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6 Frequently Asked Questions About Radiant Heat

April 28, 2017

Radiant heat: It’s widely popular around the world, especially in Europe and Asia, but remains rare and insufficiently understood in the United States. In part, that’s because in the domestic market, forced air continues to dominate—so much so that many average homeowners mistakenly view forced air not as one way, but as the only way to achieve winter comfort. In recent years, however, frustrated by the underwhelming performance and overwhelming costs associated with forced air, many have begun to explore competing options like radiant heat. Those who take the time to understand radiant heat often end up choosing it over alternatives. But if the technology has never been on your radar before, its innovations and advantages may not be obvious. To learn more about why it now garners so much attention from comfort-craving, savings-seeking homeowners, click through now for all the answers to the most frequently asked questions about radiant heat.

By Steven Fox

  • 1. Is radiant heating a new technology?

    Far from it. In fact, radiant heating traces its roots all the way back to the Roman Empire, where notable buildings were designed to include hypocausts—narrow chambers that would distribute the heat generated by subterranean fires. On the other side of the globe, Koreans had struck upon a similar heating method, involving the strategic placement of fire-heated stones. Centuries later, in the 1940s, radiant heat finally arrived in America, thanks to the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you’re only hearing it about now, it’s because manufacturers have refined the technology to the point of making it a viable, if not su perior home heating alternative.


    2. How does radiant heating work?

    How does radiant heat work

    Forget what you know about traditional HVAC, because when it comes to its system design and mode of operation, radiant heating shares little in common with older, increasingly outmoded systems like forced air. In the case of forced air, the furnace blows heated air into the living spaces indirectly, via bulky metal supply ducts. Radiant heating, meanwhile, relies not on air, but on something much more effectively controlled—water. In a home heated by a radiant system, boiler-fired water pumps through a network of tubes set into panels installed beneath the floor. The tubes heat the panels, and the panels, in turn, radiate warmth into the home from the ground up.

    Photo: warmboard.com

  • 3. What makes the system unique?

    Though radiant heating earns praise for features like quiet, dust-free operation, experts agree the technology stands out most for the quality of comfort it delivers. Other systems heat inconsistently, with the result that your comfort often depends on your location relative to the nearest radiator, baseboard, or vent. But with a radiant system, you get uniform home heating from wall to wall, room to room, ground level to upper story. That’s because, for one, radiant panels underly the floors in the home, delivering heat evenly across the square footage. For another, the technology doesn’t involve “always rising” warm air. Instead, it concentrates comfort at floor level, where you can actually feel it.

  • 4. Does radiant heating save you money?

    Utility meter

    Yes. Radiant systems operate at least 25% more efficiently than their forced-air counterparts. Why? A leading explanation is that, being ductless, radiant technology sidesteps the heat loss suffered by forced-air heating ducts. When ducts leak—and they often do—the furnace must work harder, which drives up the utility bill. By minimizing heat loss, therefore, radiant technology maximizes savings. But it’s important to note that not every radiant system offers equal efficiency. Much depends on the system design. It requires the least energy of all, because its aluminum-faced panels transfer heat exceptionally well—well enough to save an extra 10% or 20% each month!

    Photo: warmboard.com

  • 5. Is the system compatible with all floor types?

    Radiant heat hardwood floor

    In direct and marked contrast to traditional heating options, radiant technology does nothing to prevent you from designing your home precisely the way you want. You don’t need to work around any awkward, bulky radiators or make any allowance for the clearance needed by a forced-air vent. There’s only one downside: Pros sometimes caution against installing radiant heating panels beneath hardwood or carpeting. But that’s not the case with every radiant system. For instance,  you can enjoy all the benefits of radiant technology, no matter what type of floor you plan to put in.  It requires no sacrifice. In effect, it gives you complete design freedom.

    Photo: warmboard.com

  • 6. Is radiant the right choice for remodels?

    In the past, the answer was always no, largely because older radiant systems set their hydronic tubing into slabs of gypsum concrete too heavy to be added in a realistic retrofit scenario. Fortunately, radiant heat technology has come a long way in recent years. It’s not only possible but practical to install radiant heating as part of a remodel. Measuring only 13/16″ thick, Warmboard-R panels fit easily over existing slabs and subfloors and are thin enough not to create unevenness between floors in different rooms. Building a new home? Save money and time by opting for a full-thickness product like Warmboard-S, which doubles as structural subfloor.


Ready to install radiant heat?  Contact us today!

