Product Review – Underfloor Heat: A warm choice in a chilly economy
 
April 2nd, 2009

Second Quarter, 2009

by Kathleen Furore

Comfort, efficiency, and the economy. Those issues are driving demand for electric radiant floor heating systems, as consumers look for ways to stay warm and improve their homes in cost- and energy-efficient ways.

“Since 2001 there has been an upward movement in the average annual growth [of underfloor heating], and we fully expect that to continue into the future,” Erin Mitmoen, a spokesperson for WarmlyYours, a radiant floor heating company headquartered in Long Grove, Ill., says. “One report from Frost & Sullivan claims that the industry will be nearing $400M in revenue by 2011. This is nearly an 800 percent increase!”

And while Mitmoen cautions those numbers “may be exaggerated with today’s economy,” she stresses that interest in radiant heating has grown. “In fact, www.Builderonline.com posted on December 15, 2008 saying it is one of the top 10 things to have in the home,” Mitmoen says.

Tony Ledford, regional sales manager of Watts Radiant, Inc., the Springfield, Mo.-based manufacturer of the SunTouch radiant floor systems, agrees the market is on the upswing. “From what we are hearing in the field, tile and setting materials are maintaining but floor warming/underfloor heating sales are increasing,” Ledford reports. “Even though the building industry is down, people who have money are still building houses. These consumers are making the decision to install floor warming, since it needs to be installed now, and waiting on upgrades such as granite countertops or high-end fixtures that can be done later,” he notes.

In fact, the economy is helping push sales in some segments, according to Kevin McElroy, vice president of sales at Nuheat, a leading manufacturer of electric radiant floor warming systems headquartered in Delta, British Columbia.

“Demand continues to grow,” McElroy says. “We believe one of the key reasons is that as homeowners come to terms with their homes not selling, or depreciating in value, they are staying put and adding value in the bathrooms and kitchens with amenities like floor heating.”

Why radiant floor heat?

Comfort is clearly the biggest, and most obvious, benefit underfloor heating systems deliver. As Ledford says, “Who wants to step onto a cold tile floor after a warm shower?”

The fact that it is also one of the most efficient, economical radiant heat sources available is a big plus, industry experts say.

“It is an efficient way to heat a room, because it is a gentle heat that rises from the floor, warming you first and then the air around you,” explains Sharon Mangino, general manager of Danbury, Conn.-based Warmup, Inc., the U.S. arm of Warmup PLC, England`s leading manufacturer of electric underfloor heating systems for tiles, laminate, stone, carpet, vinyl and wood floors. “Underfloor heating is ideal in spring and autumn when you want to take the chill off the tiles, but don’t want to heat the whole house.”

As Mitmoen explains, studies have shown that people feel warmer and do not need to set as high an ambient temperature when the floor is warm.

“The demand for affordable, cleaner energy that reduces our carbon footprint makes electric radiant heat an attractive heating alternative,” Mangino adds.

And with the current emphasis on environmentally friendly “green” technology, it makes more sense than ever for tile dealers to offer electric radiant floor heating options to customers.

Making the Pitch

The most common questions customers ask, according to McElroy, are about the initial price and the operating costs once the system is installed. Systems typically cost between $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the room, with operating costs coming in at “pennies a day—less than the light bulbs in the room,” McElroy says. “After 15 years in the industry, I have never met a homeowner that doesn’t rave about the luxury of heated floors after they are installed,” he adds. “It is worth the extra energy to upsell!”

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is a lack of knowledge about infloor heating and the benefits it brings, Warmup’s Mangino notes. “There are many consumers who are not aware that electric radiant heat is available,” she explains. “Too often, homeowners tell us if they had known about electric radiant heat, they would have purchased it along with the new tile.”

