Stay Warm This Win­ter

SIPs • Ra­di­ant Heat • Fire­place Tips

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Ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tems can be a fan­tas­tic way to keep your log home toasty, and there are a lot of rea­sons why you may want to con­sider this type of heat source.

Buy­ers seek out ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tems for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons:

1 The con­sis­tency in tem­per­a­ture. You set the ther­mo­stat at a spe­cific tem­per­a­ture and the sys­tem works on its own to main­tain that tem­per­a­ture within the house.

2 The heat starts at your feet, so it ac­tu­ally touches your body, al­low­ing you to feel warmer. Then, the heat rises slowly. It doesn’t get drafty or lost in the rafters like many forced-air sys­tems can. 3 For peo­ple with dust or pollen al­ler­gies, ra­di­ant-heat sys­tems make a lot of sense, as you don’t have nearly the amount of air pol­lu­tants fly­ing around your home.

Tech­ni­cal Con­sid­er­a­tions

There are dif­fer­ent styles of ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing, from hy­dro-sys­tems, where heated wa­ter cir­cu­lates through pipes laid within the floor, to low-volt­age elec­tric in-floor heat­ing (more of a sup­ple­men­tal heat source than a whole-house so­lu­tion) suit­able for kitchens, baths, rooms over garages, etc.

When we’re talk­ing about choos­ing a hy­dro­ra­di­ant sys­tem as the pri­mary heat source for your log home, it’s vi­tal to get your gen­eral con­trac­tor and/or builder in­volved on the front end so he/she can an­tic­i­pate what the en­ergy de­mands of the house will be and help steer you to­ward a sys­tem that will meet those de­mands.

With hy­dro-ra­di­ant heat sys­tems, the ten­dency is to lo­cate it in the floor of the base­ment or main level of the home and let the heat rise to up­per lev­els, rather than have a sec­ond series of tub­ing on the top floor. In this case, in­stalling a mesh of elec­tric in-floor heat­ing pads be­neath the fin­ished floor in an up­per-level bed­room or bath could be a good way to sup­ple­ment your hy­dro-ra­di­ant sys­tem and keep your sec­ond­story spa­ces com­fort­able.

Also, re­mem­ber that the heat for a ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tem has to come from some­where. This means you’ll need a boiler that runs on some sort of en­ergy, whether it’s wood-fired, a pel­let stove, nat­u­ral gas, propane or elec­tric­ity, to warm the wa­ter. So­lar power is an­other op­tion, but it can be un­pre­dictable and in­ef­fi­cient, since the sun isn’t as strong in the win­ter months, when you need your heat­ing sys­tem most. Like the sys­tem it­self, your heat

source is some­thing you have to ac­count for early in the de­sign and con­struc­tion phase, so your log home is built to ac­com­mo­date those needs.

Con­struc­tion Con­sid­er­a­tions

Your log home will need to be built so that it prop­erly sup­ports the ra­di­ant in-floor sys­tem, and this could in­volve some tweaks — par­tic­u­larly in the con­struc­tion of your sub­floors.

Ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tem man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer own­ers and builders as­sis­tance in dif­fer­ent ways. In some cases, you can send your floor plan to them and they will cre­ate a com­plete de­sign so­lu­tion for your house, in­te­grat­ing it into ply­wood forms that al­ready have the grooves for the pip­ing cut into them, tak­ing the guess­work out of the equa­tion for your builder. Oth­ers de­sign the sys­tem, but pro­vide pre­cise spec­i­fi­ca­tions as to ex­actly how they should be in­stalled, giv­ing your builder a road map in­stead of a tem­plate.

Re­gard­less of how your sys­tem comes, your builder has to fol­low the in­struc­tions in de­tail, to the let­ter. Putting lines too close to­gether or miss­ing an area could cre­ate cold spots in your home, or worse, it could cause sub­con­trac­tors, like fin­ished-floor­ing in­stall­ers, to in­ad­ver­tently punc­ture the pip­ing with a nail or screw if the heat­ing sys­tem isn’t lo­cated where it’s sup­posed to be. Of course, the sys­tems have al­lowances for things like fin­ish­ing nails, so this shouldn’t be an is­sue, as long as care is taken to in­stall the ra­di­ant sys­tem ac­cu­rately.

An­other rea­son it’s so im­por­tant to de­cide if you’re go­ing with a ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tem early in the game is be­cause it can af­fect the height of your fin­ished floor. The pipes and un­der­lay­ment re­quire ex­tra space and can raise the floor height as much as 2 to 3 inches. The builder needs to en­sure the el­e­va­tion of the floor sys­tem is man­aged, so you don’t end up with a lip when you’re com­ing through the door. You’ll also have to plan a me­chan­i­cal space big enough to al­low ac­cess to the sys­tem, the heat source and the ter­mi­na­tion lines.

Op­er­a­tional Con­sid­er­a­tions

Like any­thing, a ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing sys­tem has its pros and cons. One neg­a­tive is that when you turn it on, you don’t have that feel­ing of im­me­di­ate heat be­ing thrown into the room. The heat is grad­ual. So if you go away for a while and turn the set­ting down very low (which is not rec­om­mended, by the way), it will take time — maybe as much as sev­eral days de­pend­ing on the size of the house — to warm the rooms once you fire the sys­tem back up. And, if you try to turn the sys­tem up high to speed the process, that can have neg­a­tive ef­fects.

For ex­am­ple: Your house is a sea­sonal home and you open it up to find the tem­per­a­ture is 65 de­grees. So, you turn the ra­di­ant sys­tem up to 80 to warm it to 72 de­grees faster, but the heat starts at the floor. You’ll be walk­ing around on 80-de­gree tile or hard­wood un­til you get the air tem­per­a­ture where you want it … not very com­fort­able. If the sys­tem is main­tained at a con­stant level at all times, you won’t have tem­per­a­ture swings.

The bot­tom line is that ra­di­ant in-floor heat­ing in a log home can make a lot of sense, but for the best re­sult, make this de­ci­sion early and make sure your en­tire de­sign/build team is on the same page.

Dan Mitchell is a builder, Log & Tim­ber Home Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and the 2018 Pres­i­dent of the Greater Knoxville Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion. He owns Ea­gle CDI in Ten­nessee.

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