When it comes to maintaining a target temperature, a traditional forced-air system leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, by operating in a cyclical, stop-and-start pattern, forced-air heating makes temperature swings the norm. Second, there's the fact that warm air rises. So when furnace-heated air enters a room, it quickly flies up to the ceiling. Contrast that with in-floor heating, which concentrates warmth where you can actually feel it. By steadily transmitting thermal radiation (not warm air) into the space, in-floor panels provide even, "everywhere" warmth across the entire square footage of a space.
Forced-air heating systems are so common that when people complain in general about the high cost of heating, they are often—without necessarily knowing it—specifically criticizing forced air. There's more than one reason why forced air tends to bring higher bills, but a primary explanation is that such systems depend on ductwork, and ducts are notoriously leaky. Because it's duct-free, in-floor heating operates at least 25 percent more efficiently. That's a meaningful difference considering that climate control accounts for 50 to 75 percent of the energy used in the average home.
The Sound of Silence
Baseboards tick. Radiators hiss. And when a forced-air system switches from off to on, it can sound like an airplane roaring down the runway. In today's world, silence isn't easy to come by. That must be why, when shopping for household appliances like dishwashers, we seek out the quietest models. In the past, homeowners didn't have the same expectations for heating systems, but that's changing. As much as homeowners appreciate the comfort and efficiency benefits of in-floor heating, some value its quietness even more. It doesn't just make less noise—it operates silently.
Unlike other heating systems, in-floor systems call no attention to themselves. They are not only silent, but also totally invisible. That's a new concept. Traditionally, heating systems have included components—whether radiators, baseboards, or vents—in the conditioned rooms. In-floor heating, by contrast, doesn't encroach at all into the living space. With its panels hidden out of the way, beneath the floor, you are free to outfit your space as you wish. You don't even have to look at—let alone arrange furniture around—any clunky, space-hogging, or unsightly heating components.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Over time, forced-air ducts collect and harbor no small quantity of impurities, ranging from allergy-inducing dust to illness-causing germs. As a forced-air system operates, those particulates become airborne, blowing directly into the living spaces of your home. For people concerned with home health, in-floor heating represents a breath of fresh air. Because it involves zero ductwork, the technology does nothing to diminish indoor air quality. If you normally spend the winter suffering in red-eyed, scratchy-throated discomfort, make no mistake—in-floor heating equals relief.
The performance of an in-floor heating system depends largely on the quality of its radiant panels, with different manufacturers favoring different materials. Some continue to rely on gypsum concrete, which was a staple in earlier generations of the technology. Concrete comes with one major drawback—it's sluggish. That limitation led system makers like Warmboard to embrace aluminum instead, because the metal conducts heat 232 times better. That way, if you adjust the thermostat, Warmboard responds almost instantaneously so you don't have to postpone your comfort.
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