Radiant Floor Heat is Educated Choice

By Bob Miodonski of Contractors Staff Boston Radiant floor heat frequently isnt the easy choice when retrofitting an older home. But when Bob and Judy Zeitlin bought a 160-year-old house on historic Beacon Hill here, they decided they wanted radiant. "We chose a radiant system for its supposed quietness, cleanliness and steadiness of heat," Bob Zeitlin told Contractor. Both Bob and Judy Zeitlin are

By Bob Miodonski of Contractor’s Staff

Boston – Radiant floor heat frequently isn’t the easy choice when retrofitting an older home. But when Bob and Judy Zeitlin bought a 160-year-old house on historic Beacon Hill here, they decided they wanted radiant.

"We chose a radiant system for its supposed quietness, cleanliness and steadiness of heat," Bob Zeitlin told Contractor. Both Bob and Judy Zeitlin are professors of archaeology and anthropology. He teaches at Brandeis University and she’s at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

What might have made the choice easier was the extent to which the house was rehabbed. The Zeitlins purchased the 2,800-sq.-ft., four-story home in August 1999 for $1.03 million and paid $450,000 for renovations, including the heating system.

"When we purchased this house, the room configuration would not work for our family needs," Zeitlin explained. "My wife and I needed individual studies for work; our two boys wanted individual bedrooms; we desired a kitchen with an eat-in area; and a separate dining room. We therefore removed all interior partitions, reconfigured the layout of rooms and added a shed dormer on the top floor."

Today the ground floor consists of the kitchen/eating area, which opens to a private garden at the rear of the house; the dining room; a powder room; and a utility room/workshop. The first floor has an entry hallway, living room and parlor. The second floor has the master bedroom and bath, a laundry room and Bob Zeitlin’s study. The top floor has two bedrooms, Judy Zeitlin’s study and a full bathroom. An attic storage area has an additional 360 sq. ft. of storage space.

The home’s previous source of heat was gas-fired hot water. Today the entire ground floor is warmed with a radiant floor system while the rest of the house is equipped with cast-iron radiant baseboard. Guy Colella Plumbing and Heating installed the system.

Installation began in January 2000 with the laying of a 6-in. concrete slab on the ground floor. The soil below grade was excavated and backfilled with crushed stone and a 3-in. layer of rigid Styrofoam insulation prior to the pouring of the concrete slab. The pex tubing was fastened to the slab and then encased in a second 2-in. layer of concrete. The finish surface is ceramic tile.

The heat source is a Burnham Revolution boiler. Other Burnham products in the system include an Alliance indirect-fired water heater, Baseray cast-iron baseboard, pexc tubing and manifolds. Burnham also provided system design assistance on the project, said Gary Hayden, Burnham’s engineering manager.

Danfoss manufactured the control panel, which is a "plug-and-play" system, Hayden said. The UL-approved control panel made it easy for Colella and the electrician to work together, Hayden added. Boston codes require that plumbers install piping and electricians do all the wiring, he said.

The heating system contains four thermostatically controlled zones, one per floor. Interestingly, when the heating was installed, the Zeitlins discovered that the Danfoss control system incorporates a Heat-Trol hydronic reset control for motorized valve operation, manufactured by the Heat-Timer Corp. What makes that so interesting is that Bob Zeitlin’s father, Edward, invented the Heat-Timer electronic heating control and was president of Heat-Timer Corp. until he sold it about 25 years ago to the company’s current owners. Even with that lineage, neither Zeitlin nor his wife had any previous direct experience with radiant heat.

The radiant system was completed in November 2000 and the Zeitlins just completed the first heating season in their home.

"From a comfort standpoint, we are very pleased with the system," Bob Zeitlin said. "It provides quiet, clean heat with minimum fluctuation. It doesn’t have the dry-air effect of the forced warm-air system in our previous home.

"We’re particularly pleased with the radiant floor heat. It provides the ultimate in comfort, tempting us to walk around barefoot!"