A home I inspected today had in-ceiling electric radiant heat, which many people aren’t aware exists. I’ve inspected several homes with this type of heating, and I’d like to review how this type of system works as well as its pros and cons.
In-ceiling radiant heat was most commonly installed from the 1950s through the 70s, when electricity was a cheaper fuel source than it is now. That’s not to say that this type of heating can’t still be relatively cost-effective, but it no longer has quite the financial appeal it once did.
There are several pros, as well as cons, to in-ceiling radiant heat. For one, electricity is 100% efficient, meaning it converts all of it’s power to heat. Modern high-efficiency gas furnaces and boilers can come close to that number, but electricity reigns supreme when it comes to efficiency. Like all radiant heat systems, electric ceiling heat functions by radiating heat into living space, which means a nice even heat, no drafts, no noise, and no disturbance of dust and other particles into the air.
It seems counterintuitive to have a heat source overhead when heat rises; but energy also always travels from warmer to colder areas, so the heat from the ceiling will still make its way down into the cooler rooms below. As the heat radiates to objects, the objects retain heat and radiate it out into the surrounding space. The result of this natural effect is a feeling similar to being gently warmed by the sun from above, and the temperature difference between the floor and ceiling is generally only about two degrees Fahrenheit.
Electric ceiling heat, like many electric heat systems, is often zoned. That is, it’s controlled by several thermostats – typically one for each room or area. This provides the added benefit of being able to separately control energy usage across different areas of the house to save energy costs and control individual comfort levels. Last but not least, radiant ceiling heat is essentially maintenance free if it’s properly installed.
With so many positive features, there are, of course, a few drawbacks as well. Installation of these systems is somewhat detailed and tricky and is not recommended as a do-it-yourself job. The temperature differences between the warm ceiling and colder interior below tends to cause cracks in drywall ceilings, which, although not a major structural concern, can be unsightly. In fact, hairline ceiling cracks have been present (and usually abundant) in every home I’ve inspected with in-ceiling radiant heat.
Furthermore, while electricity was less expensive during the couple decades when this type of heating was more commonly installed, its cost has since risen quite a bit. Depending on your area, the available fuel sources and their costs will likely determine how good of a long-term option this or any other type of electric heating system may be for your home.
Another slight drawback to this type of heating is that it has a slow recovery time, meaning it will take quite a while to heat up a space that has fallen to a low temperature. This is in contrast to forced air systems that are capable of quickly heating air and blowing it through ductwork and supply registers into the living space.
Like everything, in-ceiling electric heat has its own unique set of pros and cons. If nothing else, it’s certainly an interesting and unique way to heat a home that is pretty fascinating to learn about.
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