The Cooler Side of Radiant

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Hot water heats and cold water cools.

Simple, right?

But for too long, the second part of that statement has been overlooked when it comes to the use of radiant systems.

Radiant heating is widely used and growing in popularity, but its counterpart, radiant cooling, has been less popular, despite its many advantages over forced air. And that’s despite the fact that both heating and cooling can be delivered by essentially the same system.

However, we’ve recently seen a surge in the popularity of radiant cooling as more engineers, architects, builders and consumers become aware of its comfort and effectiveness.

Anyone who’s ever worked in an office building knows the problems with forced air cooling: vents blasting cold air onto the necks of those unfortunate to sit right beneath them while others swelter in areas the ductwork doesn’t reach. Opening and closing ducts in an effort to get relief can throw the whole system out of balance while locked thermostats frustrate workers seeking relief. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, dust and allergens collect in the ductwork and are recirculated back into the air, aggravating allergies.

Radiant cooling eliminates those problems, providing even cooling and consistent temperatures without the noise and cold blasts of recirculated air and allergens. While minimal ductwork is still needed for ventilation and, in some cases, supplemental cooling, most of the work is done silently and invisibly below the floor (or in the ceiling).

Radiant cooling also is more efficient than forced air cooling, which wastes money and energy cooling ceilings and open spaces.

One barrier to the adoption of radiant cooling has been the misperception that it can’t be used in hot, humid environments for fear of condensation and the resulting slipping hazards.

However, that can be addressed through design and by setting the water to a temperature that prevents condensation. Coupling control of the humidity with control of the radiant floor, and a well-planned design, alleviate any concerns. Still skeptical? Consider this — radiant cooling is used at New Bangkok International Airport in Thailand, one of the most humid climates on earth.

Of course, correct design and building integrations are key to successful radiant cooling. Other cooling factors, such as green roofs, insulation and glazed windows, can lighten the load on cooling systems, while creating a harmonic and high-efficiency building.

While it’s easier and more efficient to design and install a dual purpose radiant system during construction, radiant cooling capability can be added afterward to an existing radiant heating system with little additional parts or labor.

With these many advantages, it’s only a matter of time before radiant cooling achieves the same prominence as radiant heating.

Brett Austin, Manager of Design Service, has been with Viega LLC for 10 years, beginning as a radiant design technician. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology from the University of New Hampshire and is a Marine Corps veteran.

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