Retired couple exercises the radiant option

Special to CONTRACTOR JACKSON, N.J. After living in their comfortable new home here for a little more than a year, Neil and Shirley Sullivan cant believe that builders do not do more to promote radiant heat. d think at this point they would be pushing radiant heat, Shirley Sullivan says. They really didnt give anybody any information about it, her husband agreed. If you dont ask and this surprises


JACKSON, N.J. — After living in their comfortable new home here for a little more than a year, Neil and Shirley Sullivan can’t believe that builders do not do more to promote radiant heat.

“You’d think at this point they would be pushing radiant heat,” Shirley Sullivan says.

“They really didn’t give anybody any information about it,” her husband agreed. “If you don’t ask — and this surprises me too — they don’t offer any information.”

The Sullivans were lucky enough that U.S. Home Corp. offered a radiant package option in the contract of their new home in the Westlake Golf and Country Club development. To a large extent, however, the retired couple made their own luck when it came to choosing their heating system.

That’s because the radiant package was buried on pg. 65 of the 87 pages of new-home options, they said. The Sullivans called the builder’s sales office, requested a copy of all 87 pages and unearthed the radiant information themselves. Several of their neighbors spent more time choosing their window covering option than on their mechanical system, they said.

Carters Heating and Cooling in Toms River, N.J., did the radiant installation with design help from John McGarry, a Weil-McLain sales rep who worked with U.S. Home and contractor Joe Carter.

Carter told CONTRACTOR that he had done six other radiant jobs in the Westlake development with at least three more on the drawing board. When it’s completed, Westlake will have 1,400 homes.

“Builders are getting better about radiant,” Carter said. “We’re pushing radiant through them. The efficiency of the systems seems to appeal to them.”

The Sullivans knew enough to ask about radiant because they previously had lived in a home in Bergen County, N.J., with floor heat. For them, comfort was a bigger issue.

“We had radiant heat in the slab, and we knew how nice and comfortable it was,” Neil Sullivan recalled.

“Come out of the shower, you stand on a tile floor, you don’t get that cold. You wind up with a nice, warm feeling. And then, just sitting around, the heat was magnificent.

“To give something like that up was not an option when we moved here. So we decided to take the option and get radiant heat in the floor.”

Living space in the Sullivans’ $387,000 home is about 2,200 sq. ft. The house is equipped with the air conditioning and forced-air furnace — also installed by Carters — that came with the mechanical system package. The relatively basic radiant system is an add-on. It is powered by a Weil-McLain CGa-4 gas-fired water boiler and includes 2,200 ft. of Alumipex tubing, which has been stapled up under the floor.

The home has three zones —two on the first floor and one upstairs. The radiant system has made a high ceiling on the first floor “irrelevant” from a heating standpoint, Neil Sullivan said.

“The heat stays down where we are,” he said. “With a forced-air system, it’s 80° up near the ceiling and 60° down here. That’s why radiant is the most comfortable heat we’ve ever had, bar none.”

Also not a factor is the type of floor covering. The home has both tile and carpeted floors.

“I’m just as warm in one place as the other,” Neil Sullivan said. “On tile, you’ll feel it more on your feet than you will on the carpet, but there are times when I’ll lie down on the carpet to watch TV, or my dog will come over and we’ll lie down on the floor, and then you can feel the heat.”

Furnishings do not have to accommodate grilles, ducts or baseboard as with other heating systems, Shirley Sullivan said. She finds that appealing.

“Here you have the freedom to put your furniture wherever, and it’s really great,” she said. “You don’t have to worry that you put a couch where you’re blocking where the heat is.”

Now, as they approach their second heating season, the Sullivans are the envy of their neighbors. And it’s not just because their house is more comfortable, they said. They’ve also compared energy bills.

“We keep our temperature at 72° in here, nice and comfortable. I’m not going to worry about what it’s going to cost me and not be comfortable,” Neil Sullivan said. “One of my neighbors keeps it at 68° — and it’s cold. And yet, my energy bill is less than his. Continuously. It’s not just one month. Every month his is higher than mine.

“Then there’s Joe. He has a smaller house than this, and he keeps his hot air at 72°. His bill is almost 50% more than mine, and he’s still cold!”

Despite the growing popularity of radiant heating in recent years, the Sullivans still believe that more homeowners would invest in the technology if they knew more about it.

“With most of the people I talk to, even the guys I play poker with, you talk about radiant heat and they look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Neil Sullivan said. “And then when you explain it to them, they still don’t understand it.

“Again, it’s simple. It’s hot water running through a pipe. And it just keeps the house much warmer, much more comfortable and cleaner. I really believe if more people understood it and knew about it, they would get it.”