My Introduction to Radiant Floor Heat
Twenty years ago I visited another modular builder’s residence on a cold February day. It was a nicely appointed cape cod with a front-to-back family room on one side and a complimentary garage flanking the other side. When I entered the family room I was immediately struck by how comfortable I felt. At first I thought it was the number and style of windows that looked out onto a peaceful snow covered patio. Then I thought it was the decor, which was richly traditional. The builder’s wife, who was giving me a tour, smiled and said, “You look confused, and I bet I know why. Your feet are warm.” I undoubtedly looked even more confused until she explained that the tile floor had radiant floor heat.
Forced Air Heat vs. Radiant Floor Heat
Have you wondered why you sometimes (maybe always) feel cold even though the thermostat for your forced hot air heating system is set to 72 degrees? It’s not you! It’s because the warm air rises to the ceiling and falls back down as cool air. Your toes become cold why your head stays warm. This effect is amplified by the on and off cycling of the system, which warms you quickly but then chills your bones when the air stops pumping through the ducts.
With radiant floor heat, on the other hand, the heated floor transmits its warmth to the surrounding objects. You remain comfortably warm because the coldest air is at the ceiling rather than your feet, and the floor and everything it touches remains at a constant temperature. By warming you from your feet up, radiant floor heat keeps you feeling toasty at a lower temperature.
Radiant floor heating systems can heat an entire home or individual rooms. Bathrooms, kitchens, and mudrooms are popular candidates for this enhanced comfort. When installed in selected rooms, the temperature is controlled with individual thermostats. The remaining rooms are heated with a conventional system.
Two Types of Radiant Floor Heat
There are two basic types of radiant floor heat: hydronic and electric resistance. Hydronic systems pump heated fluid through small tubes under the finished flooring. The fluid is usually a mix of water and anti-freeze, such as propylene glycol The heat source is a boiler, water heater, or heat pump, with the heat transferred by the recirculation of the fluid between the floor and the heat source.
Electric resistance systems work with electric wires set underneath the floor. They function much like the wires in an electric blanket. Because they use fewer components and are easier to install, they are less expensive to set up than hydronic systems for single rooms. However, they are more costly to operate.
Installation of Radiant Floor Heat
Both types of radiant floor heating systems can be set in a concrete, mortar, or gypsum bed, placed under the floor covering, or attached directly to a wood sub floor. The tubing for radiant floor heat can be installed in specially made plywood with precut channels, which enables you to install carpeting and wood flooring directly over the plywood. Ceramic tile floors should be cast in a mortar bed or on a cement backer board, while vinyl flooring needs to be placed on an underlayment.
Finished Flooring over Radiant Floor Heat
You can use most any type of finished flooring over either type of radiant floor heating system, although some materials work better than others. Tile, stone, and concrete transfer and hold heat best. Solid wood floors will shrink and expand because of the heat, but the new “engineered wood” floors hold up better. If you install vinyl or laminated flooring, make sure they can withstand the heat. Keep in mind that carpets will reduce the heat flow, as they will act as insulation.
Advantages of Radiant Floor Heat
Radiant floor heat has a few notable advantages over conventional systems in addition to superior comfort. Many people like the fact that they’re hidden and silent. If you’ve ever lived with banging radiators or whistling registers, you’ll appreciate radiant floor heat. Anyone with allergies will value them because there is no dust- or allergen-blowing ductwork. And for those who want to increase the energy efficiency of their home, radiant floor heating systems are an efficient way to heat, increasing comfort as they reduce energy costs.
For more information about installing radiant floor heat, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
There are many things to learn the first time you build a modular home. But if you’re like most homebuyers, you won’t get the full benefit of what you learn, since you’ll likely only build one home.
But you can benefit from what I’ve learned over twenty-eight years building more than 1,200 homes. To start with you can read my book, The Modular Home, which gathers all this information in one place.
Take Advantage of My Experience by Using My Modular Home Checklists
Of course, it’s hard to use a book efficiently the first time you use the information. That’s why I’ve created several checklists that cover the most important steps. Below is a link to each of the checklists. There’s also a link to this list on the home page of The Home Store’s website. I hope you find these modular home checklists helpful.
- Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
- Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
- Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
- Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
- Your Modular Home General Contractor References
- What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
- Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
- What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
- Modular Additions
- Building a Universal Design Modular Home
- What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
- How to Air Seal a Modular Home
- Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
- Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
- Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
- Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
- Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
- Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
- Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer
For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.
