What would you say is the most comfortable heating system for a home?

Anonymous Dec. 11, 2017, 11:25 a.m.

I currently heat my house with electric radiators but I find it very unbalanced, some spots are too hot and some too cold. Is there any system I can install that would be more comfortable? I live in Montreal  where electricity is pretty cheap so I'm looking for another electric source and not looking to switch to gas. 

Responses (1)

Ecohome Dec. 11, 2017, 11:32 a.m.

The problem may have less to do with the source of heat, but the rate of heat loss through the building envelope – specifically the walls and windows.

Are you in an older house? Maybe one that needs but hasn’t had an energy retrofit? For perspective – A well-insulated home with good quality windows will be more comfortable, even when you aren’t close to the heat source. If you find you cool off when you step too far from a radiator, I suspect that may have more to do with how well your walls are insulated, how airtight your home is and the quality of your windows.

 I don’t want to stray too far from your actual question, but I hesitate to recommend a replacement heating system (which is not cheap), as you may not find that solution has much of an impact on comfort. Investing in energy efficient upgrades might bring greater comfort, as well as be the best bet financially into the future.  

First things first – do your radiators overheat the house then shut off for long periods of time letting the house cool down? If that is part of the problem, switching to electronic thermostats may be the best first step to take. They are more sensitive and more accurate than a bi-metal thermostat, so they will cause your radiators to cycle on and off more frequently and avoid dramatic swings in temperature. 

If that is not the problem and it really is a case of feeling cooler when you step away from the radiators, I really suspect that has more to do with building envelope issues. The most significant impact on human comfort in a home is not from the air temperature, as odd as that sounds, it is actually the radiant heat transfer between your body and the environment. Poor quality windows will suck the heat from your body, as will cold walls. We have a page about designing for thermal comfort that may help you solve and fix the problem. Air leakage is another issue that will make a home feel drafty and cool, particularly away from radiators.

But to get back to you actual question - 

• Radiant heat (floors or walls) is considered the most comfortable due to the thermal comfort explanation above. But a retrofit heating system replacement may be a very costly undertaking unless you were planning to redo your floors anyway.

• Convection heaters are basically an electric radiator with a fan, so they help distribute the heat around the home better, but with that comes air movement, which has its own effect (think inside wind chill factor).

• Installing a ceiling fan (set to draw air up not push it down) may be a cheaper and more effective solution to better distribute heat, if you can just replace an overhead light fixture with a combination light and ceiling fan.

• Forced air heat may balance heat through a home better than sparsely placed radiators, but if you have electric radiators you probably don’t have duct work, so that would be a lot of headaches and cost.

• Installing a high-efficiency wood stove or pellet stove (if local regulations don’t forbid it) might be an option to consider, though it will also offer localized heat,  so in the absence of energy efficient home upgrades you will feel cooler the further you are from it just like with your radiators. This page may help you determine the best course of action -  Designing for thermal comfort

If you do decide to undertake a renovation to increase comfort and efficiency, see our pages on renovations for some ideas, and feel free to write back with a question on that front.