Radiant heat is making a bit of splash now, and you wonder if it is for you. What exactly is radiant heating? Will it help improve your home in San Francisco, whether in the Tenderloin, the Sunset District, Bernal Heights, the Richmond District, the Mission District, Nob Hill, North Beach, the Bayview District, or Pacific Heights? Just how much work and cost is involved in installing radiant heating, and over time does it pay for itself? Why would you even be interested in having radiant heating in your house? In fact, radiant heating has been around since Roman days, and California and the Bay Area have a close association with it, given the tracts of Eichler houses constructed here in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Eichler was the architect who designed the buildings, which were modern, featured a lot of glass, open living areas, and flat or mildly sloped roofs. And, they also introduced hydronic radiant heat systems.
San Francisco Homeowners Find Benefits in Radiant Heating
Radiant heating systems operate on the principle of infrared radiation to provide heat. Heat is passed to elements set in the walls, floors, or ceiling. The heat then radiates out from the surface and warms the people and objects in the room. This is different from forced-air systems, in which the air in a room is heated. Air does not hold heat very well, and the movement of air can cause drafts and cold spots. Moving air also carries dust, pollen, other allergens, and possibly mold spores, along with other airborne pollutants. In contrast, since radiant heating systems don’t move air around, they are popular with people concerned about air-borne contaminants. Since radiant heating systems often have fewer moving parts than forced-air systems, they are often quieter, as well. Homeowners in San Francisco, including the Tenderloin, the Sunset District, the Richmond District, Bernal Heights, the Mission District, Nob Hill, the Excelsior, Pacific Heights, North Beach, and the Bayview District appreciate that fewer moving parts can also mean fewer repairs.
You may have a choice of radiant heating system to use. There are some air-heated radiant heating systems, but they are very inefficient. Air does not hold heat well, and there are almost no residential applications of air-heated radiant systems. Electrical radiant heating systems use cables or mats to send heat throughout the space. Electrical radiant heating systems use electricity as their power source, so are relatively expensive to operate. In the Bay Area, and in San Francisco, the hydronic radiant heating system is recommended. In a hydronic system, water heated with a boiler or hot water heater is passed through tubes. The water gives off its heat as it travels around the house, warming the area where the radiant heating is installed. Hydronic radiant heating systems are the most cost-effective of three.
Like most regions, California has statewide building codes. Title 24, Part 6 of the Building Energy Standards says that electrical radiant heating or electrical radiant floor warming can only be used as a supplemental heating system. This means that there must already be a primary heating system that directly services the area where the electrical radiant heating system is being installed, and that the primary heating system must be able to condition the space on its own, before any supplemental system is added. The reason for this is that electrical radiant heating is pretty efficient when it comes to using electricity to power the radiant heating system. However, the process of creating and transporting electricity itself is quite inefficient. California considers the actual source of the energy – the electricity itself – when evaluating the efficiency of the system. So, you will need to take this restriction into account when using electrical radiant systems. You still have lots of room to play with hydronic radiant heating systems, though.
How Can I Radiantly Heat my San Francisco Home?
Make sure you know all the parameters before installing a radiant heating system. Depending on the type of radiant heating system you are installing, there are different requirements. Radiant heat is often installed in the floors, so that the heat is released into the room. Convection, or the normal action of air in the room, then causes the heat to rise up and warm the people or objects in the room. But radiant heating systems can also be installed in ceilings or in the walls, if desired. Panels that contain water-carrying tubes or electrical cables can be attached inside the walls or ceilings so that radiant heat is sent out from the wall or ceiling. Radiant heat from walls tends to perform best in line-of-sight, meaning that you’ll feel warmest when you can see the wall with the radiant heating panel in it. Radiant heat installed in the ceiling sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable, as they feel the heat more on the head and shoulders, which people often like to feel a bit cooler than the rest of the body.
All radiant heating systems operate in the same way, essentially. A tube that carries water or electric cabling is looped around to cover the area where the heating system is being installed. With a hydronic system, the most common approach for a floor installation is to put loops of tubes into a concrete slab. The slab is used as a way to store the heat, since it has a high heat capacity. If your house is in San Francisco, whether in the Tenderloin, the Sunset District, Bernal Heights, the Mission District, the Richmond District, Nob Hill, or the Excelsior does not have a slab foundation, the tubes can be set into a thin layer of concrete or other material that sits on top of a subfloor. In some cases, if tile being laid, the tubes can be set into the mortar used for the tile.
A concrete slab is not mandatory; there are other approaches. In one case, the cables or tubing can be installed between the floor joists – the cables are attached to the underside of the floor. In this method, a reflector must be placed under the cables so that the heat travels up into the floor, and not down into the crawl space. Aluminum is highly recommended as reflector material because of its ability to retain heat. It’s also possible to install the tubes or cables between two layers of a subfloor. One company makes a plywood subfloor offering that has grooves for the tubing and reflector or diffuser plates built into the plywood. The idea is that this makes construction go faster.
Your San Francisco House – New or Remodel?
