The future of radiant heat may be above your head rather than below your feet — that is, for the installer. “We’re definitely seeing more joist space heating,” says Larry Drake, executive director of the Radiant Panel Association. “It’s a more palatable form of radiant for the mid-scale homebuilder since it minimizes the interruptions of the regular construction process.”

It’s also putting an American stamp on European methods. “It’s something we’re doing in this country that they’re not doing in Europe,” Drake says.

“It works quite well,” says Gary Hayden, manager/engineering for the Burnham Radiant Heating Co., and who also chairs a task force for the Radiant Panel Association that is studying this and other forms of installation. Hayden’s work on the task force also highlights another trend — educating the building industry to radiant heat. “‘Exposure temperature’ is a buzz word we’re trying to get everyone to use,” Hayden adds. Plywood, for example, has an exposure temperature of 150 degrees F. Go above that temperature and the wood begins to break down. Although temperatures of radiant are well below that limit, not everyone outside the fledging radiant heating community knows that. Other trends to note:

  • The public wants it. “We’re seeing a shift from upper-end people to the average American,” Drake says. “We suspect the reason it’s changing is the level of comfort a consumer wants, and has chosen to include as part of the necessity of their house and forego other extravagances in the house.”
  • The floor covering industry finally catches on. Carpet pad manufacturers are making products that are compatible with radiant heat. “I had a nice cushy sample in my office the other day with an R value of 0.2,” says John Barba, national training manager for Wirsbo. Traditionally, padding could have an R value of 1. Put a carpet with an equal R rating on top and you’ve get extra headaches that need not be. Also, hardwood floor makers no longer cry, “It can’t be done” when it comes to pairing a hardwood floor with a radiant system. “As long as the wood floor is installed properly, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Barba adds. “We’re not talking about intense heat anyway.”
  • Builders aren’t the enemy anymore ... Get a group of radiant heating contractors together and pretty soon you’ll hear laments that all these guys care about is cheap, cheap, cheap. Just forget about trying to sell radiant heat to builders! But builders can’t ignore the demands of their customers. “You can’t stop a good idea,” Barba says. “Too many people are asking for it.” So don’t be so quick to throw in the towel — but be prepared to tell them what’s in for them. “They need to separate their box from the competitor’s box and they know they can only go so cheap on price alone,” Barbar added. “Radiant heat is a much better way to stand out from the rest.” The dumbing down, corner-cutting, commodity mentality just might be starting to be a thing of the past.
  • … but the media is — or at least someone to keep an eye. The hatchet job done last October by no less than the Wall Street Journal is bound to find its way to other media outlets. Radiant stings don’t have the same ring to them as, “‘Your Plumber Did WHAT To Your Toilet!,’ today on a special 6 o’clock Eyewitness News Report.” But opportunities abound due to the downward spiral of journalism. If it’s national news, you can bet it will be local news somewhere sometime.
  • Warm to the touch. Finally, we weren’t sure whether to put this in our plumbing feature or this accompanying radiant trends story. But K&B designer Martha Kerr in her speech at last year’s kitchen and bath show highlighted the growing clamor for heated towel bars, as well as heated floors.
  • “With the increasing popularity of natural stone on the bathroom floor, consumers don’t want their bare feet on cold floors,” she said.