The Latest In Radiant
New hydronics products emphasize easy installation and energy efficiency.
Together with a colleague, Mark Hudoba, senior product manager for heating and cooling at Uponor, Inc., Apple Valley, MN, recently took on a basement remodeling project. Using two of the company’s new products, they installed a radiant hydronics system in one day—cutting three or four days off the typical installation schedule.
“When radiant came in, it penetrated quite well in the luxury homes segment. Now we want to bring radiant ‘from the classes to the masses’ by offering more affordable systems,” explains Hudoba. “With the new construction market down 75 percent over the last five years, but remodeling down only 20 percent during that same period, we see the need for simplified products.”
Hudoba’s basement remodel featured Uponor’s Radiant Ready 30E™, a prepackaged radiant “mechanical room,” and Fast Trak™, an insulated mat for installation on top of an existing concrete slab.
The Radiant Ready 30E™ includes a boiler, manifold, pump, expansion tank, pressure-relief valve, isolation valves, thermostat, and air vent—all ready to mount on the wall rather than be built on site. “The contractor simply installs the panel, attaches the tubing, and connects the power and the thermostat. Then the system is ready,” says Hudoba.
“The 30 in the product’s name stands for 30,000 BTUs in capacity,” he continues, “so it will heat about 2,000 square feet, or up to 4,000 square feet if used in conjunction with a forced-air system that provides air heating.”
Uponor’s ready-to-install panel can be used separately or paired with Fast Trak™ knobbed mats that feature an adhesive backing. “Fast Trak speeds up the process of installing the tubing, which you can snake around the knobs in any configuration you choose,” Hudoba notes. Once you press the knob down, it will hold the PEX tubing securely in place.
Wider Usage of Radiant
These two products play into the trend of expanding the accessibility of radiant hydronics systems by making them more affordable— particularly for residential retrofitting and remodeling. In turn, greater affordability calls for simpler systems that are easy to install, which help keep labor costs in check.
“Remodeling activity seems to be increasing, with consumers focused on getting strong value for the dollars they’re spending on products,” confirms John Sweaney, senior product and customer support manager at Watts Radiant, Springfi eld, MO.
For the residential remodeling market, Watts has introduced FlexPlate™, an under-floor heating plate that can also be used for radiant wall and ceiling applications. The lightweight plates attach to the bottom of the subfloor with staples, hold the tubing in place, and then transfer the resulting heat more efficiently.“Our flexible heat transfer plates are made from a natural graphite, similar to the material used in computers and TVs to pull heat away from the electronics,” Sweaney explains. “They spread the heat more evenly, which helps increase the comfort factor of a hydronics system.”
Compared to extruded aluminum plates, FlexPlate™ is 50 percent more thermally conducive and increases floor heat output by about 15 percent. According to Watts, which plans to launch more new products later this year, the fl exible plates can also be installed 40 percent faster than heavier, rigid aluminum plates.
Sweaney says, “We’re trying to solve the problems that contractors typically run into. For example, you can easily trim FlexPlate™ with a utility knife, and you don’t have to worry about any sharp edges that could damage the tubing.”
Quicker to Install
Viega is also doing its part to make life easier for contractors. The company, whose heating and cooling campus is based in Nashua, NH, just introduced Rapid Grid. The all-in-one product incorporates insulation, vapor barrier, and a grid system for securing tubing.
“This product enables our customers to control more of the job—they don’t have to rely on someone else to put down the insulation,” says David Desjardins, Viega’s product manager for heating and cooling. The two-inch thick, code-compliant insulation used in Rapid Grid is equivalent to R-10 thermal resistance.
“The knobs are spaced about three inches apart. That makes it easy for installers to get the spacing correct, and they can just walk the pipe in. They don’t even have to bend over because no fasteners are required,” Desjardins adds. Rapid Grid panels, which accommodate three sizes of tubing, interlock with one another so taping isn’t necessary either. Viega estimates that using Rapid Grid can reduce the time of a radiant heat installation by as much as 66 percent.
On the commercial side, Uponor aims to reduce installation time by 85 percent with its new Radiant Rollout™ Mat. Custom made for each project, the five-feet-wide mats consist of pre-assembled and pre-pressurized loops of PEX tubing.
“On the job site, you simply unroll the mat, rather than having to put down tubing and tie it down to the wire mesh in loops,” says Hudoba. According to Uponor, six contractors using the Radiant Rollout Mat™ could install 35,000 square feet per day—between 16 and 19 mats—compared to 4,500 square feet per day using conventional installation methods.
“Using the Radiant Rollout Mat™ has very little impact on the construction schedule. In fact, you can roll out the mats faster than you can pour the concrete,” Hudoba notes, adding that the product can be used for radiant heating or cooling.
Plays Well with Others
Both Hudoba and Desjardins report a significant uptick of interest in radiant heating and cooling systems, primarily within the commercial market. That reality points to a second trend: integrating radiant hydronics with other systems, rather than operating several standalone systems.
“Radiant marries nicely to other technologies, including geothermal and high efficiency boilers,” says Desjardins, “and it also integrates well with renewable energy, such as solar.”
For college campuses and other sites that rely on a central plant to generate energy — whether through geothermal, solar panels, biomass boilers, or more traditional energy sources — Watts Radiant has introduced R-fl ex™. Applications for this flexible, insulated piping system range from hydronic heating and snow
melting, to district heating, to commercial process piping.
Sweaney explains, “R-fl ex™, which is designed for direct burial in the ground, encases PEX tubing in a thick layer of foam insulation and then adds a thick outer covering to protect it all from damage.” It replaces the need for a contractor to solder together copper or iron pipes and insulate them on the job. In addition, R-fl ex™ bends easily around obstacles, negating the need to cut pipes and install transition fittings.
“Instead of having many connections buried in the ground, you have a continuous coil of PEX,” which translates into reduced potential for leaks, adds Sweaney. Other advantages: R-fl ex™ doesn’t require special tools to install, offers low water vapor absorption, and can withstand extreme temperatures.
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