Jim Lavallee Plumbing
Serving Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston area
Phone: Toll-free (888) 884-4122


What to Do When Your Pilot Light Goes Out

April 26, 2017

Is your hot water suddenly running ice cold? Don’t panic! Head down to the water heater to check the pilot and relight it. But first, learn the basics here.

By Glenda Taylor

Q: I jumped in my shower this morning and, holy cow, was it cold! After a quick inspection, I discovered my water heater’s pilot light out. Should I try to relight it?

A: That depends on why the light blew out. The issue may have been something as simple as a draft, a dirty pilot orifice, or a worn-out part—or the extinguished pilot light could be a sign of something more troublesome. First, sniff out the potentially larger problem: Do you smell gas? If you do, leave your house and call the gas company! Otherwise, keep reading to determine how you can fix the problem by yourself. (Note: Unfortunately, if your water heater has an enclosed burner chamber, you’re probably out of luck as far as a DIY fix; only a professional plumber should access an enclosed burner chamber.)

When you see your pilot light out, you can usually relight it. A downdraft in a vent pipe on a windy day or even the breeze through an open window can be enough to snuff out a pilot light. Relighting instructions are similar for most water heaters, and you can find them permanently affixed to the side of your unit.

In order to relight the pilot, remove the access cover at the bottom of the water heater. Both the control knob and the water temperature knob should be in the “Pilot” position. While depressing the control knob, light the pilot light with a long match or wand lighter. Once the pilot ignites, continue holding the knob down for a full minute to bleed air out of the line. (For a water heater with an automatic igniter, the relighting process is virtually the same. Instead of using a lighter or match, though, you’ll push the striker knob repeatedly while depressing the control knob until the pilot ignites.)

Relighting the pilot light may or may not be all you need to do to start up your water heater once more. Depending on what happens after the pilot ignites, proceed with one of the following:

• If the flame remains lit, you’re good to go! Simply replace the cover plate, turn the control knob to “On,” and select the desired temperature on the water temperature knob so that you can return to a refreshing hot shower.

• If the pilot light flickers and goes out soon after relighting, clean the pilot orifice. A dirty pilot light orifice hinders gas flow, but the fix is simple. First, shut off the gas to the water heater (look for a valve on the gas line that supplies the unit). Remove the pilot orifice fitting, which is located under the access cover, by twisting it to the left. Then, unscrew the orifice itself from the fitting. Once the fitting has been disassembled, clean all surfaces with a cotton swab dampened with rubbing alcohol. After reassembling and reattaching the fitting, relight the pilot light as described above.

• If you’re able to light the pilot light, but it goes out when you release the control knob, the thermocouple probably needs replacing. The thermocouple is a safety device that shuts off gas flow if it senses the pilot light is out, but when damaged it loses its regulatory ability. This fix is a bit more complicated than the first two, but a replacement is inexpensive—often less than $20.

This piece, which resembles a copper tube, connects the control panel to the burner assembly, which is located behind the access panel. Before attempting to disassemble anything, shut off the gas to the water heater. Next, release the burner assembly by using an adjustable wrench to detach the thermocouple tube, the pilot light tube, and the gas supply tube from the control panel—the burner assembly should slide right out. (Hint: Because there are various sizes and types of thermocouples, the best way to get an exact match is to take the damaged thermocouple with you when buying a replacement.) After replacing the damaged thermocouple with the new one, slide the burner assembly back into place, reattach the tubes, and then relight the pilot light as described above.

We are here for you –  Contact us today!

Jim Lavallee Plumbing
Serving Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston area
Phone: Toll-free (888) 884-4122

Plumbing Maintenance Tips

April 24, 2017

New Construction - Shower #2Spot and resolve small plumbing problems before they become major issues at home.

