Radiant Heating Equipment, Installation, and Operating Cost Questions

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What is the difference in equipment cost between radiant heating versus a forced air furnace system?

The answer to this question can be two sided and affected by certain factors like the kind of structure, life style requirements of the occupants, quality, location, and the availability of products to be installed. According to the mentioned parameters, either system can sometimes be cheaper or more expensive to install. However, on average a typical forced-air system will run 10%-25% cheaper than a radiant heating system. The main reason for this is the radiant floor system is more labor intensive to install. Laying the radiant panel circuits 12 inches on center throughout a room takes more time than installing a few air ducts for the forced-air requirements. Yet some forced-air systems can cost more than radiant systems due to sophisticated electronic zoning equipment and controls which are additional features to the system but usually standard with a radiant system. After the initial cost the real value in a radiant heating system is realized from lower-fuel costs and less maintenance. Not only are radiant systems less costly to run, but they increase the value of your home since thye are seen as more desirable by providing more comfort from the absence of dust and irritants. A typical force-air furnace system for a 2,000 sq. ft. home will cost you between $3,800.00-$4,500.00 versus a hydronic boiler system costing about $4,000.00-$5,000.00. The average life expectancy of a forced-air furnace may be between 10-25 years where the average boiler system can last between 30-45 years. The cost of filters and other maintenance including, bearings, belts, fans and motors for forced-air systems can dramatically increase the amount of your investment from a service standpoint. Radiant heating systems are less maintenance and more efficient which means less cost to operate. Forced air systems also affect the air quality of your home if not maintained regularly where as a radiant system promotes no dust or allergens to effect the home environment.

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How much should a typical radiant system cost?

On average, a radiant heating system will typically cost between $6-$12 per square foot to install. The variance in price is mainly affected by the amount of separate zoned areas and the overall size of the system. Since the initial cost of the boiler safety and support equipment required for system operation is incurred with each project but minimally affected by system output, the cost for a smaller project generally runs higher per square foot than a larger project. For example, the cost difference for a 100,000 BTU boiler for a small home and a 200,000 BTU boiler for a larger home may only be several hundred dollars more instead of double the initial boiler cost. For smaller additions to a home, less than a 1000 square feet, the cost of the heat source equipment can be reduced if a water heater is used. Water heaters are not only less complicated than hydronic boiler systems but they are easier to install so both the material and labor costs associated with the installation are cheaper. Since all radiant panel systems should be designed “closed-loop” for longevity, a water heater if used without a heat exchanger should be dedicated to the radiant system. If the water heater is used for domestic water heating as well, then a stainless steel or copper heat exchanger should be used to separate the two systems. A boiler cost will be initially higher but will provide faster response, more efficient heating, less standby loss and outlast a water heater and therefore is the preferred option. The largest problem with using a water heater is the standby loss of the volume of stored water in the tank while the system is not running. The typical R-8 insulated residential water heater will have 7-12 degrees F. of standby loss per hour for the volume of stored water. For this reason we recommend, if a water heater is used, a high efficiency tank is provided with a minimum of R-16 insulation to minimize the standby loss. Remember, a water heater is set up to maintain the tank temperature regardless of whether the system is calling for heat or not. A typical boiler will only hold 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 gallons of water so standby loss is not an efficiency issue.

The following prices are typical costs for a top quality custom designed radiant panel system that contains an average amount of zones, an all copper tube radiant panel 6-12 inches on center, and high efficiency boiler and safety and support equipment. Optional stainless steel indirect fired storage tank systems for domestic hot water generation are additional. Remember do not be fooled on cost without comparing the design, materials, labor, guarantees and follow-up service that is provided with the system. At Anderson Radiant Heating we are not married to any particular brand of products, but only install well proven items which we know will work and last for a lifetime of comfort.

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Why is radiant heat more expensive?

The answer is - Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. In general, a radiant heat system installs for several thousand dollars more than a forced-air system on a typical residential home mainly because of increased labor costs. Where a forced air system requires several ducts for vent connections, a radiant heating system uses tubing circuits throughout the floor that are 6-18 inches on center covered by concrete. The overall average amount of tubing used in a radiant heating system is more than needed to heat the structure but exists to provide evenness of floor temperature. The boiler systems are only partially set-up from the factory for system connection and require more additional plumbing, controls, and equipment to be installed for specific system operation than a forced-air furnace. The heat source equipment is similar in cost for both systems with the hydronic heating system usually being slightly more. What is not immediately seen by the consumer at the time of the system installation is the ongoing savings and value they will receive from a more efficient, reliable and desirable heating system as time passes. In the long run radiant heat is the better value.

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How much do your systems cost?

We install many different types of hot water heating systems including radiant panel, baseboard, fan-coil systems, and domestic hot water heating. Every system design is different and has different requirements which may affect cost higher or lower. On average the systems cost between $6-$12 per square foot of the conditioned space. In addition, an indirect fired storage option which we install for domestic water heating using the same space heating boiler will run between $4,500.00-$7,000.00. This system provides a lifetime stainless steel tank with high recovery and efficiency. After a set of project plans have been submitted to us, we can provide a proper bid for your particular system needs.

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I have heard that radiant heating systems are more efficient, but why do some people who have them say they cost a fortune to run?

It is true that radiant heating systems can cost 25-50% less to run than conventional forced-air systems when properly designed and in good running condition. It is important to remember when comparing two separate houses with heating costs that all factors are not likely the same. The structure and its heat loss play a large factor in determining overall heating costs, as well as, system design and individual requirements and knowing whether the radiant heating system is functioning properly or not. Some homes in our service area have four times the heat loss of an average home built today, with little insulation and large glass areas. What the systems have to overcome to properly heat the home are much different than might be required in another type of construction. Many older homes were built during a time where energy costs were cheap and overall efficiency and system design were not critical factors. With all conditions equal radiant heating systems prevail in lower operating costs. Another reason for higher heating bills when comparing two similar structures is the system operating condition. The system may have an inefficient boiler, or inadequate water pressure – leading to poor water circulation, or an air-lock in the tubing system, or improper system control settings. The first step to take with an existing system when unusually high operating costs are experienced is to have the system inspected by a professional. A radiant panel serviceperson can identify potential problems and correct them. Another factor determining system performance is the design itself. Does the heat source provide adequate output to heat the structure in a timely and effective manner? Was there sufficient distribution piping installed to offset the structures heat loss? Is the tubing system actually in the concrete slab? Inflated energy costs in a particular geographic region also plays a large part in the comparison. Each case is different and must be treated accordingly.

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520 East McGlincy Lane, Suite 16
Campbell, CA  95008
Phone: (408) 378-3868
Fax: (408) 559-0818

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