Walter Jann 2014-12-30 23:07:12
In many U.S. housing markets, radiant floor heating is still remarkably unknown. Recently I spoke with a high-end home builder in the Michigan market and asked, “Why don’t you offer radiant heating in your homes?” I received a shrug in response, and upon further probing determined that many builders and homeowners are simply unaware of the benefits of radiant heating or how it works. In new construction, homebuilders rely on the homeowner to decide on countless details. From granite countertops to wood windows, lighting fixtures to roof shingles, the homeowner has the final say. However, when it comes to heating their new homes, most homeowners defer to what the builder thinks is best. The path of least resistance is traditional forced-air heating. But if one is building a new home or renovating an existing home, serious consideration should be given to radiant heating. When compared to forced air, radiant heating provides a vastly more comfortable, energy efficient and healthy environment. There is just nothing like the cozy feeling of stepping on to a warm tile, wood, or carpeted floor on a cold winter day. The two most common types of radiant heating on the market today are electric and hydronic. Both are typically installed beneath floors and can also be used behind walls or above ceilings. Electric systems consist of a heating element beneath the floor or tile, and are widely used in smaller rooms such as bathrooms because the cost of electricity needed to operate them becomes prohibitive in large spaces. However, they are the easiest to install with the lowest upfront costs compared to hot water systems. Hydronic, or hot water systems, deliver heat via pipes and tubing beneath the floor. Tubing supplying hot water is connected to distribution manifolds allowing for effective temperature control in different rooms, or zones. Hot water from a heat source, typically a boiler, is pumped to distribution manifolds located in strategic areas. Flexible tube (PEX or PE-RT tube) is connected to these manifolds and routed beneath the floors in a tight spiral or serpentine pattern— typically 6” or 12” apart. The heat from the water is conducted to the floor where it is radiated into the room. The end of tube “circuit” flows back to a return manifold and boiler to be reheated and re-circulated. Radiant tube is typically installed by using a “staple up” method with clips or aluminum plates to attach the tube to the sub floor in the joist space. Padding and carpeting or wood laminate are laid down directly over floor. If finishing the floor with hardwood, a nailing surface will be fastened down over the heating system, sandwiching it between the nailing surface and the sub floor. Once the nailing surface is in place the hardwood floor can be installed. If the final floor is to be ceramic tile, a cement board will be secured into place providing a stable surface for the tile and adhesive. Radiant systems are commonly installed directly in concrete for basement, slab on grade or even snow and ice melt systems outdoors. In this application the tube is attached to wire mesh before concrete is poured. Many homeowners or builders will choose to install the tube at this time—even if the homeowner is not yet ready for a radiant system. A “radiant ready” concrete floor can be a value added selling feature, yet costs little at this phase of the installation. It is possible to retrofit radiant systems into existing homes, although careful considerations need to be taken into account since access to underneath the floor is limited or impossible. Various panel systems made of wood, aluminum or steel can also be installed over the top of existing subfloors. In almost all cases, radiant floors work well with a variety of floor coverings—carpet, laminate, tile and hardwood. Even leather or bamboo will work great with proper temperature regulation. Radiant heat works by definition of physics— heat always radiates from warmer objects to cooler ones, similar to the way the sun feels warm on your face even on a cold wintry day. Contrary to popular belief, heat does not rise; hot air rises. That’s why most of the heated air generated from a forced air furnace ends up near the ceiling and not where it’s needed. In a radiant heating system, heat is distributed to the room by way of the floors, walls and ceilings. As the surfaces of the room are heated, more heat is radiated throughout the room—resulting in a more-even heat distribution. Rooms heated this way are more comfortable, and the heat transfer is a closer match to our own natural metabolic heat transfer processes. The human body prefers a cooler temperature near our heads and warmer near the extremities—the hands and feet. Additionally, radiant heating systems don’t use air ducts to deliver heat. Without regular and thorough cleaning, a home’s duct work can be a source of allergens such as dust, pollen and bacteria. A hydronic radiant heating system uses a closed system of warmed water that does not come into contact with the room’s environment. Heating without vents and registers means no blowing air, drafts and fan noise that comes with it. Rooms heated with a radiant heating system enjoy design and decorating freedom and have no limitations with the placement of furniture and other objects. Radiant heating is very energy efficient, especially when compared to forced air, though the installed cost is substantially higher. But the energy savings alone are not sufficient to justify the expense; one must consider the luxury of comfort. When considering the expense in a mid- to high-end home, radiant heating should be as much a consideration as many other pricey architectural features. A beautifully architected home is a joy to look at—but a home heated by radiant systems is a luxurious experience in comfort. BY Walter Jann Executive Vice President, Legend Valve
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