How does hydronic radiant floor heating work?

| by Gary Wollenhaupt

Radiant heating using water as the medium to transfer heat is referred to as hydronic radiant heating. Radiant heat provides even temperatures with less effort and, therefore, less expense, than other types of heating. In fact, based on a study conducted by Kansas State University and the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, radiant heat provides a 25 percent energy savings over conventional forced air heating systems.

Radiant heat allows us to feel warm at a lower temperature, just as the sun’s radiant heat makes us feel comfortable when it is 60 degrees. A forced air system heats the air and pushes it through a duct system. The warm air rises to the ceiling, requiring the furnace to produce more heat for the lower levels. The blowing air of a forced air system, just as wind outside, can actually cool us which can lead to the thermostat being set higher.

Radiant heat is clean and quiet. There is a reason forced air installers suggest periodic, expensive cleaning of heat ducts: they become contaminated with allergens, dust, pet dander and other airborne particles which are blown throughout your home. European studies have shown that dust mite populations are reduced as much as 90 percent in radiant heated homes. Having no blower, radiant heat is silent.

Architects enjoy designing with radiant heat systems. There are no issues with locating floor heat registers or baseboard radiators with respect to doors, windows and walls. The radiant heating system can be easily integrated with solar, geothermal and cogeneration fuel cells at the design stage.

High conductivity is one of two most important properties for excellent thermodynamic performance. When considering radiant floor heating compare the conductivity of each manufacturer. Thick, high quality aluminum provides the fastest, most effective way of delivering heat to your home’s living spaces. By increasing conductivity, energy is saved because a lower water temperature can achieve the desired result. This use of lower temperature water also significantly extends the life and reliability of the entire system’s components.

High quality aluminum tubing provides an even temperature across the floor, resulting in maximum comfort. This quality may cost a bit more at first glance, but the added expenditure is quickly offset with wider spacing of the tubing, due to its high efficiency. The amount of tubing is reduced, as are the number of manifolds, controls and associated labor. Quality reduces operating costs with most everything, and radiant floor heating is no exception. By utilizing the highest conductivity on the market the initial investment is recuperated more quickly.

The second critical element to examine when considering hydronic radiant floor heating is low thermal mass. Slab-based systems will take hours to warm due to the nature of thick concrete. The lower the thermal mass, the more money is saved as it takes much less energy to heat.

The installation process of all potential radiant floor heating systems should be examined thoroughly. With new construction, for example, does the system act as a code- approved subfloor in itself or does it have to be installed after the contractor has installed the subfloor? A heating system pre-built in to a sub-floor requires one installation, not two, saving labor costs.

Manufacturers of radiant heating systems require a range of boilers to meet their individual requirements. Ask whether your current water heater can support their system. This can save you considerable expense.

Many homeowners like to change things up after so many years. Make sure the radiant floor heating system you buy allows the removal and replacement of wood and tile finished flooring without having to replace the heating tubes. Many systems are destroyed when a finished floor is replaced.

Comparing systems requires a close look at basic benefits as you would with any major purchase. What is the warranty? A good warranty will pass on to the next owner of the home, adding value to the home at selling time. Are you buying directly from the manufacturer or through a dealer or retailer? Can the provider address radiant cooling? How many square feet of radiant heating systems has a potential provider installed?

Radiant heat is a sound investment whether building new or remodeling. It adds value to your home while reducing your monthly utility costs. The return on investment is sound.

Read more about heating and cooling.

Topics: Bathroom, Heating & Cooling, Interior Design, Radiant Heat

Companies: Warmboard

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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