Hydronics Offer Unique Options for Residential Heating
Can provide health benefits, comfort, and energy efficiency
No more cold feet when you step out of bed in the morning. And cutting down on heating costs at the same time? What’s not to love?
“Hydronics — and especially radiant heat — have been effectively answering that common question for years,” Mark Chaffee, vice president of governmental affairs and sustainability, Taco Comfort Solutions, said. “Homeowners who’ve experienced radiant systems never want to give them up, and those without them often look to upgrade to radiant when moving to their next house or building their custom home.”
Radiant heat has been around for years — even as far back as the ancient Romans, who stoked the fires of the hypocaust beneath their homes so the heat would radiate upward and warm the building through the floor. In today’s world of HVAC, baseboard heating and under-floor radiant heating systems are evolving for smart systems, zoning, and ease of installation, helping contractors and distributors make the case for wet heat in any situation.
“HVAC contractors have the opportunity to provide an integrated system of heating, cooling, and IAQ to match the health, comfort, and cost desires of their customers — and that can and should include hydronics,” said Justin Churchill, associate manager, Residential Segment at Uponor.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT HYDRONIC HEATING?
Health — Hydronic heating systems don’t have ducts and don’t rely on pushing air around the house. There’s no risk of allergens being circulated via the air, making hydronic systems a good option for those who suffer from asthma or allergies. And it won’t dry out the home, making it much easier to maintain a balanced humidity level on chilly winter days.
Comfort — Homeowners with radiant heat won’t run into cold spots or drafts. The heat is consistent across every inch of the home, and the system heats the home itself: think floors, walls, and furniture.
“Radiant is a great way to enhance the thermal comfort of a space,” said Churchill. “It turns your entire floor into a radiant heat emitter, warming objects and the people living in the space, instead of the surrounding air.”
Plus, hydronic systems can be zoned to vary indoor temperature from area to area within the home. New residential hydronic systems are usually designed for zoning. For retrofits, the process varies from using thermostatic radiator valves on a radiator or baseboard to updating the controls on a radiant system or potentially reconfiguring the system itself, adding manifold valve actuators to control each zone via its own thermostat. And like other smart zoned systems, it can be connected to the internet and controlled and programmed remotely via a smartphone or tablet.
Energy efficiency — Heat travels about 20 times faster through water than through air.
“That makes radiant a much more efficient method to heat a space,” Churchill pointed out.
And that’s something consumers are always interested in, because it saves them money in energy bills. Due to the energy-saving benefits of electronically commutated motors (ECMs), some hydronics systems have saved a reported 85 percent less in electrical energy than other types of heating systems.
“Anyone looking to build a more comfortable and energy-efficient home should definitely consider adding radiant to their options list,” Churchill said.
WHO’S A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR HYDRONIC HEAT?
Churchill pointed out several target groups for hydronic heat.
“Home builders (and their subcontractors) who are looking to differentiate their homes by providing more comfortable and more energy-efficient systems,” he said. “HVAC contractors looking to raise the bar and provide heating systems that optimize the indoor environmental quality.”
And, of course, the end user.
To put it succinctly, like Churchill did: “Homeowners who are sick of walking around with a blanket in the middle of winter.”
Because of the piping work required, the easiest way to install radiant heat is when a house is being built.
“It can start simply with a radiant-ready basement, where tubing is installed when the foundation is poured,” said Churchill.
However, that’s not to say it can’t be added.
“It could also be improved by adding tubing or panels into the floor, walls, or ceilings of the kitchen, common room, or tiled bathrooms,” he said.
WHAT’S NEW ON THE MARKET?
“One common concern, chiefly among ‘old school’ hydronics contractors, was that the technology was too complicated,” Chaffee said. “Taco has put a lot of resources into demystifying radiant, into R&D [research and development], and toward making out-of-the-box solutions that do the job with elegant simplicity. Now, hydronic and radiant systems can be easily integrated into any home’s total HVAC system.
According to Churchill, the ideal radiant installation is embedded PEX tubing in concrete.
“This application uses Uponor’s foam stapler to affix tubing directly to extruded polystyrene foam board, prior to the concrete being poured,” he said. “To take advantage of this installation method, homeowners and builders should be proactive and plan to have radiant heat installed early on in the construction process.”
If homeowners want to improve the thermal comfort of their homes by adding a supplementary heating system later in the construction process, Uponor offers a number of installation products — including FastTrak™, Quik Trak®, and JoistTrak™ — to facilitate retrofit and renovation projects.
Fast Trak’s preformed knobbed mats and adhesive backing make it easy to install Uponor PEX tubing for radiant floor heating applications. Fast Trak 0.5 is only ½-inch thick, eliminating the need to alter baseboards, moldings, or doors. Fast Trak 1.3i is slightly over 1¼ inches in height and includes insulation already in the mat, eliminating the added time and cost of installing insulation under the tubing.
Quik Trak’s grooved, ½-inch-thick plywood panels have an aluminum heat transfer sheet attached to the back. They are placed on the floor surface and secured directly to the subfloor, allowing 5/16-inch tubing to be run on any surface with little increase to the floor height. It’s a dry installation method that eliminates the wait for a self-leveling over-pour to dry.
Joist Trak is an extruded aluminum heat transfer panel that can be used when an increase to floor height isn’t an option, or when the basement ceiling hasn’t been finished yet. Each panel is 4 feet by 3½ feet and is fastened to the bottom of the subfloor between floor joists.
Another product that helps integration go smoothly is Taco’s new 0015e3 ECM high-efficiency circulator, as well as its 007e.
“The 0015e3 offers the equivalent increased performance of the workhorse 0015 circulator, combined with high-efficiency ECM technology that uses up to 85 percent less electricity,” Chaffee said. “The 0015e3’s three easy settings provide flexibility in multi-zoned systems, which is the norm for radiant.” The 007e, another high-efficiency option, is best suited for dedicated zone pumping applications. Both circulators feature the BIO Barrier®, which protects the pump from contaminants, and the SureStart® function, which automatically frees locked rotor conditions and self-purges air.
Publication date: 5/20/2019