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Radiant Heating System Worth a Look

The days are getting longer and warmer, and you're day dreaming about your vacation. Stop and think about home heating. No kidding, it's not a bad time to consider installing a radiant heating system, especially if you're in the market for a new-construction home.

Radiant heating is a water-based heating system not unlike a baseboard system, except that it uses tubing under the floor to deliver heat. Nothing beats the comfort of a warm floor, especially in colder climes where you can freeze your feet walking between your bed and bathroom. Because it involves fairly extensive work under the floor, the ideal time to install radiant heating tubes is during construction of a new home, or during major renovations. Typically, radiant-heating tubes are tied into the wire mesh used to construct the concrete floor slab. The primary factor affecting cost and practicality of radiant heat is the type of construction.

Slab-on-ground construction. A single-story, concrete slab home lends itself extremely well to installing a radiant heat system. Heating tubes are easily integrated into the slab prior to pouring the cement. Add a 1-inch layer of high-density foam insulation board beneath the floor, and along the footing. Voila, you've got a comfortable, efficient heat delivery system for very little additional cost.

2-story, basement construction. Here the process is more complicated and expensive. It's actually got a fancy name to go with the price: radiant hydronic heat. The system has to be installed in two floors, so it can double the cost. Plus the upper floor needs stronger framing to support the 1 1/2 inch mortar slab where the tubing will go. Your materials cost will be higher because the slab is expensive, as high as $3 per square foot. The total price tag could reach as high as $5 per square foot.

Compromises to slab approach. What if you want to retrofit your existing home, or don't want the expense of slab installation? Try the staple-up system. Instead of embedding the tubing in a slab, the heating contractor will staple it to the underside of the floor between the joists, then fill the voids with fiberglass insulation. Yet another approach, called sandwich over framed floor, involves creating a separate flooring layer for the tubing. Both approaches are cheaper and about as comfortable. What's the catch? They're less efficient and lose more heat than a slab-encased system.

Sources used to create this article include Popular Mechanics Magazine.

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