Special Feature Article



Addition Reading on Walls

Radiant Walls part I Residence/Renovation

Radiant Walls part II  Residence/Renovation

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Rock On!

Copyright (c) 2006, Robert Bean,R.E.T., Editor, All Rights Reserved.
Originally Edited for Publication in HPAC Canada 2007

Lets play a short round of Construction Jeopardy …ready?

First answer: Wall to Wall. Question: What is carpet? Bing!

Second answer: Floor to Ceiling. Question: What are drapes or windows? Bing!

Now what do you think Alex and the audience would have said if you had asked, “What is radiant heating?” Perhaps a little snicker or two?

You see, heating is not the first word which comes to the consumers mind when asked about architectural features involving wall to wall or floor to ceiling finishes. Consumers will think carpeting, windows, or drapes before they think HVAC but for a creative guy like Steve Ebels, wall to wall and floor to ceiling invokes images of embedded PEX behind the stone hearth of a fireplace which literally warms a space from wall to wall.

Fireplaces Heated with PEX – Up and Outstanding!

The appreciation for architectural features such as fireplaces, comfortably and peacefully transcends all cultures. The heat from a stone or brick hearth, becomes anywhere in the world, a companion for any person in winter solitude or a gathering spot for friends, family, or a state of the union address.

For the European, memories of masonry warmth might come from a steinofen or a kachelofen, the chimeneas for the Mexican or the kamado for the Asian. Call it what you like, fireplaces and stoves are one of the few architectural elements, in the traditional prairie home or high mountain cabin which triggers fond memories. Regardless of what cold climate they are built, they are capable of mesmerizing all our senses, instilling peace and tranquility to the soul in the harshest of winter months.

Steve and his team, with this up and outstanding application, have literally taken the radiant concept to a wonderful new height opening up countless other possibilities with this innovative approach to heating or cooling. It certainly makes one ask why haven’t we seen this before considering how many vertical masonry surfaces are built within homes heated and or cooled with hydronics. Perhaps it’s because vertical surfaces continue to be the unsung hero’s of radiant application. Maybe it is a lack of confidence or understanding by designers or contractors but I’m a huge wall enthusiast and love my own 30 ft heated vertical surface as much as any other radiant surface in our home.

Like any heated mass, it has to be applied and controlled correctly. In the case of the heavy masonry it works really well when the load is constant…so as a primary source of heat or cooling in a fairly stable climate it’s a great choice. Where weather patterns are unstable, but the home very efficient, the fireplace would function well for serving a base load (for heating up to a nominal 60F to 65F) so long as it was coupled to highly responsive auxiliary system such as a reheat coil in a ventilation duct. In this application, the zoned coil would only need to be sized for the difference between the base and operative temperature at design conditions.

Lets look at some features and benefits of heating a wall of stone or brickwork. One of the biggest design advantages is not being limited by foot contact temperatures as required for conditioned floors. The heated stone or brick could be heated to an acceptable 130F to provide a nominal 85 Btuh/sf of heating or absorb for cooling, a nominal 17 Btuh/sf of long wave radiation and as much as 30 Btu/sf of additional shortwave radiation if the fireplace were in direct sunlight.

With Pex embedded in the mortar there is no risk of pipe expansion noises and since it is on a vertical surface it makes for a perfect way of retrofitting and heating a basement or living space without losing ceiling height or having to adapt to or modify an existing floor. As a primary or secondary source of heating or sensible cooling, it does not involve fans or blowers as such it is completely silent, has the self-regulating benefits of a radiant surface and being hidden means it can’t be damaged by day to day family activities or the out of control kids from neighborhood. It will never need sanding, priming or painting so long as the natural finish is desired. It doesn’t have an air filter to replace, doesn’t need oiling or a belt to tighten, rarely if ever needs to be washed and even when it is sponge bathed it dries quickly. Nor will you have to worry about puncturing the tubes with nails in search of studs or losing a toy or pencil under a cabinet or down an air register.

Steve’s a pretty humble guy and when asked how he came up with the idea his exact words were, “I just saw a nice flat surface sitting in the middle of the great room, was a little short on the heat calc and 1 + 1 made 2. Nothing earth shaking about it.”

So all you radiant fanatics, next time you’re “short on the heat calc”, think vertical and think international. The steinofen, kachelofen, chimeneas or kamado may have burned wood to warm, but PEX in the hearth is literally up there in innovative heating and cooling options.


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