The concept of radiant heat isn’t new, but it has gained new levels of popularity in recent years—mostly as a comfort perk in new residential real estate. Most people are used to forced air heat, both in residential buildings and in commercial settings. With radiant heating having a renaissance of popularity, though, some business owners are asking: does commercial radiant heating make sense as an option?
What Is Radiant Heating?
Before we delve into answering this question, let’s answer a simpler query: what exactly is radiant heating? Radiant heat transfers energy from one object to another through invisible infrared waves. As these waves heat up new objects, those objects absorb the energy and then start radiating heat of their own. Slowly, this system can heat a room in an incredibly natural and cozy way.
If the sensation of radiant heat sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Sunshine is an example of radiant heat, as are fireplaces. This type of heat has also been used to warm homes for many years. There are two main configurations for radiant heating: radiant panel heating and radiant floor heating. Panel heating uses panels along the walls (also known as radiators or heat registers) to provide heat to individual rooms. These panels can be heated by electricity or hot water, but the effect is ultimately the same: they radiate heat to the rest of the room.
Radiant floor heating, meanwhile, pumps hot water through pipes under the floor or heats electric coils situated in the same place. These systems heat the floor, which then radiates the heat to the rest of the building.
The Pros and Cons of Radiant Heating Systems
There are many good reasons to consider using a radiant heating system. For one thing, radiant heat feels more natural. It is less drying than forced air, doesn’t affect people with allergies in the same way that air from a duct might, and delivers uniform air throughout a room. Radiant heat systems are also known for their energy efficiency, typically using less energy—and lasting longer—than the average furnace.
There are also drawbacks to radiant heat. Where forced air can deliver heating effects very quickly, radiant heat systems—especially those that rely on heated water—can take much longer to heat a space. The installation of these systems is also markedly more expensive than putting in a new furnace system. Installations can also be complicated, as radiant floor heating systems often require you to raise the height of your floors slightly to make room for new pipes or heating coils.
Commercial Radiant Heating: What to Consider
As we mentioned earlier, radiant heating has mostly been used in homes up to this point. However, there is nothing about radiant heating that precludes it from being used in a business or some other type of commercial building. On the contrary, radiant heating systems seem to be gaining popularity in commercial settings as of late.
All the benefits of radiant heating that apply for houses also apply for commercial buildings. It offers a cozier type of heat, does it in an incredibly energy efficient way, and avoids some of the air quality issues that tend to arise when ducts are a part of the equation.
The most significant problems with commercial radiant heat are heat loss and ventilation. Commercial buildings have more in and out traffic, which means they are more likely to lose some of their heat. Especially in lobbies or other areas with doors leading straight outside, the heat loss in commercial buildings can make it impossible for radiant heat to maintain sufficient temperature levels. Since radiant heat works a lot more slowly than forced air, it can’t quickly restore an equilibrium after heat loss occurs. At very least, it shouldn’t be used in these areas where exposure to outside air is common.
Commercial buildings also tend to have more pressing ventilation needs than homes. Especially in businesses with manufacturing branches, having full HVAC systems that factor ventilation into the equation is essential. With forced air, air intake, ventilation, and air distribution are just as important as heating. With radiant heat, you don’t have the same ventilation aspect. Increased ventilation also tends to contribute to heat loss, which can add extra challenges to using radiant heating.
Bottom line, commercial radiant heating is not an impossible concept, but it also isn’t an incredibly feasible one. Commercial buildings that deal with a lot of heat loss, or that require high levels of ventilation to get rid of fumes or exhaust are not ideally suited to radiant heating. Radiant heat can also be an issue for open concept modern offices, where the big wide open spaces can be a challenge for radiant systems to heat quickly and effectively. In any case, it’s always worth consulting a building heating specialist to learn which type of heating system is best-suited to your commercial space.
Valley Comfort conducts commercial heating services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor.