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Is radiant heating a good for cold climates with a cathedral ceiling and what lights are best?

Discussion in 'Random Ramblings' started by reveriereptile, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. reveriereptile

    reveriereptile Songster

    Mar 17, 2008
    Northern NY
    My husband and me are building a house this year and I'm trying to get the last stuff figured out before we have a friend that is an architect do the plans up. I am stumped on what type of heating system to use. We want something that isn't extremely expensive to install and doesn't really need a backup heating source. We aren't worried about system that does a/c also. Just mainly need heat.

    I need something that will keep the house warm when it gets down to -20 degrees during the winter. The house will have a high cathedral ceiling and large windows (prow front). I would like to avoid using gas/fuel due to the possible safety risks and the costs are going up around here. I don't really want to go with ducts due to allergies but will if I can't find a good option.

    So far from the research that I've done I would love to have hydronic radiant floor heating at least on the main floor. I like that it is ductless, the water boiler uses little electricity, and will keep the heat more even. Two worries I have is the cost of installation and possible leaks or freezing. I've heard that the PEX tubing is better than it use to be to help avoid leaks. Around here we have a lot of power outages due to ice storms. I am a little bit worried about if the power goes out if the tubing would freeze. It would be on the second floor so I'm assuming that would help some. We would probably have a couple backup generators that we could probably hook the boiler to.

    Does anyone have any experience with this type of heating or know of a better system that might work for us? Is it something we could possibly install the tubing in the floor ourselves and have someone from the company we order the parts from hook the boiler up with the tubing while checking for leaks?

    I've pretty much looked up all the other heating systems but this one seemed the best especially the cutting back on the costs of running it. Most of the other systems I read about seemed like they needed a backup for sure or were costly to run. We are going to install reversible fans in the cathedral to help with heating and cooling.

    I'm also stumped on what lights to install in the cathedral area. We won't be having any beams showing. I like the looks of the recessed lights but I'm worried about possible extra heat loss. I have been thinking of the tracking lights even though they aren't as nice. I do like that they aren't build into the ceiling and can be moved to where we need the light pointed. I will probably have some pendant lights in part of the kitchen under the loft for the sitting area.

  2. peepacheep

    peepacheep Songster

    When we built an addition on our house 10 years ago we went with a concrete floor, PEX tubing and an on demand hot water heater. The tubing was wired to cattle panels supported on small blocks to get it suspended correctly in the concrete. The one place we had a slight leak in the PEX was under the sink. Heating the tubing up with a hair dyer helps it shrink on the fittings. The water heater also supplies household hot water. My brother set up an interesting arrangement with a valve, pump, and relay for the hot water heater to run both at the same time. Our winters are no where as cold as yours but the power goes out frequently. The tubing is in 12 yards of concrete, in a 14x40' area. With no power the floor stays warm for 24 hours. Our only other heat source is a wood stove in the original portion of the house. I can always tell when the floor is 'on', the cats sit where where the tubing runs close together. Hope this is helpful!
  3. A few thoughts for you on your heating system choices:

    Radiant floor heating is great; very comfortable and seen in most high end houses. Make sure that it zoned well and that you have the tubes spaced closer together on the perimeter of the house where you will lose more heat.

    I’m not so sure I understand your choice of an all electric system though. Can you not get natural gas to the site? In general, gas heating will cost 1/3 the cost of electric and gas prices are forecasted to remain low. Plus, natural gas delivery is more reliable than electric and you will require less generator to keep the house warm in a power outage.

    If electric is a must, have you looked at the electric radiant floor heating systems. I’m not very familiar with them but, I’ve seen them used for small spaces like bathrooms. I believe they can be laid with subflooring that has the space for the heating cable routed in to the boards and are intended for DIYers. If you can do a whole house with these, you can save on the cost for the boiler, eliminate the energy used by the pump/s and the water leakage issues.

    Assuming you are using an electric boiler and PEX tubing, you could add a chemical feeder to the system to add propylene glycol antifreeze to the system to keep it from freezing during a power outage; a 30% glycol mixture is what is used for commercial buildings to protect the heating coils of the air handling equipment.

