If you’re new to our blog, we’re a young couple in the process of building a custom timber frame home with our very own two hands, debt-free or without a mortgage. One decision we had to make was how we wanted to heat our home and we wanted to share the best radiant floor heating system for our needs.
There are a million decisions to make when building a custom home. From how you want to build your concrete walls to how to heat your home and which brand of roofing to go with, every phase seems to require an extensive amount of research as each decision affects every other decision.
Long before we’re ready to even think about moving into our home, we had to decide how we were going to heat the home. We knew we wanted heated floors because, let’s be honest, once you experience such luxury it’s hard to forget about it and go back to having cold floors in the bathroom.
However, knowing you want heated floors isn’t enough.
Do you want hydronic heat? Electric heat? Which company should you go with? Should you go with a “plug and play” system or should you try to go the DIY route and buy system components individually? Should you install tubing in your garage slab of your two story house or should you have radiant heating on the living level?
There are so many decisions to be made and as with anything, it pays to do your research before you get too far into the house build.
We’re no radiant heating system experts, far from in fact, but we’re happy to share some insight to our decision-making process to settle on the best radiant floor heating system for our needs.
Why a Radiant Floor Heating System?
If you’re reading this article, chances are you already know you want a radiant heating system and heated floors. And why wouldn’t you? Heated floors are awesome!
However, if you aren’t sure why you’d want such system, here are some reasons why you might want to consider it.
- Cozy – First and foremost (in my female opinion), heated floors are cozy. I’ve only been in a few homes with them but that feeling you get when you walk into the tile bathroom in the morning is unforgettable. It’s a great way to start the day. Somehow, having cozy feet makes the rest of the body feel cozy.
- Temperature Control Room to Room – Have you ever had the problem of heating your entire house up only to realize that your bedroom is now too warm to sleep? And have you ever wanted your bedroom cold at night only to realize that the rest of your house is freezing when you wake up? Yea. Us too. Radiant floor heating allows you to control the temperature room-by-room or zone-by-zone. Our home will be set up so that the bedroom is it’s own zone, the office is its own zone, bathroom is its own zone and living areas are their own zone. It will be fabulous year-round.
- No Cold Spots in House – Many folks in our neck of the woods rely on wood heat (specifically a wood stove) to keep warm. This almost always creates hot and cold spots in the house. In one house we lived in, the wood stove was somewhat detached from the rest of the house so even though we had it running all winter, we still had to have a portable electric heater in our office because it was unbearably cold.
- Better for a New Timber Frame – Because we’re building a timber frame house specifically and the wood is green, it’s actually not ideal to heat the structure too much the first few years. It’s ideal for a timber frame to dry slowly, and for us, a wood stove would likely overheat the structure and result in the timbers drying too quickly. Radiant heat is much easier to control and can provide for a more even temperature.
- Closed-Loop System – Most fuel sources require an intake and an exhaust and air exchange by nature is inefficient. A radiant heating system is a closed loop system that requires no air exchange which simply makes such system more efficient.
Why Hydronic Radiant Heating Over Electric Radiant Heating?
So once you decide you want a radiant heating system, do you go with hydronic heating or electric heating?
For us the answer was obvious although it might not be to everyone.
Because we’re detatched from the power grid and rely on solar power, we don’t have access to lots of electricity. Specifically, there isn’t much sun over the winter months in our area, so we need to keep electricity use to an absolute minimum, so anything electric was out of the question.
We wanted a hydronic heating system because it could run off a wood boiler.
Wood is an unlimited resource for us and is sometimes even a by-product of other things we do on the property (building a timber frame house?!). Not only that, but a hydronic radiant heating system is cleaner than running a wood stove, so we have the pros of wood heat without any of the cons.
Hydronic heating can also provide a more even temperature over electric heating.
Why the Warmboard Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System?
When we told our engineers (the kind folks at Shelter Institute in Woolwich, Maine) that we wanted a hydronic radiant heating system, they immediately recommended Warmboard. They haven’t led us astray with a recommendation yet, so it’s what we checked into first.
Reasons they recommended Warmboard, and reasons we decided to give it a try, are as follows.
1. One stop shop for a hydronic radiant heating system.
When we installed hydronic tubing in our slab (more on why that isn’t our primary heating system further in article), we bought components primarily from one person but it was a radiant supply business and the manufacturers varied on the products we bought.
Warmboard is a one-stop-shop for a radiant heating system which was attractive to us.
As we’re first-time owner-builders, we like the Apple approach to construction products. By that we mean we like things that are plug-and-play. Building a house is hard enough as-is, so we like products that just work.
