Many of us live in tract homes. In these cookie-cutter houses, not much of anything distinguishes one from the next. And, indeed, where I live in Phoenix, almost all the neighborhoods are indistinguishable from one another: It’s a sea of stucco and tile. Heaven help the poor soul who takes a wrong turn.

Due to this inherent sameness found around the country, most people have usually thought about what it would be like to build their dream home. What if money were no object, and you could build whatever you’d like? Friends have said they’ve dreamed about big, old, stone farmhouses, or Santa Fe-style homes, or castles.

As for me, my dream house would be a sprawling one-level home. Nothing fancy — just 6,000 or 7,000 sq ft with six bedrooms and the same number of bathrooms. I would have little to no carpeting, only miles of tile as far as the eye could see. And since I wouldn’t want my little tootsies getting cold, I would definitely want radiant heat.

Nothing seems more luxurious to me than radiant heat.

Radiant a Popular Choice

I’m not the only one who thinks radiant heat is essential for a dream home — many of those building custom homes also opt for this type of system.

Greg Jannone, president, William Jannone and Sons, Bound Brook, NJ, says that much of his company’s work involves installing radiant heating systems in custom homes.

“The homes we work in average in size from 4,000 to 20,000 sq ft, and most of them will spend between $50,000 and $200,000 for their hvac system,” says Jannone.

Most of these high-end customers are looking for comfort as well as aesthetics. With radiant heat, the tubing is buried in the floors, there are no heating elements or grilles, and no baseboards. This means they can decorate however they choose, with fancy moldings and furniture, and they don’t have to worry about obscuring a register or having forced air blow their beautiful fabrics around.

Putting in these systems takes a lot of time and effort, which is one of the reasons why radiant heat is much more expensive than a conventional heating system. The cost of the system depends on the size of the house (the more square footage, the more expensive the system).

It also depends on what the customer wants from the system. “We’ll talk to the client and find out what they expect from the system, what things they’re looking for, what things they’re not looking for, then we’ll draw up a system,” says Jannone. “It takes some time to do it properly.”

Jannone notes that the usual scenario involves taking a set of plans, doing the heat loss calculation, coming up with a radiant design and a boiler design, then doing the piping schematic. The tubing layout comes next; it’s done on a computer program, so they know where all the tubing is going to be. Then come the wiring diagrams.

“It can get involved,” says Jannone.

All The Bells and Whistles

Custom homes do, indeed, take a lot longer to work on, says Andy Stack, owner, Andy Stack and Sons, Avon, OH. That’s why his company only takes on one or two custom homes a year.

“Right now we’re working on a 10,000-sq-ft house, and we’ve been working on it for almost a year and a half,” says Stack. The radiant heating and high-velocity cooling systems in that home will cost around $150,000.

Stack finds that people building such large homes sometimes balk at the price, especially when it can run from $8 to $15/sq ft. But since comfort is usually the most important criteria in custom homes, the owners are usually willing to spend the money.

“The program ‘This Old House’ has done a lot for radiant heating, and customers come in with a lot of questions,” says Stack. Stack is ready to answer them with a fully stocked hydronics showroom. “Once I get them in here, it’s an easy sell because I have a lot of things that work; they can touch, feel, and hear everything that we sell.”

Many customers are interested in all the neat gadgets that can go along with radiant heating, such as towel warmers for bathrooms. Stack says that he also often uses radiant heat in shower walls.

Another good place to use radiant heat is around Jacuzzi® tubs that are placed next to windows. The cold air can roll off the window and into the tub, making occupants uncomfortable. Radiant heat helps keep the tub warm and toasty.

Custom homes that use radiant heat often use high-velocity cooling systems. Stack particularly likes using chilled-water, high-velocity systems because they give customers more options, and he never has to worry about icing a coil. (For more information, see “High-Velocity Cooling and Radiant Heating” online at

“A chiller is a valuable asset to high-end homes. For this home we’re working on now, I have three 4-ton chillers that are on the side of the house that I tie into the piping system, and I also tie into the boiler. So, in essence, on this same loop I’ve got air conditioning, and in the winter I can use it as auxiliary heat off the same line,” says Stack.

Jannone says that another important aspect is to have a fully integrated control system, which means the cooling and heating will be controlled by one set of controls. “We just finished a job that had five two-stage zones” — in two-stage zones, the radiant heating in the floor is the main heat for the room, but in certain situations it’s not enough to heat that space at design conditions; the thermostat would sense the drop in temperature and turn on the second stage, which are usually supplemental panel radiators against the wall — “eight zones of cooling, dehumidification, fresh air exchange, 30 zones of heating, indirect hot water, and snow melting on the front and rear porches.” It would definitely get confusing if there were more than one set of controls.

While radiant heating is a luxurious way of keeping warm in custom homes, the contractor, too, must provide high-end service to this clientele. “Be professional about your presentation, be thorough with your explanations and your proposals, ask a lot of questions, find out what people’s expectations are, and don’t be afraid to charge for your services. These people usually require more attention than others,” advises Jannone.

Stack adds that whatever you say you’re going to do for the customer, you’d better do, and you’d better back that up.

Publication date: 08/20/2001