Surface heating is a type of heating system in which the entire room is heated by invisible to the eye pipes with spiral or meandering arrangement. They are concealed in the floor, but can also be installed in the ceiling or wall. The heat source (heating factor) can be: water, air or electricity. Obviously, this type of heating has a much larger surface area than radiators and gives off heat to the entire heating surface. It works on the principle of radiation, in much lesser degree of convection. As a result, it heats evenly and slowly – it also loses heat slowly. To maintain a comfortable temperature (about 22-23°C) in the room (in the heating zone), surface heating needs a low supply temperature (up to 30°C), which is not only environmentally friendly, but also economical.
Why is it like that? It’s pure physics. If we want to reduce the thermal parameter of the supply, we have to increase the heating surface. And this is what happens in surface heating.
What is most important, the low supply temperature of the surface heating works well with eco-friendly heat pumps, which are becoming increasingly popular among forward-thinking investors.
The advantages of surface heating have been discussed many times (e.g. here). To summarize them, you need to know that – in comparison with radiator heating – surface heating is more efficient and healthier. It is also more comfortable for householders, because with lower supply temperatures and gradual heat distribution, the house is never overheated. Warm air does not „hit in the face ” as it happens in the case of radiators, that „throw out” the hot air that is floating to the ceiling. The result is that, the radiator distributes heat very unevenly – the further away we are from the radiator, the colder it is for us, and sitting by the radiator we can hardly bear the heat. Another issue is the air quality. Surface heating does not dry the air, and radiators do. Very much. Radiators also collect dust in the recesses on their surface. They cause movement of air; they carry pollutants, forcing us to inhale them.
In the case of underfloor heating – the most popular version of surface heating – the manifold distributes the heating factor (e.g., water) through pipes or heating tubes, hidden in the floor. This is added comfort of stepping on a pleasantly warm floor, although in practice it comes down to the fact that – except the bathroom, where the floor is actually perceptibly warm – in other rooms it is not simply unpleasantly cold. The most outstanding is that what the floor is covered in. The best heat conductors are ceramic tiles, laminated panels, waterproof vinyl, resin flooring, wood (so materials with low thermal resistance). Underfloor heating is the most efficient and unquestionably the most popular version of surface heating – it brings thermal comfort at the lowest supply temperatures.
With ceiling heating (installation behind e.g. a false ceiling), the heat radiates evenly from the ceiling to the structural components of the building and to the objects in the interior. We feel the heat at head level, not leg-height. In this case, we will not benefit from the comfort of a warm floor. For many builders, this is a disadvantage, but there are also advantages: there is no risk of covering the heating surface with a carpet or disturbing the installation when hanging cupboards or decorations (as with wall heating, for example, which we will discuss in a moment). On the other hand, we must take care of the insulation of the building. The supply temperature for ceiling heating is usually higher than for underfloor heating, because the heat does not fall to the ground. To ensure that the heating effect is satisfactory, supply temperature needs to be increased.
Wall heating is the least common form of surface heating. Heating elements are permanently built-in in the walls and emit heat through them, warming the interior. As with underfloor and ceiling heating, the heat spreads gradually without overheating or raising dust. There are no additional layers here to reduce efficiency (e.g. panels, carpets). However, you should be aware that with this solution, the usable area of the room is reduced – it becomes smaller by the thickness of the installation built into the wall (this is especially noticeable with air heating). With this type of surface heating, it is also necessary to set a higher flow temperature than with underfloor heating (up to 45℃). However, it is still economical and low enough not to cause damage or burns in the event of possible contact.
Where to install the heating elements is one thing, but the heating factor you ultimately decide on – water, air or electricity – is crucial. The running costs of the surface heating, and therefore of the entire house, will depend on this important choice.
The water heating system heat the building through plastic or metal pipes through which hot water flows. The installation is insulated and protected against leaks or moisture. This is important to prevent corrosion, rusting or rotting of the heating elements.
Air heating system is characterised by the fact that there are special channels in the ground or wall in which heated air circulates – it is set in motion by an internal fan.
Electric surface heating is based entirely on heat conducted through heating cables or foils. Its main advantage is the ease and 'cleanliness’ of installation and convenient operation, while the obvious disadvantage is the price of the heating fuel. Electricity is expensive, especially with such increased use.
They are still a kind of market „innovation”, which is why it is worth mentioning that they exist and represent an interesting variant, or rather alternative, to the installation of surface heating. These are the so-called capillary tube mats, i.e. light and thin chains of polypropylene tubes through which the heating factor (water) flows. They are installed with screws into the surface (floor, wall, ceiling) before plastering. The capillaries are flexible and can be formed, which means that they can be placed on architectural elements of different shapes and cross-sections – e.g. on a semi-circular wall, a suspended ceiling, in the attic (bevels). Capillary tube mats are not only lightweight, they also operate quietly (quieter than surface heating) and do not actually reduce the usable area of the room.
When choosing capillary mats, it is important to remember to install them in walls for which we have no long-term decorating or renovation plans. Accidentally drilling through the plastic tubes (e.g. when hanging a painting) can cause damage and expose us to unnecessary repair and renovation costs. Such a wall cannot be covered by a large piece of furniture – then the operation of the mats misses the point. However, these are limitations which equally apply to wall-mounted surface heating.
At the moment, the biggest disadvantage of capillary tube mats is the high installation price. When buying them, pay attention to the quality of the materials used and the solidity of the welds.
Each room in a building has an individual need for heat. Rooms may lose it at different rates, but they also have different functions, so they should have different temperatures. This is why it is important to introduce zone control, which involves installing thermostats separately for each heating zone. Then each room will have its own set temperature. Of course, with air heating (radiators) this is also important and necessary, but underfloor heating in particular needs precise control. This is because of what we essentially consider to be the advantage of this installation – it is slow to heat up and slow to give off heat. With this operating mechanism, the heating schedule must be logically thought out, planned in advance and monitored by controllers.
Manually, we are unable to operate the surface heating comfortably and efficiently.
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