Radiant heat goes in easily with new construction. It can also be installed in existing structures, but you will have to weigh the benefits vs. the costs. If the house already has radiant heating, and you are adding on, it’s pretty easy to extend radiant heating to the new addition. However, if you are adding radiant heating where none exists, you need to really consider the proposition. Can your house in San Francisco, whether in the Tenderloin, Bernal Heights, the Richmond District, the Sunset District, the Mission District, or North Beach really benefit from radiant heating? One of the key considerations is floor height. Especially if you are installing a concrete slab for a hydroic radiant heating system, you need to consider that the floor height will be raised by the addition of concrete layer. This means that everything on the floor – cabinets, toilets, tubs, etc., will also be raised. There are some electrical radiant heating products that promise to add virtually no height to a floor – these are usually mats that the manufacturer says can be installed under carpet. So depending on what you are installing, the impact of adding radiant heating to an existing structure can be very significant or not.
What Radiant Heating System Should I Put in my San Francisco House?
You may think you know the kind of radiant heating system you want. However, you have to be sure that it will perform well – heating where and when you want it to heat. You also have to be sure that it meets the code for your particular area. You should look for a radiant heating company that will make sure you get what you need. Many companies will help you by drawing up plans using computer-aided design programs. You need to check with the company about who is responsible for making sure the heating system meets local building regulations. A few companies may help with this, but it is often the responsibility of the architect or you, the homeowner, to be sure that the system meets the requirements. You may have to work with both your radiant heating system supplier and the local building inspectors.
Look into which services are offered by which radiant heating providers. Some firms are full-service companies that will help with the design of your heating system, will install it, and will service, test, and maintain it after installation. Other firms offer the materials and kits, along with DVD’s or other instructional materials. Most offer the materials need to build the radiant heating system, or can advise on the products to choose. A talented, confident do-it-yourselfer may be able to install most of a radiant heat system, but everyone will need an electrician to connect the system to the device that controls the system. Some companies work with building inspectors to get the final installation approved, while others place the entire responsibility for that on the customer. If you do decide to go on your own, remember that you will be responsible for trouble-shooting if the system doesn’t work, for any installation failures, and the like. You need to seriously consider whether or not you are up for the task.
Designing Your San Francisco Home and its Radiant Heating System
For most people, they will want an experienced, full-service provider. Such a company can really help you design the proper system for your property and circumstances. Part of this design will consist of defining zones within the house. A zone is an area that is separately controlled with its own thermostat. Broad guidelines say that each story of your house should be its own zone. Also, 700-1,000 square feet is a typical zone. You may also want to consider zoning based on how the rooms are used. A bedroom might be kept cooler than a general living space, for example. Usually, a thermostat per room is not a good idea, since it can cause the boiler or other energy source to cycle on too frequently. Also, in general, rooms in a radiantly heated house tend to have the same general temperature. It’s also good to note that the temperature you set your thermostat to is often lower with a radiant heating system, though you will feel as warm as you would with a higher thermostat setting on a forced-air system.
You don’t have to worry about the material used to cover your floor. You can use a radiant heating system installed in the floor with almost any kind of floor covering – carpet, stone, tile, marble, etc. Just remember that a material that insulates will also insulate the heat that the system is trying to send up through the floor. Some manufacturers recommend that you not put mattresses, inflatable mattresses, etc., on top of radiant heating systems since they will absorb the heat. If you are in any doubt about your floor covering’s ability to work with a radiant heat system, ask the radiant heat system supplier.
San Francisco Finds Uses for Radiant Heating
Radiant heating systems do more than just central heating. Customers like to have warm floors, especially if the floors are made of marble, tile, stone, wood, or other materials that are cool to the touch. Radiant floor warming is popular, especially in rooms like the bathroom. In general, radiant heating systems are not installed under things like cabinets or bathtubs, but some customers like a heated tub, and a radiant heating system can be used in the bathroom to warm your bathtub or for a towel-warmer. In San Francisco, whether Bernal Heights, Nob Hill, the Richmond District, the Sunset District, the Tenderloin, or the Mission District, we generally don’t have to worry much about snow and ice. But you can keep in mind that radiant heating products can also be used to warm driveways and sidewalks, melting snow and ice. Similarly, anyone with a vacation home above the snow line may want to remember that radiant heating products can be used on roofs and gutters to melt snow and ice, preventing a snow from placing a heavy load on the roof and preventing ice and snow from forming in the roof valleys.
In San Francisco, What are the Costs for Radiant Heating?
As you could probably guess – it depends. Of course, the costs vary based on the size of the house, the lot, whether it is a new construction or a remodel, etc., etc. However, as a broad generalization, you can figure that a new construction radiant heating system will cost about 10%-25% more to install than a forced-air system. The costs are mostly associated with the additional work required to place the tubing or cables during construction. In general, a hydronic radiant heating system is very efficient and will cost less to run over time than a forced-air system, but again, the actuality will vary with the implementation.
Maintenance should not be a big issue with your radiant heating system. With most systems having fewer moving parts, there can be less to break. If you use a water heater or boiler for a hydronic radiant heating system, you should have the device inspected regularly according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. In some cases, the tubes can spring a leak. This most often happens when the tubes were places inappropriately and subjected to stresses of a moving floor, a join, or other structural element. A properly placed tube should be insulated from these stresses. A good radiant heating system company should be able to test your system for leaks. They also should be able to identify when the electrical circuit is broken, in an electrical radiant heating system. Testing for unbroken tubes and circuits should be part of the installation procedure.
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