Could Radiant Floor Heating Cause Cancer?

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Home improvement projects often include the installation of electric radiant heating systems beneath tiled bathroom floors. These systems work by laying an electric heating mat on the subfloor and tiling over it. The mat contains resistance wire that carries an electrical charge, transferring heat to anything it touches. While the concept is simple, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks associated with electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by these systems.

Every alternating electric current creates magnetic and electric fields, together known as an EMF. Any device that runs on electricity emits an EMF, including your microwave, clock radio, floor lamp, hair dryer, and radiant floor heating system. High amounts of EMF are emitted from transmission power lines and transformers. Some studies suggest that children living too close to high tension wires have an increased chance of contracting leukemia and other types of cancer. While there isn’t definitive proof, experts suggest avoiding prolonged exposure to high doses of EMF.

While electric blankets are known to emit EMF and may have health risks associated with their use, it is unclear whether radiant floor heating systems pose similar risks. Further research is needed to determine the potential health risks of these systems.

Before deciding on whether to install an electric radiant floor heating system, it is important to consider the potential health risks associated with EMF. While there is no definitive proof that these systems lead to cancer, it is best to err on the side of caution and limit exposure to high doses of EMF.

Radiant Floor Heating and Electromagnetic Fields


A visual representation of an electric radiant floor heating system
ŠiStockphoto.com/Jorgen Jacobson

It is a known fact that all alternating electric currents produce an electromagnetic field (EMF). However, does this mean that household appliances are detrimental to our health? The answer is still unclear. Studies have shown that extended exposure to weak electric fields has no harmful effects [source: Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency]. On the other hand, the effects of weak magnetic fields on our health are still up for debate. Although there is no direct evidence linking weak magnetic fields with poor health, researchers have not ruled it out due to the lack of knowledge on the long-term effects of EMF exposure. Studies on animals have shown that prolonged magnetic field exposure can affect hormone and enzyme levels [source: Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency]. While this may not be a direct health risk, there is still uncertainty on whether it could lead to cancer in the long run.

Research on humans is more challenging to conduct as there are numerous factors that can cause cancer, and the disease may not emerge until long after exposure. However, tests have indicated that there is no link between weak EMF exposure and cancer. In a 2004 study, Health Canada demonstrated that electrical devices and power lines can produce weak electric currents that flow through the body, but these currents are smaller than those naturally produced by the brain, heart, and nerves and do not pose any known health risks [source: Health Canada].

Despite these findings, health professionals still recommend avoiding prolonged exposure to even weak electromagnetic fields. For instance, it is advisable not to sit too close to the television, to avoid standing directly in front of the microwave when pregnant, and not to sleep under a running electric blanket. The reason for this is that some appliances emit more EMF than others, and if we know that microwave ovens leak EMF, it makes sense to stand a few feet away. Similarly, electric blankets create an EMF that penetrates the human body by six to seven inches. If evidence is even slightly uncertain, it is prudent to avoid EMF emissions.

Regarding electric radiant floor heating systems, most manufacturers take precautions to ensure that there is no health hazard by shielding the wiring. Americans are typically exposed to less than one microtesla of EMF every day, the unit of measurement for magnetic fields. However, unshielded RFH systems can emit 20 to 40 times that amount. The Radiant Electric Emissions Test (REET) is the only non-biased third-party test that measures a radiant floor heating system’s EMF. Although many companies conduct their own testing and claim that their products are safe, only those that use the REET procedure can substantiate their claim.

Most companies only test a few points several feet above the flooring level for the electromagnetic field of their RFH systems, which is not the exact point of contact with your feet. However, the REET procedure tests 20 different points at a height of 0.5 inches (1.27 centimeters) above the mats themselves. If you are concerned about EMF, look for RFH systems that use the REET test, even though many claim to be “zero EMF” or “EMF free.”

To learn more about cancer-causing agents and home renovation, you can find additional information by visiting the links provided on the following page.

Additional Information

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  • How Radiant Floor Heating Works
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  • Why is it that some appliance plugs have three prongs and others have only two?
  • Are fluorescent bulbs really more efficient than normal light bulbs?
  • How much does it cost to run an electric blanket?
  • How Electromagnets Work
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  • How Cancer Works
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Additional Links

  • The American Cancer Society
  • The Anatomy of the Immune System
  • National Cancer Institute: Cancer Series
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • This Old House

Sources

  • “Electric Heated Floors: The EMF Issue.” suntouch.com, 2008. http://www.suntouch.com/EMF/
  • “Electromagnetic Fields and Possible Adverse Health Effects.” arpansa.gov, 2008. http://www.arpansa.gov.au/RadiationProtection/Factsheets/is_emf.cfm
  • “Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile telephones and their base stations.” World Health Organization, 2008. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/
  • “Useful Information About Electro Magnetic Fields.” healthfreedomusa.org, 2008. http://www.healthfreedomusa.org/index.php?p=503
  • Hall, Joe. “The Negative Effects of Electromagnetic Fields.” Consumerhealth.org, Sept, 1997. http://www.consumerhealth.org/articles/display.cfm?ID=19990303201129

FAQ

1. What is radiant floor heating and how does it work?

Radiant floor heating is a type of heating system that uses pipes or electric heating elements installed beneath the floor to warm the space above. The heat radiates up from the floor, creating a comfortable and even temperature throughout the room. The system can be installed under any type of flooring, including tile, hardwood, and carpet.

2. Is there any evidence to suggest that radiant floor heating can cause cancer?

Currently, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that radiant floor heating can cause cancer. However, some people have raised concerns about the potential health risks associated with exposure to the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that are generated by electric radiant floor heating systems. Studies on the health effects of EMFs are ongoing, but so far, there is no clear evidence that they can cause cancer.

3. What are some potential health risks associated with radiant floor heating?

In addition to concerns about EMFs, there are a few other potential health risks associated with radiant floor heating. For example, if the system is not installed properly, there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from gas-fired boilers or water heaters. There is also a risk of burns from the hot water or electric heating elements if the system is not installed correctly or if the temperature is set too high.

4. How can I ensure that my radiant floor heating system is safe?

To ensure that your radiant floor heating system is safe, it is important to have it installed by a qualified professional who has experience with this type of system. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use, and have the system inspected regularly to ensure that it is working properly. If you have concerns about EMFs, you may want to consider using a hydronic heating system instead of an electric system.

5. Are there any benefits to using radiant floor heating?

Yes, there are several benefits to using radiant floor heating. First, it is more energy-efficient than traditional heating systems, which can help you save money on your energy bills. It is also more comfortable, as the heat is distributed evenly throughout the room. Additionally, radiant floor heating is quiet and does not produce any drafts, making it a great choice for people with allergies or respiratory issues.

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