TROY, Mich. - At the September meeting of the Eastern Michigan Chapter of the Radiant Panel Association (EMRPA), members explored several options for installing cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) tubing for radiant floor heat applications.

Dan McClary of Balfrey & Johnston Inc., a manufacturer's representative from Oak Park, gave the presentation, which was co-sponsored by the Zurn Plumbing Products Group of Grand Rapids. McClary divided the presentation into two parts, detailing some typical installations and talking about the tools and fasteners used in each method.

Rick Whitaker (left) of Zurn Plumbing Products Group demonstrates a method for installing tubing clips on Styrofoam™ for some members of the EMRPA chapter.

Installation Methods

McClary reviewed common installation methods, including:

  • Slab on grade - In these applications, tubing is embedded within a poured slab and held in place by wire mesh or insulation below the concrete. McClary demonstrated another way to embed tubing in cement using a special clip-on tracking system, which accepts tubes of various sizes. He emphasized the importance of using a tubing protection sleeve whenever the tubing pierces the concrete. The same sleeve should be used when the tubing spans concrete expansion joints.

  • Gypsum overpour - Here, tubing is tacked down to a subfloor and covered by a thin slab of concrete. In this type of installation, McClary recommended that a furring strip be added prior to the pour to facilitate carpet tack strip installation.

  • The sandwich method - The sandwich method includes the installation of heat transfer plates around the tubing on the subflooring, which is then covered by another subfloor layer. "The problem with heat transfer plates is they have a tendency to come off," McClary noted.

  • The thermal track method - This technique features modular boards, and the tubing fits into grooves.

  • The suspended floor method - In this method, tubing is attached below the floor using heat transfer plates and positioned above insulation between floor beams. Tubing may also be attached to wooden beams below the floor minus heat transfer plates.

    Tips, Tools

    McClary talked briefly about installing tubing on walls. He discussed the need to inform both drywallers and homeowners about the location of the tubing, citing the possibility of sheetrock screws or fixture hangers putting holes in the tubing.

    McClary demonstrated some new tools for installing tubing, noting, "More and more tools are being ergonomically designed to save people's backs."

    EMRPA chapter members got a firsthand look at the tubing and took part in installation demonstrations.

    EMRPA chapter member Jim Turnquist of Mich-I-Gas Sales, Warren, said, "I don't believe that there is a preferred method for installing radiant tubing, save what a particular distributor/representative likes and/or prefers to sell. The versatility and the flexibility of the numerous and varied installation methods is exactly what provides the uniqueness of radiant heating systems. Tools required to install many radiant heating types will vary greatly by manufacturer. Even many tubing manufacturers have their own style of tubing connectors, and each style will demand its own tools."

    Sidebar: EMRPA President Talks Radiant Heat

    Carl Clark took over the president's gavel for the first time at the September meeting of the Eastern Michigan Chapter of the Radiant Panel Association (EMRPA). He talked with The News about the chapter and the growth of the radiant heat market.

    The chapter was founded in 1998 and currently has 37 members. Monthly meetings bring turnouts of 15 to 20 members. Outgoing president Tony Rizzo of Nu-Way Supply Kitchen & Bath, Utica, Mich., commented that EMRPA has the most "active membership of any RPA chapter in the U.S."

    "The radiant market continues to grow each year, with many areas of the market as yet untapped," said Clark, whose business is Performance Engineering Group Inc. of Livonia. "These areas include hangars, residential snow melting, parking lots, and condos, to name a few.

    "I feel that the consumer is already thinking radiant, and too many contractors are leaving money on the table by not offering a radiant solution. A proper radiant/snow melting system is more than just putting some tubing loops in the floor and hooking up a boiler.

    "Each particular project has its own unique problems and solutions, and by joining an association such as the EMRPA, you can learn alternate solutions to any problem you may encounter."

    - John R. Hall

    Publication date: 10/11/2004