When choosing a heating system for your new-build or renovation, you may want to consider radiant heating systems for its eco-friendly benefits. Radiant heat is most commonly used as an underfloor heating system that utilizes tubing to run heated water under your floorboards, concrete or tile floors. 

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While many countries have been relying on these systems for decades, the Romans who were ahead of their time invented this modern day building practice. They used a system called hypocaust to heat floors and bath houses used not only for hygiene, but also for relaxation and socializing. 

Related: Gradient offers cooling and heating with a lower energy footprint

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was first to introduce this concept in America, but we’re only recently seeing it start to gain more traction than its forced-air rival, which uses large amounts of fossil fuels to generate the heat. The initial installation costs are often higher than a forced air system, but like solar, it pays off in the long run.

Forced air and radiator heat sources have long been criticized for its inefficiency of heat retention, escaping easily through doors and windows drastically affecting the bottom line on your utility bills during the cold months. This retention factor is also referred to as the R-value and “green” building codes are requiring higher R-values in new builds to reduce our carbon footprint. 

The skyline view of Rome

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

The Romans have been credited with inventing ancient technologies we still use in our modern day lives. And some of these inventions are still being employed in the green building movement. 

While concrete might be considered a modern invention for large industrial buildings, the Romans actually had their own version made with a mixture of volcanic ash, lime and water used for building homes and roads. We can thank them for the roads we use every day and even flushing toilets and underground sewage systems.

Cement is now considered a climate-friendly material used in construction. It’s often employed in areas subject to heavy hurricane seasons as it can withstand greater wind-force gales than wood. Wood may be cheaper to build with, but the more resilient features that cement offers from the elements makes the Romans ahead of the curve in their ecological invention.

On the other hand, aqueducts are structures used to deliver water from a river or lake to a city miles away from its water source. This ancient technology attributed to the Romans is still in use today and its use of gravity makes them a low impact, environmentally-sound water delivery system.

Cozy toes, cozy home

As a result, there are also radiant heating pads that use electricity instead of water tubes and are useful in smaller spaces such as bathrooms and mudrooms. These pads are installed under the tile and create a nice, warm floor for you when you’re showering on those chilly mornings. 

Electric pads are a great fit for renovations where you can’t install the water tubing version. Even though they use electricity to heat the pad, they are still a more eco-friendly option. You can turn down the thermostat as tile and stone are optimal for conducting heat and therefore less heat is wasted.

Moreover, people who chose radiant heat are often impressed with the lack of cold pockets and how quiet the system is compared to an HVAC system. When you are heated through your feet, you can keep the thermostat at a lower setting and still feel cozy in your environment. Unlike forced air, radiant heating systems continue to emit warmth long after the thermostat has been turned off.

A kitchen room with a white dining table

Allergens and forced air

Forced air or HVAC systems use ductwork to deliver warm or cool air throughout the home. This ductwork is either installed in our attics or the crawl space below and can often collect dust and dirt that deliver allergens when the system is on. If you have pets, their dander gets into the ventilation system and can wreak havoc on our children’s allergies.

These systems also make the air dry and affect how well our respiratory tract can fight viruses and other airborne illnesses. Dry mucous membranes contribute to snoring and disrupted sleep. You can use humidifiers to counteract some of these affects, but the smaller personal-use sizes rarely produce enough moisture to fully counter this dry air and create discomfort for the end-user.

There are fewer things more sumptuous than having warm feet heating your body when there’s snow outside. I have put in many radiant floors in my career, and while I’ve often had to push to get the client to make the initial investment, the thank you cards keep coming from everyone in the family, including those pets luxuriating on their heated floors. And it’s all thanks to the Romans.

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