Alan Forbes simply fixed it. Good luck. BTW, we love our radiant heating system. Joan

My husband Paul does hydronics. Company name is Pipeline Plumbing and the phone number is 510-658-1588. Leave a message and he will get back to you promptly. I promise. Lisa G

Radiant heat retrofit for older home?

Feb 2002

Has anyone done a radiant heat retrofit (the kind with polyethylene tubes that go underneath the floorboards) in their older home ? How has it worked for you? Would you do it again? Any advice re. boilers, components, installers, things you wish you had know before you started? In case it is helpful to know this, we have a 1908 bungalow with wood floors except in bathrooms and kitchen (vinyl and linoleum there), plus a second story addition which will need either baseboards or European flat panel radiators tied into the system. Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom! Katie

We just had our 1907 house retrofitted with radiant heat. We did not get the floor board units that you describe, but we did get 4 other types of units (including the flat panel units you describe and refurbished antique cast iron radiators) that met the needs of different parts of the house. Amazingly, the boiler for our entire house (appx 3500+ sq ft) is an incredibly efficient wall-hung unit that measures only 18 square by 36 tall -- very unobtrusive as it fits on the wall in our laundry room! The heat that the system provides is awesome -- very warm, absolutely no noise (or dust generation like a forced air system). Also, these are water radiator systems -- completely silent as opposed to those old clanky steam radiators you may have encountered in old buildings. We were challenged to pick from a very small handful of contractors (about 4 or 5 in Berkeley) that install radiant heat. But we were very pleased with our choice of Greg Ticehurst of Ticehurst Plumbing (843-0508). Getting radiant heat is more expensive than forced air (more labor I suppose? or less demand?), but I think it is a superb heating solution. There's a radiant heat contractor's resource in Berkeley that has a number of models on display (including the polyethylene tubes you mentioned). While generally, they're a contractor's resource, you can probably just peruse their showroom and ask a few questions to educate yourself: Hydronic Specialties Company 800-786-6847 http://h-s-c.com (I know that's the correct link, but it seemed to be down just now when I checked it). Brian

The url for Hydronic Specialties Company is http://www.2hsc.com/. They are located at 1051 Folger Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. David