From: DK Books – Houseworks

Plumbing. It’s been with us since Roman times, but today’s homes have a lavish supply of hot and cold water on demand, thanks to modern plumbing systems. The principles are simple — pressure and valves — but if they fail, the household may be faced with a soggy mess. When this happens, act quickly to avert major problems.
Smart homeowners know how to spot and resolve small plumbing problems before they become major issues. Help your plumbing stay dry and happy with these tips:
Keep an eye out for trouble. When it comes to plumbing, little leaks can lead to big problems. Be alert to signs of impending plumbing failures: Leaking faucets, damp cabinets, rocking toilets or dripping refrigerators all signal problems that need prompt attention.
Repair problems early. A leaking faucet isn’t just annoying; the moisture it releases puts wear on sink fixtures and can encourage the growth of mold and mildew. Stay on top of problems to keep the household clean and dry.
Know where to go when trouble happens. Should plumbing fail, will you know how to stop the flood? Locate the main shut-off valve for the home water supply. If it’s in a dark, hidden, or hard-to-reach place, gather any tools you’ll need for a quick shut-off, and store them nearby. There’s nothing like the frustration of a missing flashlight or a misplaced shut-off key when water’s pouring down the stairs from a broken pipe.
Shutting off appliances. Similarly, know how to shut off water to sinks, toilets, washing machines and water-using appliances like the refrigerator’s icemaker. Should they misbehave, knowing the location of the shut-off valve will save the day and a lot of wet cleanup.
Spot the sewer valve. Finally, hunt down the location of the household’s main sewer valve. It’s there to provide access to correct a clogged sewer line; don’t make the Roto-Rooter man spend pricey labor time looking for it when the toilets overflow.
Learn how to tackle small problems. With a few tools and a little knowledge, most of us can handle small plumbing emergencies. With a plunger, a pipe wrench and a sewer snake in your tool kit, you’ll be able to take care of small problems like clogged drains, blocked toilets, stuck valves and dripping faucets. How-to books, home improvement stores and adult education classes can pay for themselves when it’s time to call the plumber.
Cold snap: Keep plumbing safe in cold weather
In hard-winter climates, freezing pipes can create a sudden household emergency. Frozen water expands, cracking pipes; when the area thaws, the cracks vent a flood. Plumbing help can be hard to find in a weather crisis, so try these tips:
Prevent frozen pipes before they start. Best defense: insulation. Insulate exposed pipes in a crawl space or in the garage with easy-to-install plastic insulation. It’s a peel-and-stick solution. Before winter comes, remove exterior hoses, and apply insulating caps to outdoor fixtures, as a frozen exterior spigot can damage interior pipes. Households with automatic sprinkler systems can clear standing water with compressed air.
When cold weather strikes, go into action. Open the cabinets beneath sinks and bathroom fixtures; warmer household air will help prevent the pipes inside from freezing. Opening taps to a bare trickle keeps water flowing and avoids a frozen blockage.
If pipes do freeze, don’t panic. First, shut off the water supply to the house, then open a faucet near the blocked area to vent vapors from the frozen water. If you suspect that pipes in the hot water system are frozen, turn off the hot water heater. Use a hair dryer to warm the frozen pipe (never use an open flame to thaw a pipe), starting at the end of the pipe nearest to the tap. (Don’t use a hair dryer in areas of standing water.) You’ll know the pipe has begun to thaw when water begins to trickle from the open faucet. When the flow is restored, check the plumbing carefully for cracks or leaks.Call a licensed plumber if your efforts are unsuccessful.

Maintaining water conditioning systems

In hard-water areas, water softeners condition water to remove unwanted minerals. Softened water uses less soap, prevents mineral buildup in pipes and extends the life of appliances and hot water heaters.
Keep them on the job with proper maintenance. Most models use a salt-exchange method that depends on a supply of salt pellets or nuggets. Use the type of salt recommended by your manufacturer for best results. Check the brine tank regularly to be sure salt levels are adequate. The salt should sit above the water line. “Salt bridging” occurs when a crust of salt forms over the top of the water in the brine tank; break it up by adding hot water to the tank or by poking the crust with a broomstick if it occurs.
After a period of use, water softeners will need to regenerate or recharge: The unit will flush collection areas of accumulated mineral particles pulled from hard water. If your unit offers an automatic regeneration scheduling, use it — you’ll have soft water automatically. If your unit requires manual recharging, stick carefully to the manufacturer’s recommended time intervals.

Reduce household water usage

A more sustainable and cost-efficient household means conserving water, but green living doesn’t have to be dusty and dry. Try these strategies to cut water use at home:Load up the dishwasher. Hand-washing dishes may feel authentic, but it’s wasteful; automatic dishwashers use less hot water and energy than washing by hand. No need to rinse, either; most modern dishwashers are designed to remove food without need for pre-rinsing.

Go with the (low) flow. Household toilets can be water hogs; replace older models with low-flow alternatives.Save in the shower. Keep showers short and sweet to stay sustainable. You can also save water — and money — by installing a low-flow showerhead, which use up to 50 percent less water than older models.

Houseworks © 2006, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited
Text copyright © 2006, 2010 Cynthia Townley Ewer

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