Hydronic Radiant Heat For Floors

BiLevel home with hydronic radiant floor heat

The bi-level home pictured here has about 2000 square feet which is entirely heated by hydronic radiant heat for floors. Unfortunately the person who installed this system in his own home no longer lives here. Work is hard to find for some people in 2010. Lee, the previous homeowner, was a plumber and there simply isn't enough new construction work available.

Because Lee couldn't find work, he lost his home to the bank and had to move his family out west. The bright side of the story is he found work, and so did his wife, so the family is doing much better now. The downside is, his previous home along with his radiant heat project has been abandoned.

Art, his father, who helped with the project asked if I would like to come and see the work they did.

We visited the home on a cold day in the winter. I was able to get into the home and take a look around at what Lee and Art had done with the radiant heat system.

PEX tubing going into and out of the Manifold.

First of all, I asked the question that anyone who hasn't experienced radiant heat. Is radiant heat better than forced air?

"Ten times better. It produces an even heat. There would be times when I was at his house when the floor felt so nice I would forget it was the dead of winter," stated Art.

Since the home is a bi-level, the basement really isn't quite a true basement. It is only about four feet into the ground. The hydronic radiant heat for floors was set up for the basement as well as the level above it.

For the basement, there already was a concrete floor. What they did was attach the PEX radiant tubing to this concrete slab, and then pour another thin layer of concrete on top. This added about two inches to the floor, but it embedded the radiant system.

You can see this on the picture. The PEX tubing goes down from the manifold into the floor. Towards the top of this picture, you can also see the PEX tubing going towards the ceiling in the basement. These tubes were attached to the top of the subfloor with aluminum flashing. The aluminum conducts the heat and warms the subfloor and the finish flooring above.

Boiler for a hydronic radiant floor heating sysemr

Next up is a closer look at the boiler that was used to heat the water for the radiant system. One thing Art pointed out is that you really shouldn't mix your drinking water and the water that you use for a radiant floor heating system. Keep these two elements separate.

What happens is the boiler circulates water through it. It is a rather small unit that is attached to the wall. As the water runs through the boiler, it is heated up to the desired temperature. Then this water is sent to the manifold. The manifold is set to distribute the water throughout the home. You can control the heat on the manifold be adjusting the rate water circulates through the PEX tubing.

For instance, if you are making a longer run, the water should circulate at a higher rate. This is because as the water travels a longer distance, it loses heat. A longer loop will contain less heat as a whole. The more water that circulates can compensate for a longer run.

The loops that are closer to the manifold can be adjusted to flow at a lower rate. Also the floor type that is being heated can play a factor. For instance, if you have carpeting for the finish floor, this acts as a natural insulator. You would need more hydronic radiant floor energy to make the room a similar temperature compared to hardwood flooring.

PEX tubing attached to a subfloor with aluminum plates

On the right is a picture of the PEX tubing attached to the subfloor. Once this is attached to the subfloor, you really should insulate below it to make sure the radiant heat goes up instead of down towards the basement. The insulation part of the job wasn't completed.

I asked Art if this hydronic radiant heat for floors system was simple to install, and he said it was a complicate job. This house is controlled by one thermostat, which did make it easier to do. He said you could incorporate multiple thermostats if you want, but that requires more electrical work to create heating zones. This means the manifold would have electrical controls that would activate the flow of water according to when the thermostat in one specific area was turned up.

This home also had the furnace removed. Because of this, the central air was installed in the attic. When I interviewed a representative from Warmboard, they also mentioned that a more efficient option for air conditioning was using the attic. The central air system is installed in the attic and small tubes run to all the rooms in the home. Small openings are put in the ceiling and the cold air falls out of these openings. Cold air falls naturally, so this is a more efficient way to cool a home too.

Overall, this hydronic radiant heat for floors is pretty complex. These two plumbers set up a wonderful heating option, but they also were able to ask questions to different people in their industry.

Art said that hydronic radiant floor heat is really an industry in itself. It incorporates plumbing, electric work, and HVAC knowledge. It is unfortunate that Lee wasn't able to stay in this home. The new owner will be quite lucky. They have the most efficient way to heat and cool a home, not to mention the most comfortable option.

PEX tubing going into and out of a manifold

The real question is, will someone who sees this home recognize it's true value. Yes, it is an unfinished product, but it could be the most inexpensive way to buy a home with radiant floor heat. When people understand what radiant floor heat is, they know that it is a great value.

Related Articles

- Concrete Slab Radiant Heat
- Radiant Floor Heat Insulation
- Radiant Water Heat
- PEX Radiant Floor

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