Plan for success with radiant systems

Jan. 7, 2014
My lack of training, specific to radiant heating systems, left me exposed  I joined the RPA to obtain the education required Over the past two decades I have been called to diagnosedozens of failed hydronic radiant installations Obtaining those basic fundamentals is easier now than ever before  

In 1993, I knew enough about hydronics, and, servicing 1940s era radiant heating systems, to know I wanted our new home to be bathed in luxurious radiantly heated comfort. I entrusted much of the design for my 10 zone — 11 if you count the indirect water heater — system to a supply house salesman who had sold me on his vast (by his account) hydronic radiant design experience.

Such a simple idea, really, to heat water and move it silently off to rooms for creature comfort. My lack of training, specific to radiant heating systems, left me exposed to being led to a hydronic slaughter. It took but one journey to a Radiant Panel Association convention to grasp just how ignorant I was regarding properly designing a hydronic (or electric) radiant heating system. I realized I had two basic choices: rely on others who would likely steer me into another radiant ditch; or step it up a few notches to begin learning how to do things a far better way. Step No. 1 — I joined the RPA, now known as the Radiant Professionals Alliance, to obtain the education required.  

All top-notch PHVAC systems begin with a plan. If you rely on someone else to formulate that plan, then you are at their mercy, and, as we all know, the mechanical contractor is left holding the bag when things go south — to a town where mercy left without leaving a forwarding address. A radiant heating and/or cooling system begins like any other HVAC system: with a heat loss/gain calculation that will be accepted by the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction), but most importantly that knowledge base serves as the foundation upon which you can build into designs that offer superior comfort and the most economic operating costs.

“Ask him — he knows radiant systems.” I had entered a supply house inside salesman area and another mechanical contractor was present. He told me he had installed a five-zone hydronic radiant system in an old stone home. Any three zones would meet the comfort-demand, but have either of any two remaining zones come on and none of the zones could satisfy the thermostats setting. He had relied on the supply house inside design guy who, as it turned out, had given the two-foot-thick stone walls an R19, the single pane glass R2, and the upper floor ceiling R30 because the homeowner told him it was insulated. My friend ended up installing another boiler.

Over the past two decades, I have been called to diagnose and investigate dozens of failed hydronic radiant system installations. In every case, the failures resulted from the designer/installer (team or individual) ignoring the basic need to start with a knowledge-based plan. Planning to fail is far too easy. A two-million-dollar radiant addition where the master suite could not rise above 55°F during moderately cold weather; a 5,000-sq.ft. home with so much noise created from a poorly installed radiant system that the owners had to turn off the heat each night; a multi-million-dollar home where the 91-year-old owner’s master suite could not be heated to keep her comfortable; and so on. The common thread running through each one has been a failure to plan and follow basic fundamentals.

Obtaining those basic fundamentals for building a rock-solid unshakable-foundation is easier now than ever before. The Radiant Professionals Alliance, now under the direction of Mark Eatherton, is bringing the same courses, revised and updated, that enabled me to become radiantly proficient and amp up my earning power. Work smarter not harder defined! I was asked to step up for kicking off the new on-line Fundamentals of Radiant Design. It will be a pleasure to pay back a bit of what the RPA has done for me while paying it forward to assist designers and installers who have an interest in ramping up their knowledge. To read a description of the course fundamentals go to:

In addition to learning the basics, the course will also illustrate pitfalls to avoid and you know I’ll tell a few stories related to hydronic and electric radiant adventures. I’ll share things that have helped me sell systems in spite of having the highest price, and we’ll have some fun along the way.

I’ll be talking to my computer while building the classes for this course, which will be a new experience. So long as it does not start saying “Good morning Dave” and its name is not Hal, we’ll get along just fine! Just as 2001 a Space Odyssey was about mankind’s self awakening, Fundamentals of Radiant Design formed the foundation of my self awakening for properly designing radiant systems. My investment cost far more back then than it does today due to missing work, travel expenses, lodging, meals, libations, and the course cost. Now you can learn at your own pace, when you want, how you like, and I’ll be there with you to answer questions.     

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Website is protected by Copyright 2013. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].   

About the Author

Dave Yates

Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor’s Website is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine.

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