Benefits of Radiant Cooling and Heating Systems for Your Business
Radiant heating can be an efficient alternative to conventional forced-air systems. Generally, two methods exist to heat and cool a room. You can remotely heat and cool air, then disperse the conditioned air through ductwork. Or, you can utilize radiant technology to heat large surfaces in the room such as the floors or walls and allow that heat to gently emanate into the space. To cool the room in summer, heat sinks can be installed to absorb heat.
Forced-air systems present built-in drawbacks. Air is not an ideal medium to transmit heat or coolness so energy inefficiency due to thermal loss or gain is inevitable. In addition, the network of ductwork required to distribute conditioned air is always subject to air loss due to duct leakage. Forced-air systems are noisy and, by definition, continuously disturb air currents in the room, stirring up dust and other particulates that may irritate susceptible individuals. Radiant heating systems have proved to be an excellent option for warming rooms with greater efficiency and higher performance. Results are less promising for radiant cooling.
Here’s how each system works: Radiant heating
The principle behind radiant heating systems is to heat the floor or walls, then occupants will be warmed by heat radiating from those surfaces. Walls are generally warmed by the installation of radiant panels, but radiant floor heating offers three methods:
Radiant air heating
Radiant air heating warms floors by circulating hot air through channels built into subflooring. Because air is the medium, the thermal losses involved in radiant air systems are considerable. They are generally not recommended for small commercial or residential installation.
Electric radiant heating
Floors may be effectively converted to radiant heating systems by the installation of cables that create electrical heat by resistance beneath the floor. In some cases, the wiring of electric radiant systems is integrated into one-piece mats for installation under tiles or other floor coverings that conduct heat efficiently. Because electricity rates vary during a 24-hour period, electric radiant heating is most efficient when it is utilized in commercial buildings where a thermal mass—such as a thick concrete slab—exists to absorb heat produced during hours of lower-cost power, then slowly re-radiates heat during times of day when electricity is more expensive.
Hydronic radiant heating
As the name implies, hydronics involves water. Hot water is a more efficient heat-bearing substance than air. In a hydronic system, water heated by an efficient gas-fired boiler is pumped through a grid of tubes inlaid into the slab of the building or installed beneath sub-flooring. This heat effectively warms the slab or flooring and radiates up into living spaces. Water flow can also readily be controlled, so hydronic systems incorporate electronic valves to “zone” heating to specific rooms by increasing or decreasing the flow of hot water into different zones.
Reversing the principles of radiant heating, a radiant cooling system extracts radiant heat out of rooms and lowers indoor temperatures. A typical system incorporates highly-heat absorbent metal panels that integrate tubes circulating chilled water. The ceiling-mounted panels act as passive heat exchangers, absorbing rising heat energy out of the air and carrying it away in water. In order for the process to work efficiently, air inside the house must be meticulously dehumidified at all times.
Even small amounts of water vapor will cause condensation to form on the panels, interfering with heat extraction. In addition, the heat absorbing panels must be very large and material and installation costs are high. Except in the most naturally arid climates, radiant cooling is not considered a viable alternative for most applications.
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