To introduce customers to the concept, Mangino suggests that tile dealers initiate a discussion about underfloor heat. “Ask them if they want to stand on cold or warm tile,” she advises. Once a conversation has begun, she says sales staff should explain the following benefits that electric radiant floor heat offers:

  • It evenly distributes heat from the floor surface, which means the thermostat can be set two to four degrees lower than it can be in spaces that use other heating methods. That alone can reduce energy costs by 10 to 40 percent.
  • Once the desired temperature is reached, the system only cycles on to maintain the temperature, so it’s only running 50 percent of the time.
  • Because heat is not circulating, there is less dust (and fewer dust mites) in the air—a big plus for people with asthma.
  • It operates quietly, needs no maintenance, and is easy to install.
  • Systems operated by an Energy Star-rated thermostat with an energy consumption monitor (which Warmup systems and others have) can help trim 15 to 35 percent from the energy consumption of a typical home.

Mitmoen of WarmlyYours recommends letting customers feel the floor warming for themselves. “We offer a heated countertop display that dealers can put in their show rooms,” she notes. “We have found that this display helps increase sales significantly.”

And Watts Radiant’s Ledford suggests quoting floor warming as a package deal with the tile, noting that the company offers kits that are “a complete package that lets the customer grab a box with everything needed for a warm floor.“

“Give your customer the price of a cold floor and a warm floor. We have seen this work really well with dealers who consistently quote this way,” Ledford says.

But perhaps the best reason tile dealers should offer the radiant floor heating systems is the ease with which they can convert their information-packed sales pitches into sales. “Once consumers understand how efficient and economical it is to run, it practically sells itself,” Mangino concludes.

Underfloor Heat Product Showcase

Several companies offer an array of electric radiant floor heating systems. The list below offers a glimpse at the products available on the market today.

Nuheat. New “SOLO” Programmable Thermostat features a unique designer look, simplicity in programming, a full-screen menu and the Energy Star rating. This universal floor heating thermostat is applicable for tile, stone and laminate/engineered floors. Nuheat’s most popular product is the pre-built, easy-to-install custom mat that can fit spaces up to 200 square feet. Mats fit the floor space like a glove so there are no cold spots, and as the industry’s lowest profile product the mats add less than 1/8 of an inch to the floor profile.

Phone: 1-800-778-WARM (9276)

Web: www.nuheat.com

Warmup. Flexible range of electric floor heating systems can heat up to 10 square feet of flooring for less than one penny per hour. Most popular is the loose wire heating range that gives installers the flexibility to work around fixtures within the room. Matting systems, ideal for large rooms, feature pre-spaced heating wire attached to sturdy mesh with easy-to-stick tape to make installation fast and easy. All Warmup products have a dual-core wire, which has two advantages: the wire is laid on the floor without the need to return it to the thermostat, saving contractors time on installation; and the dual-core wire cancels any emf (single wire products do not do this).

Phone: 888-927-6333

Website: www.warmup.com

WarmlyYours. New Low Voltage Shower System features a radiant heating mat for use inside the shower. UL Listed and safe for use in wet locations, it is ideal for spa bathrooms. The 24-volt warming rolls and companion transformers are available in several sizes to accommodate most shower applications. Simple to install over a waterproof membrane; designed to warm shower floors, tub surrounds, steam showers and saunas. “Elements” line of towel warmers that hang up and plug in for spa-like comfort without spa pricing also available.

Phone: (800) 875-5285

Website: www.warmlyyours.com

Watts SunTouch/Watts Radiant. Products include the SunTouch UnderFloor mats that are a UL-listed solution for electric radiant heat under existing wood subfloors. UnderFloor mats deliver 10 watts per sq. ft. of floor area. Available in almost 40 different lengths in 12-inch and 16-inch widths; 120-vac and 240-vac. SunStat Pro programmable control with Energy Star rating is also available. It includes a 5/1/1 day programming that allows for energy saving control, four pre-set program schedules for easy setup, one user program schedule for customized programming, and a usage monitor that shows the hours of system operation. SmartStart ™ technology adjusts when the floor warming system turns on to ensure the floor is warm at your scheduled time. Dual voltage, 120-vac and 240-vac; built-in GFCI.

Phone: 888-432-8932.

Website: www.suntouch.com

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