    As far as ceiling lights, I agree, can lights in a ceiling are source of heat leaks to through the insulation; not only do you lose energy but, it could encourage ice dams and water damage. So, I like the idea of track lighting or fluorescents hidden in a soffit. Remember to look at how the lamps are replaced to make sure it’s doable.

    Hope that helps,


    PS: Another thought. In floor heating can get expensive to install. A cheaper solution is to install baseboard heating. Not as nice but, better than forced air.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2012
  4. dfr1973

    dfr1973 Songster

    Nov 20, 2011
    rural central FL
    I'm wondering: Why cathedral ceilings in a cold climate? I thought cathedral ceilings were a deep south thing along with ceiling fans, window awnings, and painted white roofs to help "beat the heat" and reduce summer cooling costs.
  5. reveriereptile

    reveriereptile Songster

    Mar 17, 2008
    Northern NY
    Thanks for the replies.

    We could get natural gas to the site but would rather avoid using it due to possible gas leaks. My parents house had problems with using it for their stove, water heater, and large space heaters. We kept smelling gas often and kept having to light the pilot lights. The kitchen we never knew if it was having a leak or if the stove was slightly on. After having those problems it makes me sort of worried of having problems like that using gas. We did have a carbon dioxide detector in the house but didn't know if it was working or not. My FIL uses gas to heat his house with forced air ducts and he spends a lot of the gas. My SIL uses it but she just has a small forced air heater which doesn't even keep her house warm. My FIL had a friend install a new water heater in the barn and he told him to use an electric one since the gas prices around here are going up.

    The electric radiant floor heating is much more expensive to run around here than the water since it doesn't hold the heat as good. If we go with hydronic then we would also use the water boiler to heat the other water in the house. I've read that it doesn't take much electricity to run the water boiler.

    I have looked into the baseboards but kept reading different articles to stay away from them in NY due to the cost of running them. I'll have to look into it more.

    I did see a hydronic radiator panel on a website but when I tried to look up the cost of running them and how well they heat I couldn't find any information about them.
  6. Oregon Blues

    Oregon Blues Crowing

    Apr 14, 2011
    Central Oregon
    I'm in zone 5 and have a living room with 3 walls of glass and 16 ft ceilings. I use a combination of heat pump and wood stove. The wood stove is an absolute necessity for when the power is out and it is 20 below.

    If you want high ceilings, you need good ceiling fans with reversible blades. During the winter, you have the fans on the winter setting and they gently move the warm air off the ceiling and back downward.

    I've got ceiling fans in the living room with 16 ft ceilings and in both the kitchen and master bedroom where the ceilings are 14 ft.

    If you place those big glass windows correctly, they will provide a lot of heat for your house. My heat pumps won't come on at all unless it is below freezing outside or unless there is no sunshine. Just the solar gain from the windows in the living room keeps the house warm. (green house effect)

    You'll do better if you manage the windows. I have windows uncovered when I want heat from the sun and covered when I don't want heat. They are covered at night so that the house doesn't lose heat.

    In the summer, windows get opened at night to fill the house with cold air, and then they are covered during the day so that they don't produce solar heat.
  7. Frosty

    Frosty Songster

    Mar 30, 2008
    I think if I was starting from scratch I would look into geothermal heating. It uses compressors and other stuff to capture heat from underground to heat your home (and they do make antifreeze to put in the lines so they don't freeze). The geothermal doubles as a/c in the summer. There are places here in ND that use it and are happy with it, but it's pretty expensive to do it for an existing building, I think much cheaper when installing as you build.

    Another option is to get an outdoor wood burner, you drop in big logs and they burn for quite a while because of the design of the units. I have relatives in PA with those and they love them. I have been thinking of getting one of those.

    With cathedral ceilings you might want to put fans in to keep the air moving.

  8. Quote:
    In regards to gas leaks ... it’s all about the installation. Natural gas is dominant fuel used for heating in most of the country and is usually very safe. But, it true, there's always that potential hazard. Usually, once it’s installed correctly and is leak free, it remains so for the life of the building. I should mention that pilot lights are no longer used in most new equipment.

