No matter what temperature you sleep in during the winter (and of course we recommend sleeping with the temperature a bit lower to save energy costs), when you wake up and put your feet on the floor you may get a little cold shock. Even if your bedroom floor is carpeted, you’ll get that jolt when you set foot in the bathroom.

One possible solution? Radiant heat. Also called radiant floor heating or just floor heating, these systems heat the floor so when you enter your bathroom, your feet will immediately warm. There are three types of radiant floor heating systems, each with its benefits and drawbacks.

Electric radiant floors are systems that consist of electric cables built into the floor. These floors particularly make sense for home additions, if you do not want to extend the existing heating system into the new space. One drawback is the high cost of electricity, so these units might only make sense if they include a significant thermal mass such as a thick concrete floor, and your electricity provider offers “time-of-use” rates so you can “charge” the floor during off peak hours (usually overnight). Obviously the smaller the area being heated (such as a bathroom), the less impact of cost.

Hydronic radiant floors heat the floor by distributing water from a boiler through tubing laid under the floor. The boiler is controlled by the thermostat, although newer systems offer zoned control. This is a more efficient, and thus less expensive and more popular, way of heating.

Radiant air floors force warm air through the floors. Unfortunately, air cannot hold large amounts of heat, so these are rarely installed in houses.

So forgetting about radiant air floors, there are two types of floor installations to consider.

“Wet” installations embed the cables or tubing in a concrete slab or a thin layer of concrete, gypsum or other material installed on top of a subfloor. Thick concrete slabs are ideal for storing heat from solar energy systems. However, their thermal response time is slow, which makes adjusting the temperature difficult. Experts recommend maintaining a constant temperature with these systems.

“Dry” installations allow the cables or tubing to run in an air space beneath the floor. These floors are faster and less expensive to build. But because these floors involve heating an air space, the system needs to operate at a higher temperature.

Finally, ceramic tile is the most effective floor covering for radiant floor heating. Vinyl, linoleum, carpeting and wood can also be used, but any covering that insulates the floor from the room will reduce efficiency. So, carpeting should be thin carpeting with dense padding. Laminated wood will work better than solid wood.