Radiant heating manufacturers looking for bigger connection with American market
Radiant heating strips can be strung in a variety of spots in a building, including under floor joists. Photo courtesy of STEP Warmfloor
America is mainly dominated by traditional forced-air heating methods, while radiant solutions, industry experts say, barely register on the market radar.
The disconnect in understanding the value of radiant approaches stems largely from misconceptions, some manufacturers say. When one doesn’t hear the sound of a running compressor or feel warm air blowing their way – as is typically the case with forced-air systems – he or she sees the unit as not working.
But that’s just how radiant heating works – silent, but effective and efficient. Just ask Monica Irgens, president of Electro Plastics Inc., maker of STEP Warmfloor, a patented, low-voltage, self-regulating flat and thin radiant heater.
Radiant heaters were first developed in the early 1980s to heat car seats, but have since been used in multiple other applications, including in the construction industry.
The underfloor radiant heating market was valued at $4.65 billion in 2014 and is projected to grow at an annual rate of 8.7 percent through 2020, according to Markets and Markets research.
STEP Warmfloor has been a sought-after heating solution for more than 30 years, with the product installed in a host of commercial settings. Among them: hospitals, schools, ships and even an Arctic outpost where the application is used to keep batteries from freezing and being rendered useless.
A mere 1.2 mm thick, the heating strips are touted for their versatility, in addition to their effectiveness. The product can be installed in foundations, above subfloors, atop existing floors or between joists.
Radiant heating, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, has a number of advantages over other forms of heat distribution: “It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” Irgens said.
Proper heat distribution is of essence, such as having radiant heat in the floor where it is needed most, knowing that hot air rises and more dense cold air sinks. Also It is scientifically proven that distributing an even low temperature over a large surface is more efficient.
Using modulating self-regulated heating elements allow for elements to stay on and maintain set temperatures by filling in heat leakage from an area. A thermostat serves to adjust the element if the sun or other sources heat the air too fast.
In 2009, to illustrate the viability of radiant heating, Electro Plastics laid its product across nearly 35,000 square feet of floor in its Missouri warehouse and production facility. Paired with thermal insulation, the semi-conductive polymer strips – the building’s sole heat source – were buried in concrete or laid on the floor, under rubber mats, wood, laminate, tiles and carpet.
The building is LEED registered and to demonstrate the energy efficiency of STEP Warmfloor, a dedicated meter was installed to calculate the energy consumption of the heating system. An energy modeling study was calculated by an outside agency, which showed that the company saved an average of more than $22,000 in heating expenses per year. That’s a 60.4 percent savings over a comparable standard commercial facility.
The effectiveness of STEP Warmfloor wasn’t simply found in the monthly electric bills at the plant; it also maintained a comfortable even temperature all winter. Even when open dock doors allowed some heat to escape, once closed, the constant heat rising from the floor filled the gaps almost immediately.
To maintain a comfortable indoor working environment, the ambient indoor temperature was set to 72 degrees in the office area and 65 degrees in the warehouse and factory.
“Nobody believed you can heat with 24 volts in a commercial setting,” Irgens said. “We proved we can do it and do it efficiently.”
As buildings worldwide have become tighter through sustainable and green-building initiatives, radiant heating can prove an effective solution to maintaining high air quality. Despite the seals of a structure working in unison to keep out pollutants, traditional blower systems can push dust and other impurities settling in the ventilation ducts throughout the interior.
Additionally, using fossil fuels can cause an unhealthy environment by producing harmful gas emissions.
“When it’s too warm, you tend to get sluggish,” she said. “With radiant, there are no drafts, and the temperature is the same all around. In our building, it’s not warm or cold. It’s comfortable.”
In fact, the consistent level of comfort, as evidenced through studies, can contribute to a healthier environment and worker productivity.
Topics: Architectural Firms, Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Saving Products, Engineering Firms, Flooring, Great Commercial Buildings, Interiors, Office Buildings, Radiant Heat - Electrical & Hydronic, Sustainable Communities, Technology, Urban Planning and Design
Companies: STEP Warmfloor