Planning for Your Modular Addition
When planning for your modular addition your general contractor will have to examine several details about your current home and property. The list is surprisingly long. But if your GC ignores some of the details, you’ll be disappointed with the result and have to pay your GC to make the necessary corrections.
Below is a list of construction details your GC needs to consider when developing the scope of work, specifications, and pricing for your modular addition. It’s best if your GC has experience with additions as well as renovation work, since almost all additions require some refurbishing of the existing structure.
- Approximate age
- Length and width
- Height of first floor from ground
- Height of eave from ground
- Asbestos or lead paint – where
- Trees or brush need to be cut or moved – where
- Landscaping will need to be redone – where
- Driveway needs to be relocated or refinished – where
- Sidewalk needs to be relocated or refinished – where
- Crane can be located to set modules – where
- Block, stone, or poured
- Crawl or full
- Wall height and thickness
- Work required to shore up walls
- Modular addition’s foundation can be connected to existing foundation – how connected
- Modular addition’s foundation cannot be connected to existing foundation – how formed
- Concrete for new foundation needs to be pumped – distance
- Siding needs to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched
- Truss or rafter framing
- Soffit width
- Gable overhang size
- Soffit width
- Fascia height
- Shingle type
- Shingle color
- Shingles need to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched
Existing Electrical System
- Service amperage
- Overhead or underground
- Meter location
- Meter needs to be moved – where
- Panel location
- Panel needs to be moved – where
- Panel disconnect needed
- Smoke detectors in existing house – hardwired or battery
- Existing smoke detectors connection to addition – how
Existing Heating System
- System can produce enough BTUs to heat addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
- Modular addition needs new heating system – type, fuel, location, and vent method
Existing Domestic Hot Water System
- System can produce enough hot water for addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
- Modular addition needs new hot water system – type, fuel, location, and vent method
Existing Water Supply
- Well or town water
- Sufficient water pressure
- If well – size of pump and tank
- If town water – size of service entering existing house
- Entrance into existing house – where
- Entrance needs to be moved – where
- Connection to modular addition – how
Existing Waste System
- Septic or town sewer
- Height below top of foundation
- If septic – system can meet demand from addition
- If septic – system needs to be modified or replaced – where on property
- Entrance into existing house – where
- Entrance needs to be moved – where
- Connection to modular addition – how
Connection from Modular Addition into Existing House
- Change existing windows to doors or existing doors to windows – where
- Close-off existing windows/doors – where
- Cut through existing wall – where and material
- Move electric wires and/or meter – where
- Move heating units – where
- Move plumbing pipes – where
- Install headers – where
- Firestop required – specify
Draw a Site Plan Showing the Existing Roof
Include all information above plus existing locations and size of hose bibbs, GFIs, chimneys, roof vents, fireplaces, windows, doors, and any other relevant items. Show where the crane will be located during set.
Draw the Basement Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information about water, sewer, heating system, hot water, basement stairs, windows, and any other relevant items.
Draw the 1st Floor Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information of first floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition, and any other relevant items.
Draw the 2nd Floor Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information of second floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition if it impacts on second floor, and any other relevant items.
Homebuyers are often concerned about having their concrete foundation poured in the winter. They fear the cold will damage the concrete. If they fall behind schedule with their modular planning and design, and this makes it impossible for their contractor to pour the foundation before winter, they tell him to delay the start until spring. Of course that’s when lots of people want their home built. This is one reason why spring projects often take longer than late summer and fall projects.
You Can Safely Pour a Concrete Foundation in the Winter
Actually there are safe, effective ways to pour a concrete foundation in cold weather. They all begin with protecting the ground beneath the foundation from frost, snow, and ice. This is done before winter begins by covering the ground with hay and covering the hay with tarps or plastic sheets.
The next steps are done by the concrete and foundation companies. Their responsibility is to prepare the concrete foundation so it’s suitable for your site’s weather conditions, primarily cold temperatures. They accomplish this by raising the temperature of the water and adding more cement to the mix. They also control the amount of air entrapped and entrained in the concrete. In addition, they add accelerators to speed up the curing process.
