What are Radiant Panels?

T. Doucette

Radiant panels are conductors of heat that can be installed within the floors, walls, or ceilings of a building. Unlike conventional heating systems such as radiators or furnaces, these panels work primarily through the use of radiant energy. There are a variety of choices available, including panels heated with water pipes, electrical elements, or air channels. Water pipes can be heated by many different sources, including electricity, natural gas, propane, or oil. The type of panels purchased or used will be dependent upon the area of installation.

A propane tank can hold fuel to heat water pipes.
A propane tank can hold fuel to heat water pipes.

In order to qualify as a radiant panel, at least 50 percent of the heat from the panel must be transferred by radiant energy. Whenever two surfaces differ in temperature, both surfaces will work to equalize. Therefore, radiant energy will move through a space and turn to heat when it encounters a cooler surface.

This energy allows radiant panels to emit heat in several different directions, depending upon placement. While conventional heating elements use forced air to heat a space, radiant panels will heat what they come into contact with. For this reason, they can be placed in floors, walls, or ceilings in a space of any size.

Many radiant panels come pre-assembled. When installed in walls and ceilings, these panels are typically made of metal. Floor panels are usually installed during floor construction, and contain electric cables or water tubes which are inserted into the panels under the subfloor. Ideally, they should be encased in mortar, concrete, or plaster to provide more thermal mass surrounding the panels. The higher the density of a material, the more heat it will retain.

Radiant panels can also be used in conjunction with conventional heating systems. Many homeowners rely on radiant heat on the first floor of the house, and forced-air heating on upper floors. Standard, wall-mounted thermostats can be used to control the heat emitted by radiant panels.

There are a number of applications for which radiant panels can be used since they do not use the air around them to generate warmth. Radiant panels can be used outdoors in spaces such as patios or walkways to deflect weather conditions such as snow and ice. When mounted in ceilings of open outdoor areas, these panels work to create warmth without the hazards associated with outdoor heaters. Radiant panels are often used in outdoor areas of cafes, schools, churches, or other public areas, and they typically prove to be a cost-effective source of heating.

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