    “I've read that it doesn't take much electricity to run the water boiler.”: If you like, I can tell you what the cost difference is between electric vs gas heating. I just need to know what you will be paying for electric ($ per kWh) and natural gas (therms). Nationally, the difference is 3 to 1, gas being cheaper. It does depend on the local market. Electricity is often made using natural gas hence, the utility needs to pass on the cost of the natural gas and then add additional cost due to the inefficiency of the electric generation and transmission. So, unless there is a lot of hydro electric generation in your area (and there may be), gas is probably cheaper.

    “I have looked into the baseboards but kept reading different articles to stay away from them in NY due to the cost of running them.” If you are using an electric boiler, the cost to operating the hydronic baseboard vs in-floor will be very close. The baseboard radiators will lose a little bit more heat to the outdoors because they will run with a higher temperature near the wall hence, more heat will be transfer at that point to the outside. But, I believe cost advantage could be very high.

    The hydronic radiator panels are similar to the baseboards in function but, they may be more comfortable due to the heat radiating towards the interior space.

    In addition, there are electric options for the baseboards and, I assume, radiant panels. These could be cheaper to install than the hydronic versions. The operating cost will be slighting lower for the electric versions. The electric baseboards could have an odor issue due to stuff baking on the electric so, there’s that drawback.

    Heat pumps: Ground coupled (or source) heat pumps are the latest flavor for “green” buildings. They work best if you have a heating AND a cooling need but, not so well if you just want to heat or just cool. The issue with them is the cost for drills many, many 300 ft or so wells on the property, ouch.

    Last edited: Feb 1, 2012
  9. reveriereptile

    reveriereptile Songster

    Mar 17, 2008
    Northern NY
    A lot of ski lodges and houses in the mountains have cathedral ceilings with a window wall for the view and to bring in light during long winter months when it is dark. We won't have a fancy view but we will have a field with trees in the background.

    We wanted an open floor plan since we have mostly lived in one room our whole lives and feel more comfortable being able to talk to one another whether we were in the kitchen or living room. Our plan is going to have a loft which will also make it nicer so I won't have to go completely down the stairs to ask my husband something when I can just yell down to him. We have been living with his parents and his mom is a hoarder so the house is cluttered. We can't stand feeling crowded especially during the winter. With the cathedral it will give us that more open feeling. Our windows will be facing towards the West so we will have the sun coming in and make it bright. Right now we have a tiny 1'x2' window and another window that doesn't get sun in the evening.

    We will be using reversible fans to help with the air in the house.

    Oregon Blues, do you happen to have a picture of your cathedral from the inside? I'm guessing our ceiling will be around the same height from the floor to the top.

    We live in Northern NY up near Canada. I know the area uses mostly wood stoves but we have a large Amish population around here. I might be able to look at the newer built houses around to see what they use for heat.

    My FIL does have a backhoe that he can do digging with but I don't know if he could do the digging for the geothermal and then have a company come in to do the rest or not. I know my SIL paid $5K just for the excavation for the foundation (slab with footers) and driveway. My FIL would be willing to do the digging free for us or dig down so far and let a company dig the rest. I know we have to dig far down due to the frost depth being 4'8".

    I looked up the pricing for natural gas and it is currently $1.38 per therm. I'm not sure if one of the electric companies will supply to our location but one is $3.50 per therm and the other is $1.63 per therm. I could be reading it wrong but here is the link I got the information from http://www.stlawrencegas.com/home.shtml?page=prices My in-laws use National Grid.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2012
  10. reveriereptile

    reveriereptile Songster

    Mar 17, 2008
    Northern NY
    I've been looking up more information on different systems. I did look into the geothermal ground-coupled pump for around this area. I read about people saying that they work better when you have moderate temperatures but need other heating sources for when it drops below 35 degrees. I think we live in Zone 3 and it gets around -20 degrees. I'm worried that if we put a large amount of money into installing one and then not have enough money for a backup source that we will freeze.

    I was looking more into radiant floor heating and was wondering if we went with an expensive tankless water heater instead of a boiler and ran it with natural gas if that would be worth looking into?

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