Step barefoot on a floor warmed with radiant heat and you won’t want to step off. For consumers, buying into radiant heat is this simple, and for those who want radiant heat in their homes, nothing will come between them and the comfort and efficiency they want. For savvy builders and architects who want to separate themselves from the pack, offering this amenity will do the trick.
Builders, not architects, are always the early adopters of technology, as architects tend to have wait-and-see personalities,” says John Rose, president of Nuheat, which makes electric radiant systems. “That’s not a knock on architects. Architects are putting their reputation on the line, and want to make sure what they’re specifying is proven. Whereas builders want to be on the leading edge of technology to offer the latest lighting and heating systems, for example.”
From the architectural standpoint, radiant heat is the future of the heating industry, says Jim Lemen, national accounts manager, Vanguard Piping Systems, which makes radiant tubing and other system components. “Architects can set themselves apart and be innovative with their designs because with radiant there are no vents, so there’s no worrying about designing around any forced-air delivery systems,” he adds.
Architects and builders are slowly accepting radiant heat, based on a 37 percent increase in sales of tubing for hydronic (water-based) systems in 2004, the most recent year for which this information is available from the Radiant Panel Association. The RPA is an association of manufacturers, distributors, designers, dealers and installers of radiant panel heating and cooling systems and components. Sales of electric radiant heating systems increased 214 percent in 2004. Sales figures for both hydronic and electric systems are expected to increase again for 2005.
“I believe the advent of HGTV-type shows and the thirst of homeowners for information about radiant systems is probably a bigger driving force for radiant sales than a builder or architect having a liking for the product. In fact, I have seen a builder unsell a homeowner on his desire to put radiant in his home,” he adds.
Why would a builder unsell a client who wants a product that can increase a builder’s profit? Maybe because some builders might be intimidated by the radiant heat concept and need more education to be comfortable with it, says Jan Andersson, heating product manager, Uponor (formerly Wirsbo).
This is why it’s important to understand the technology. Radiant heating systems come in two main types: electric and hydronic (water-based). Electric systems consist of wires snaked on top of a subfloor but under flooring material. Hydronic systems consist of hot water piped either above or below a subfloor, but also below the finished flooring surface.
“One intimidating factor is the perceived interruption of other trades by having to install hydronic radiant. (Builders) believe the pouring of concrete, installing the proper flooring support, and a fear of puncturing the tubing will disrupt their schedules. This could happen, but it’s simply a matter of scheduling better with a little planning (to avoid this),” Andersson says
Custom home builders and architects are better positioned than production builders to include radiant systems in their homes. Their clients are more discriminating, says Dan Chiles, vice president, marketing, Watts Radiant, which makes both hydronic and electric systems. Some builders install hydronic tubing in the basement slab but don’t connect it. Then they market the home as “ready for radiant,” differentiating the builder and making happy customers, he says.
“Electric systems have done well because a builder can put electric radiant in a master bath and the kitchen, and it doesn’t cost much money. This becomes a selling feature and a way for the builder to differentiate himself and add value to his product,” Chiles says.