Warmboard can create your zone layouts, create the tubing runs for the zones, create the panel layout, and provide all materials including the tubing and the manifold. Not only does this make it easy for us, but if we have a problem with the system or any individual components, we can call ONE company whose products supposedly work together.
2. Warmboard creates your zone layouts.
In our garage slab, we either have one large zones or no zones, depending on how you look at it. We weren’t that picky because we never plan on using that system… we only installed tubing and a manifold to not rule out the option. That said, we didn’t go overboard with how to lay out the tubing because anything was better than nothing.
Designing a radiant heating system for a living level is a bit different. Warmboard and their design team was able to consult with us on the phone, look at our floor plans, and help us to determine what and where our zones should be.
3. Tubing runs are calculated for you.
Once you have your zone layouts, you need to think about the tubing runs in each zone.
To be efficient and not lose too much heat, it’s necessary that tubing runs don’t exceed a certain length. We have a large zone in our home which is the main living area (kitchen, living room, hallway and mudroom) and Warmboard is able to give you a computer-generated image of how the tubing runs are to be laid out.
Again, not that we don’t enjoy thinking and stretching our brains, but building a house is hard work so we enjoy any help we can get.
4. Panel layouts are calculated for you.
Warmboard has their own plywood panels (we chose to go with S-Panels which are structural sub floor panels compared to R-Panels which are typically installed over an existing subfloors as the case typically is in retrofitting or remodels) with tubing grooves pre-cut, saving you time.
They have four panel types, color-coded, and they give you a map of which panels go where in your home. We have to confess that this was extremely nice and easy to follow on installation day.
5. A low-mass radiant floor heating system.
Warmboard S-Panels are a 1-⅛” plywood underlayment which is considered to be low mass, compared to concrete or gypsum concrete which have a much higher mass even at 1” thick. Slabs can take a long time to either heat or cool which can be problematic, especially in spring or fall when there are large fluctuations in temperature on a daily basis.
Warmboard’s low mass makes it easy to heat or cool within minutes vs hours or even days.
Not only that, but because it’s low mass and high conductivity, the climate can be controlled with water at lower temperatures compared to other systems resulting in an energy savings and reducing the wear and tear on system components.
6. Structural subfloor and radiant heating system in one.
Because we’re building our home from the ground up, anything we can do to kill two birds with one stone is a win for us.
We wanted to use plywood underlayment anyways, and we wanted a radiant heating system, so why not do a all-in-one system if we could get away with it?
7. Tubing runs are marked on bottom of underlayment.
If you watch this video, you’ll see that we had to drill through our concrete slab after our hydronic tubing was installed. Although we had aerial drone footage of where our tubing runs were located, this was a terrifying event. We successfully drilled nine holes in the concrete, but we never want to do that again.
Warmboard indicates where the tubing runs are on the bottom of the panels which means if you ever need to do anything to the underlayment, you’ll know where your tubing runs, reducing your odds of puncturing a tube.
Let us tell you – radiant roulette is not a fun game. At all. Even if the odds are in your favor, if you lose, you lose BAD.
8. Installation is easy.
Warmboard provides a lovely welcome kit which includes installation instructions, a couple large prints of your Warmboard plans (panel layout and tubing runs), a router bit if you need to do any custom routering for your tubing (we’ll have a little bit to do) and an alignment tool.
We have a bad record of installing pretty much anything. If something can (or can’t) be screwed up, trust us, we’ll find a way.
That said, we’re happy to report that installation went smooth all said and done. Check out the videos below for the full arrival and installation of our Warmboard.
9. Reduced engineering and building costs.
The higher the mass of your radiant heating system, the higher the weight of the structure. The higher the weight of the structure, the more components below need to be engineered and strengthened which means added expense.
Going Forward with Heated Floors – Follow Our Progress
While we wish we could give you a full review of how our hydronic radiant heating system is working for us, we aren’t quite there yet, but will be before we know it!
At the time of writing this article, our goal is to get the house dried-in which means we need walls and a roof, so installing the radiant tubing is the last thing on our mind.
The structural subfloor is the only component of the system we’ve installed but we’re eager to install the rest.
We invite you to stick around and now only follow our entire house build from start to finish, but to see how the radiant heating system works out for us all said and done!
Get Involved! What’s Your Experience With Heated Floors & Radiant Heating Systems?
We love when pages on our blog turn into a resource from others to benefit from. Our experience and opinions are by no means the only ones out there, and everyone’s experience is different, so get involved!
We want to hear from you. Let us know what’s worked for you, what you’re thinking of doing, pros and cons of various systems based on experience and maybe others can use that information to decide on the best heating system for their house.
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