Radiant heating options have improved

Posted Dec. 26, 2008, at 8:01 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:46 a.m.

Radiant floor heating is the “gotta have it” heating technology of the 21st century.

The concept dates back to Roman times and made a resurgence after World War II in many tract houses. Many Bangor Gardens homes had radiant floors. Those homes used copper tubing in the concrete slab. There also were hangars at Bangor International Airport that had radiant floors using steel tubing in the concrete slab.

The problem with metal tubing in concrete slabs is that it corrodes.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s we started using plastic tubing instead of metal in radiant floors. This pre-empted the corrosion problem, was a lot faster to install and was less expensive.

Radiant floor heating makes an entire house surface function like a room radiator. Radiant heat radiates heat onto the things in the room, including people. When the floor is warm, this is the opposite of normal building circumstances in cold weather. Floors are usually the coolest part of a room and as air is warmed, heated air rises. That warmed air pools near the ceiling. A home with hot-air heat or hot-water baseboards has the warmest air at the ceiling and the coolest air at the floor. The radiant floor does the opposite, being warmest at the floor and cooler at the ceiling. Most two- and four-legged creatures really like this.

Another wonderful thing about radiant heating is that we are not limited to floors.

Floors are the best way to radiantly heat, but you can also install a radiant heating system into a wall or ceiling. Radiant heat flows in any direction, since it is radiating in all directions, like the radiant output of an incandescent light.

So most of us really like radiant floors. They are sometimes hard to accomplish, either due to cost or timing during the construction of a new home or the reconstruction of an existing home.

Another option for radiant heating that is simpler than a radiant floor is the use of a radiant panel. I really like radiant panels. They are really updated versions of the older cast-iron radiator. Radiant panels are metal panels that are mass-produced from embossed steel panels that are welded together. They can be single or double panels. A double panel has a space in between two single panels that induces some convection and radiates heat off both surfaces.

Like radiators, radiant panels are installed in small, discreet locations but they are hung on the wall. They have the same thermostatic control valves that we can use on radiators.

They are quite inexpensive, and they are simple to install.

We recently did a TV program where we installed six radiant panels in a small home in about an hour. They also look good. One might not consider radiant panels as aesthetically pleasing as an antique cast-iron radiator, but they are so inexpensive by comparison, they cannot be ignored.

Another concept that is interesting is radiant baseboards. These are aluminum panels that are installed like wooden baseboards along the perimeter of a room. They are small, self-contained, operate at the high temperatures of radiant walls and put out a reasonable amount of heat, usually enough to heat a room.

Most radiant baseboards have been manufactured from cast or extruded aluminum. The water passages are made from aluminum. My experience is that whenever you introduce an aluminum waterway (read aluminum pipe or tubing), there is a corrosion problem. This is because there are always other metals involved in heating systems. And when you put different metals in contact with each other, especially aluminum, corrosion fun ensues.

I avoid any kind of aluminum in contact with waterways. Aluminum is great as a fin on copper or plastic pipe but not in contact with the actual water!

Questions for Tom Gocze should be sent to homefront

@bangordailynews.net or mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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