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4 Radiant Heater Maintenance Tasks You Should Never Neglect

radiant heating in the floor

Radiant heating is so wonderful, isn’t it?

During our long, cold Canadian winters, having radiant heating is like being constantly enveloped in a warm, friendly hug!

But radiant heaters are not maintenance-free, contrary to what many homeowners may assume. Like any appliance, the more love you give them, the more love they will give you in return.

Winter is on its way now and it is time to get your radiant heater system in fighting form for the plummeting temperatures yet to come. Read on for four key maintenance tasks you will want to tend to right away.

What Is Radiant Heat & How Does It Work?

Radiant heat is not just one of the most efficient heating systems, it is also one of the easiest in terms of annual maintenance.

Additionally, it’s one of the oldest types of heating. Fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters and heating boilers are examples of radiant heating.

In fact, our own sun is the simplest and most ancient type of radiant heater. Just walk outside into a sunbeam on even the coldest day and you will feel warmer – this is radiant heating in action.

Basically, instead of using a blower to push heated air out into a room, radiant heating uses waves of electromagnetic infrared energy to heat objects in the room.

Types of Radiant Heater Systems

Modern radiant heating can take three forms: gas, electric or hydronic.

Gas radiant heating uses natural gas with a variety of configurations, from tube to tile, to deliver low-intensity and high-intensity infrared radiant heat.

Electric radiant heating uses electric wires to transmit heat and is typically cost-effective only in smaller spaces.

Hydronic radiant heating uses tubes of hot water to do the same and can be operated in larger spaces with lower costs.

4 Maintenance Tips for Radiant Heaters

Once you find out which type you have, it becomes a lot easier to figure out what type of maintenance your system needs. The most common type is still hydronic radiant heat.

1. Check the system pressure

Radiant heating systems should not ever need to be flushed. Rather, you need to check the pressure at least once per year. Optimal pressure ranges for most systems is between 10 and 20 pounds.

When the pressure fluctuates outside of this range (or the optimal range as described in the manufacturer's information for your system), it is time to call out an expert to locate the source of the problem and flush your system, if necessary.

2. Repair any corroded or leaking piping

Since most radiant systems are what are called “closed-loop systems,” a leak compromises the entire system by letting in oxygen that can cause corrosion internally.

Over time, even steel pipes can become compromised, although this more commonly happens with copper piping. When a leak is suspected, it is important to identify it and fix it as quickly as possible.

3. Diagnose issues with operation noise

One reason radiant heaters are so popular is how quiet they are…most of the time.

When you start to hear clangs, bangs, hissing and other similar noises, these are warning signs that something is changing inside your system.

Often, increased operational noise points back to an issue with the pumps and/or valves. By replacing valves before they fail, you can often avoid having to replace pipes or the pump itself.

4. Inspect the entire system for safety issues

Because radiant heating systems are designed to be “out of sight, out of mind,” it is all too easy to simply assume all is well.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 15 percent of all home fires can be traced directly to malfunctions in home heating equipment. Half of all annual home fires occur during December, January and February, which means the highest-risk months are coming up.

A simple inspection of the connection wires, thermostat readings, system pressure and other checks as may be relevant to your type of system can put your mind at ease for the next year.

2 Easy Fixes for Radiant Heating Systems

Radiant heat systems are well known for the efficiency gains they provide over conventional forced-air systems. You can easily net a 30 percent efficiency increase with a properly installed system.

If you’re not seeing this rate of performance, you may wonder if there is something wrong with the operation of your radiant heating system, but in reality, it’s often not the problem.

Instead, you may need to tend to some other common home maintenance tasks that can boost the performance of your radiant heater.

1. Add insulation

When your space is under-insulated or uninsulated, you won’t get the level of efficient heat output a modern radiant heater is capable of producing.

However, as the U.S. Department of Energy points out, you don’t want the insulation to place a barrier between you and the radiant heat source. Instead, you want the insulation placed behind the radiant heat source to keep heat energy in the room.

2. Change the flooring

While floor-installed radiant heating systems can be used with any type of flooring, you will get more efficient and cost-effective performance when you choose a flooring type that conducts heat especially well.

Instead of carpet, consider stone or tile. Wood is also an option when correctly installed to manage heat-related shrink. If you are using carpet, removing the padding can support improved heat conduction.

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