Jeffery Lee wrote in Building Online in the article "Heating Up" Jan 22, 2007 that the luxury of heated floors goes all the way back to Rome. Lee says "Radiant floor heating just might be the oldest luxury heating technique in history. Roman engineers, faced with the task of heating their enormous bath houses, developed their own floor heating system called the hypocaust: a floor raised on pillars over a hot furnace, creating warm floors and a toasty room." The Japanese used to do something similar, running hot air channels under their raised bed platforms to warm it.
Since then, people have really enjoyed the luxury of radiant heat. So much in fact, that Dan Chiles, vice president of marketing for Watts Radiant said “Homeowners are emotional about their radiant floor,” he says. “They'd rather give up their roofs then their radiant floor.”
Lee explains that now we have the convenience of electric matts or flexible tubes for warm water, called pex pipes, that can be installed in our floors. He says "Hydronic or hot water heating, . . . is often used throughout a house and can serve as the primary source of heat," where as the electric mats are primarily good for small spaces in remodel jobs like under bathroom or kitchen tiles.
The major drawback with using hot water, or hydronic heating, is that it is easiest to install when you plan for it before your build. Hydronic heating needs to be planned for in the house design, so the floors can be insulated to hold that heat and the pex pipes can be laid before the concrete is poured.
In the last 20 years radiant heating has dropped so much in price that it has now become the most cost effective way to heat a home, and has boomed in popularity. Larry Drake, executive director of the RPA says that “Radiant is undoubtedly the most healthy heat system out there,” he says. With the costs of electricity, gas, and oil all rising, homeowners find the energy savings with radiant heat appealing." Hydronic Heating can also take advantage of wood, geothermal, or solar.