Radiant Floor Heating: Electric vs. Hydronic



Are you thinking about incorporating radiant floor heating into your home remodel? In temperate climates like the Bay Area, many homeowners decide to install an in-floor heating system because it provides a comfortable, even heat source without relying on forced air.

Benefits of radiant floor heating include:

  • Better air quality
  • Quiet heating system
  • No visible radiators, ducts, or holes
  • Increased comfort
  • Increased energy efficiency in some cases


Hydronic vs. Electric Radiant Floor Heating

When considering radiant floor heating for your home, there are two popular types to consider: electric and hydronic. In this post we will break down the pros and cons of each with particular consideration of cost and energy efficiency.

Electric Radiant Floor Heating

If you want to heat a small zoned space like a single bedroom or bathroom, electric in-floor heating is usually the best choice. These radiant floors are powered by electric cables or mats of electrically conductive plastic built in to the floor. Because it does not rely on hot water, this system integrates well with homes that use forced air heating.

Electric wiring for heat system

Benefits of electric radiant floor heating include:

  • The installation process is simple and ideal for remodel projects
  • Labor costs are minimal
  • On-demand heating is zoned for specific rooms
  • Heating can run on a timer

Electric radiant floor heating also has a few drawbacks:

  • Uses a large amount of electricity
  • More expensive energy bill
  • Difficult to install in big spaces or whole house
  • Primarily designed for comfort, not as primary heating source

Electric underfloor heating mat

Overall, radiant in-floor heating is great for bathrooms and small spaces, especially in homes that do not have a hot water heater. It is affordable and simple to install, making it a popular choice for home remodelers.

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating


Pipes for hydronic radiant floor heating


Another method for in-floor heating relies on hot water instead of electricity. This mode of heating has been used since ancient Roman times. Hydronic radiant heating is ideal for homeowners that like consistent heat year round, as it operates very efficiently and keeps the home at a consistent, comfortable temperature.

Hydronic systems are ideal for homes that already use a water heater as that energy can be efficiently diverted into the floor. In hydronic radiant floor systems, heated water is pumped from a boiler through a network of tubing underneath the floor.



Concrete floor being poured & finished


Benefits of hydronic radiant floor heat include:

  • Floor slab becomes one big heated mass for gentle, pleasant warmth
  • Structure of the house holds in heat
  • Heat remains constant for long periods of time
  • Once mass of home has reached desired temperature, minimal energy is required to maintain it
  • No visible heating ducts
  • Energy savings

Disadvantages of hydronic in-floor heating:

  • Labor costs for installation are higher than electric systems
  • System is more complex and not ideal for small scale remodels
  • Not ideal for homeowners that like to turn heat on and off at different times of day



To get some ballpark numbers for homeowners to consider, we called our go-to expert for radiant floor heating systems: Nicholas Donzelli at Green Air.

Electric Radiant Floor Heating

According to Green Air, electric can be cheaper by up to 60% depending on the system’s size and available circuits. To incorporate electric radiant floor heating into one small room (ie. 10x10ft bathroom) during a remodel project, labor and material will add between $1,800-2,500 to the total project cost. However, in the long run, the fuel source (electricity) will be far more expensive than that of hydronic systems. A great way to balance that cost is through solar energy.

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating

In homes that already use a boiler, hydronic systems from Green Air are 50-60% cheaper than electric. In that case the most expensive heat source is already in place (boilers can cost around $4,000), so it makes sense to use the mass of the home to help distribute that energy. However, if the home has no existing hot water boiler, a whole house hydronic system can start at $12,000 for material and installation. Fortunately the high efficiency boiler uses very little gas to keep the house warm over time, thus the home’s energy bill will not be dramatically increased.

Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to go with electric or hydronic radiant underfloor heating, you won’t regret the extra comfort. In the chilly temperate climate of San Francisco, the improved air quality and nice consistent warmth of radiant in-floor heating makes the home an enjoyable place to spend time.

What features are you looking for in a heating system? If you have radiant floor heating, which type did you choose and how is it working out for you? Share your experiences in the comments below!