Do It Yourself and Save a Bundle!
Almost every day I’m contacted by eager “Do It Yourselfers” who want to install a radiant panel heating system in their home. They are usually quite confident in their ability to do the work, but don’t really know where to start. They’ve read a lot of the “free information” on the internet and find some very puzzling due to apparent inconsistencies among the sources. After reading their comments, I often find that a lot of what they see as inconsistencies is really just a matter of confusion over the various terms. They seem to get caught up in the middle of the planning process without ever taking the time to begin properly.
Radiant panel heating (radiant floor, ceiling and wall panels) is not a very complex technology. The process of planning and installing a radiant panel heating system, however, does require that you get all the facts together before you start making major decisions. This means that you will need to calculate the amount of energy you will need (Heat Loss Analysis) for each room, and from that information, you can determine how to go about providing it. All of the subsequent decisions with regard to the specific design of the radiant panel on down to the heat source are subject to the data generated in the Heat Loss Analysis (HLA).
Performing a heat loss analysis for a radiant panel heating system is a lot different than doing so for any other method of heat distribution. This is because the radiant panel(s) (particularly radiant floors) may be limited in their output by a number of factors to include the floor construction, floor coverings and the ratio of square footage of floor to heat loss in a particular room. For this reason, it is essential that the HLA be calculated on a room-by-room basis.
Heat loss analysis, itself, is fairly simple. It is important to note, however, that when you’re basing the design on these numbers, you will need to be as accurate as possible with those values that are most critical. The critical factors are the R-values or U-values of the windows as well as the insulation values in any region of a heated slab that is exposed to the outside temperature conditions.
Naturally, most DIYers, are probably not experienced enough to do a thorough heat loss analysis on their project and to complete the performance calculations necessary for radiant panel heating and fully design the system. It takes a lot of experience, (and, quite honestly, years) to develop a good knowledge base where you can recognize those areas that need special attention and to see how use patterns affect, not only the layout and design, but the control strategy.
This is where, in my opinion, it is wise to enlist the help of an “expert”. Since I believe that I am, singularly, the most “expert” consultant in the industry, this is a good place for a “commercial plug”. I offer to do the complete HLA and performance planning, along with the on-going consultation on a DIY project for a small fee of, usually $200. I do this in the hopes that the client will purchase product from me in the future. I enjoy this part of the business because I meet interesting people and make a lot of good friends in the process. If they do, in fact, proceed with the project, they invariably purchase their product from me because my prices are the best in the industry.
Once the project is properly planned and all of the decisions are made, the installation is usually a very pleasant experience. Typically, the skills necessary to install the radiant panel are very well within the capability of most home craftsmen and craftswomen. From my experience, the typical DIY’er does an exceptional job. Perhaps it is because he is more directly affected by the results. I think it’s because the DIY’er is usually a self motivated person, rather than a “hired hand”.
How much money can you save? I’m always amazed at what some contractors bid on a project. Most of the DIY’ers get their radiant panels installed for under $2 per square foot (some for under 1$ per square foot). I’ve seen contractor pricing off the charts! Very rarely are the prices below $6 per square foot and often, many times above that.
In short, if you want to do it, you most probably can do it, and you ought to do it.