Radiant heat may face an uphill battle when it comes to combating its expensive reputation, but it has distinct selling points for both the residential and commercial markets.

“While comfort is the dominant factor in the residential market segment, energy efficiency tends to be the driving factor for commercial applications,” said Mark Hudoba, director, heating and cooling, Uponor.

As these benefits are becoming more widely recognized, radiant manufacturers are rolling out new products designed to lower labor costs and make radiant more affordable and accessible.

Lowering Labor Costs

A major source of concern for both prospective customers and contractors are the high costs of labor for installing a radiant heat system. “Labor is where the dollars go for a radiant heat job, so Watts has focused a lot of attention on this,” said Rich McNally, Eastern regional sales manager, Watts Radiant, a Watts Water Technologies Company.

McNally pointed to mat and tubing products that Watts Radiant has introduced to help out contractors who, he said, are “more and more pinched by the realities of a market that’s price-driven.”

While noting his company never sacrifices quality for cost, McNally said, “We’ve made great strides in our ability to develop and manufacture products that require less time to install and offer greater versatility for job sites that don’t fit a cookie-cutter approach, which is the case with most radiant heat applications.”

He continued, “For instance, we offer four different types of tubing for transmitting hydronic radiant heat, all with a specific purpose — to make the job easier. They are quickly accessible and sometimes interchangeable. Onix, a synthetic EPDM [ethylene propylene diene monomer] tubing that requires no heat transmission plates when attached within joist bays for under-floor application; PEX; PERT; and Pex-al-Pex tubing; each with an arsenal of accompanying fittings and systems.”

McNally noted that Watts Radiant’s FlexPlate graphite heat transfer plates and the SmartTrac modular panel system are also intended to enable faster installation.

According to Hudoba, Uponor has also been introducing products “designed to reduce cost and increase installation efficiency.” New products that support these goals include the Radiant Ready 30E preassembled mechanical system and the Radiant Roll-out mat.

Radiant Ready 30E meets a need for simple residential systems, such as those installed only in a basement, garage, master bathroom, or kitchen, said Hudoba.

“Because the radiant system is small and simple, it does not need to be customized for the project, and, therefore, the mechanical system can be an appliance such as the Radiant Ready 30E,” he explained.

For the commercial market, the new Radiant Rollout mats “can offer an 80 percent reduction in required manifolds, a 30 percent reduction in rebar tying, and up to 85 percent reduction in install time,” Hudoba said.

Not only can contractors reduce labor time while in the field, they can also cut down their costs before they begin installing radiant systems by using smart design software.

“There are many ways we are working to reduce the cost of installing a radiant heating system. First would be the initial planning and design of the system that the contractor uses for the project,” said Michael Willburn, president of Infloor Heating Systems. “We use a program called LoopCAD to provide installers a detailed loop layout — a blueprint of the heating system — giving them all the information they need upfront.”

Willburn noted LoopCAD provides a complete materials list and shows exact tube spacing, placement, and length. “Proper planning, preparation, and organization prior to installation can greatly reduce labor hours and overall costs,” he said.

Similarly, Mark Chaffee, vice president of brand marketing, Taco Inc., emphasized the importance of system design software.

“We’re very proud of our FloPro Designer software,” Chaffee said. “The layout and heat loss design suite enables contractors or designers to define building exterior and interior spaces, external influences, and to build and specify components for a host of hydronics, radiant heat, water heating, and HVAC applications. With every change, the program dynamically changes calculations and their impact on other components within the system. Users simply draw the floor plan, drop in windows and doors, and, in an instant, installers or designers have accurate heating and cooling loads.”

The program also keeps a running tab of all materials and components specified for the job.

“When the button is pushed to finalize the design plan, it presents users with a virtual three-ring binder as a very classy, intelligent presentation for clients and a complete list of materials for the job,” Chaffee said.

As the radiant market focuses on ways to lower labor costs, it must not lose sight of the larger problems of perceptions and awareness of the technology’s benefits, said Wade Peterson, vice president, sales and marketing, HeatLink Group Inc.

“While installation cost is a factor, and is linked to higher-than-necessary labor costs, we believe the primary problem is the lack of education on benefits and long-term cost savings,” Peterson said. The message that must continue to prevail, he noted, is simple: “People living and working in spaces heated by radiant systems consistently state comfort and efficiency as the primary benefits of their hydronic system.”

Offering Electric Options

Electric cable radiant heating is yet another option on the market that is becoming more appealing to the cost-conscious consumer.

“This style of heating can be installed in both new construction and remodeling projects,” Willburn said. Infloor Heating Systems offers both hydronic and electric radiant systems, and the electric option is gaining momentum.

“Electric cable systems are easy to install, have a low cost for the materials, are relatively inexpensive to operate, and have extremely low maintenance,” he said, adding these systems are approved for dry and wet conditions.

Patrick Mann, vice president, technology and operations, Nuheat Industries Ltd., also touted the efficiency and costs savings made possible by electric floor heating systems. He noted NuHeat’s pre-made mats are easy to install.

“Nuheat can guarantee even spacing of the heating wires because the wires are sandwiched between two layers of fabric like an electric blanket,” he explained. “Contractors regularly comment on how easy it is to install a Nuheat Mat.”

Mann also pointed out that Nuheat offers a Wi-Fi thermostat for its floor heating system that enables users to control their floor heating from a smartphone app.

“In the coming years, we definitely see consumers wanting to consolidate all their smart devices into a single platform, and Nuheat will be working on that goal,” he said.

Publication date: 10/27/2014

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