Electric radiant heating systems can be mounted in both ceilings and floors, and while both offer advantages of their own, homeowners should be cautious about ceiling-mounted systems. Below is more information about radiant heating in ceilings, its disadvantages, and why you should consider radiant floor heating instead:

What is radiant ceiling heating?

Radiant ceiling heating has been used in homes dating back to the middle of the 20th century. Installations are conducted in a variety of formats, including heating cables run through plaster and wiring sandwiched between layers of drywall. These cables are connected to a thermostat, which is used to regulate the heating provided. The principle that makes radiant ceiling heating work is the same that is at work with floor-mounted systems; heat radiates through the ceiling and into the room. However, while the theory is the same, the results in practice aren't always the best. Here are a few flaws with radiant ceiling heating:

Radiant ceiling heating can lead to plaster separation

A flaw with radiant ceiling heating is the possibility of plaster separation. In homes where radiant ceiling heating wires are encased in plaster, the consistent heating over time can cause the plaster to back away from the ceiling joists. This type of separation isn't necessarily apparent at a glance, but if it isn't addressed, entire sections of the ceiling may fall into the room below. An inspection may be the only sure way to discover if plaster separation has occurred in a home where this type of installation is in place; gaining access to the attic and looking beneath the insulation at the joints between plaster and joists will be necessary.

Radiant ceiling heating can cause drywall cracking

Another problem caused by radiant heating system installed in ceilings is the drywall cracking. Despite its name, the gypsum core of drywall contains some trace amounts of water, with up to one percent moisture content being considered acceptable by builders and inspectors. However, the close proximity to radiant heating wire causes uneven heating of the drywall and leaves some areas drier than others. Over time, this will induce cracking as the expansion and contraction of the drywall occurs. While slight cracks may not be significant at first, they can grow and lead to an unsightly appearance and eventually also cause sections of gypsum to crumble.

Radiant ceiling heating presents a slight fire hazard

While not an extremely likely scenario, there is an elevated chance of a fire breaking out due to a malfunctioning radiant ceiling heat system. Should a short circuit develop, an arc flash could result in the ignition of flammable materials near the wiring of the system. The joists and other wooden structural and architectural details are susceptible to an open fire. Keep in mind that short circuits may develop due to accidental damage caused by home repair or modification; such seemingly simple activities such as installing a new light fixture can break the heating system wiring and lead to possible fires.

Radiant ceiling heating leaves areas unevenly heated

Another shortcoming of radiant ceiling heat is that it does not evenly heat the areas beneath obstructions, such as tabletops. These "shadows" prevent the heat rays from reaching the ground; for example, someone who is sitting at a table may find their legs and feet quite cold, if the radiant heat is intercepted by the table.

Why you should choose radiant floor heating instead

Fortunately, you can take advantage of hidden radiant heat by installing a system in your home's flooring. None of the above disadvantages will be present if you choose a floor-based system. For example, the materials that cover a floor-installed system, such as tile, are non-flammable and are resistant to heat. In addition, floor systems aren't usually installed in close proximity to flammable materials and don't present any fire danger. Finally, you do not have to worry about your radiant floor heating system creating "shadows" that prevent even heating, since anything in contact with the floor will be heated.