After the concrete foundation is poured, the chemical reaction created by the accelerant generates heat in the concrete. The heat helps the concrete to cure before it freezes. But this only works if the heat is retained. This is done, first, by leaving the wood cement forms in place for several days; they can be removed the next day during warmer temperatures. In addition, the cement and forms are covered with insulating blankets, which also reduce moisture loss. Finally, if the temperature is too cold, a heater and enclosure are used to maintain temperatures above freezing.
Knowing that you can safely pour a cement foundation in the winter rather than waiting for spring allows you to take advantage of what is usually a slower time for your builder. This in turn enables you to move into your new home in the spring.
Build a Modular Home to Protect Your Home from Inclement Weather
Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory. When the modules arrive on site and are placed on the foundation, they are already “closed in” from the inclement winter weather. So while you can safely pour a concrete foundation in the winter, the only way to build your home protected from the snow, ice, and rain is to build a modular home.
For more information about pouring a concrete foundation in cold temperatures, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
Purpose of Rain Gutters
Many people think the main purpose of rain gutters is to protect the side of their home. Actually its to protect their home’s foundation by channeling water away from the foundation. Otherwise water running directly off the roof will dig a ditch along the sides of the foundation, and as the water soaks into the ground, some of the water will work its way through the foundation. If you choose not to install gutters, the excavator must take extra care to grade your property so all sides slope away from your modular home. Keep in mind that this solution isn’t as effective as installing rain gutters.
It’s also true that gutters are helpful with protecting the exterior of your modular home from back-splash stain and rot. In addition, they help shield your landscaping and reduce ground erosion. Most importantly, gutters shield windows and doors from water infiltration as well as family and guests from being soaked while entering your home. Gutters are especially helpful for preventing leaks around the thresholds of exterior doors during heavy storms. Without gutters, the exterior doors will be pounded with rain falling off the roof as well as from the sky. In such circumstances, the doors will be prone to leak.
In fact, the reason I decided to write about rain gutters is that two of the problems we’ve had from time-to-time have been with homes that did not have gutters because the homeowners wanted to save money. For sure, gutters are costly. But homes without them are much more likely to have a leaky exterior door or a damp basement or both. Since such leaks are not due to a defect in the exterior doors or foundation, they’re not a warranty claim.
Rain Gutter Material
Gutters are available in four materials: vinyl, steel, aluminum, and copper. Each material has its pros and cons for your home.
Vinyl gutters are lightweight, the easiest to install for do-it-yourselfers, and the least expensive. They come in a variety of colors, and since their color is part of the material, they hold it well. Another advantage of vinyl gutters is that they won’t chip, dent, or corrode. However, they can become brittle in extreme cold.
Steel gutters are the sturdiest, which enables them to support ladders and falling branches without damage. On the other hand they require the most maintenance and can rust if water doesn’t drain properly.
Aluminum gutters are very popular because they won’t rust. However, they can dent and bend from too much weight, powerful winds, or falling debris. This is most likely to happen if the gutters are fabricated out of secondary aluminum, which is made mostly of recycled materials, rather than primary aluminum, which is of a higher quality and thicker.
Copper gutters are usually reserved for classic restorations. They’re very attractive, durable, never rust, and never need painting. During their 75+ year life-time they will oxidize to an attractive green. On the other hand, copper gutters are the most expensive, which also makes them a target for thieves.
Seamless vs. Sectional Rain Gutters
There are two types of gutters, sectional and seamless. Sectional gutters are built out of pre-cut pieces that are joined and fastened together as they are installed. Seamless gutters are created on site using single lengths of gutter that are as long as can be functionally installed. This eliminates the number of joints that need to be fastened together, usually only at inside and outside corners and downspouts. Since gutters most frequently fail at the joints and seams, seamless gutters virtually eliminate this problem
Rain Gutter Maintenance and Repair
Gutters must be maintained regularly to remove leaves and other debris, since these materials will back up the flow of water. When this happens the gutters will no longer protect the house. In fact, the overflow can damage the roof and encourage the formation of more ice dams than if you didn’t have gutters. An option is to use “gutter guards”, which are designed to keep debris out but allow water to enter. Although these reduce the need for frequent cleaning, it’s still wise to inspect your gutters regularly.
You should also regularly examine whether your gutters are fully attached to your house. Gutters can pull away from the roof over time due to the weight of snow, ice, branches, and small animals. Checking for holes and leaks where gutter sections connect is another homeowner responsibility for maintaining well-functioning gutters.
For more information about rain gutters, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.