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It’s Never Too Early to Think About Warm Floors

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

The calendar still reads August, but the kiddos are headed back to school, Halloween candy displays are in the supermarkets and before you know it there will be a nip in the air and you’ll wonder where your snuggly threadbare Bulls sweatshirt is.

There’s no reason to sound the alarm about another Lake Shore Drive carmageddon snow-in just yet.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead for winter, especially if you’re remodeling your house, or maybe building a new one.

Have you ever noticed how on snowy days the sidewalks in front of some downtown skyscrapers remain clear and give off a little steam while you twist your ankles on the ice ruts in front of neighboring buildings?  That, my friend, is because of a little thing called “radiant heat.”  Some of the finer North Shore mansions have it too — networks of tubes that run under the driveway to keep it warm and snow-free.

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

But you don’t have to be a commodities trader or a Loop doorman to appreciate the technology.  That’s because you can get it installed in your own home.  No more tip-toeing across a freezing January floor to the bathroom at 5am because the floor, itself, generates the heat in your home.

It’s not exactly a new technology.  Ancient Koreans had it 7,000 years ago.  So did the Romans and the Greeks.  The residences in the John Hancock Center have it, except it’s in the ceiling instead of the floor.

But a company called Warmboard has a product that is vastly superior to what the Koreans, the Romans, or even those high-falutin’ Hancock residents have.

Not surprisingly, the product is called Warmboard, and it looks kind of like big sheets of shiny green plywood with racetracks running through them.  The tracks are the tubing that, when installed, has warm water running through it heating the room. And while electric radiant might only make the floor feel nice and warm, hydronic radiant can replace an entire forced-air heating system.

(Diagram courtesy of Warmboard)

(Diagram courtesy of Warmboard)

Traditionally, under-floor heating systems have been encased in concrete or wood.  That’s part of the reason they haven’t been so popular.  It takes a long time for heat to penetrate concrete, and maintenance (and installation) is a bear.  Wood is easier to maintain, but does a terrible job of conducting heat.  That’s why your air conditioner isn’t made of wood.

Warmboard is different.  It’s aluminum.  Like a frying pan, which we all know is great at conducting heat.  Transfer that technology to a heated floor, and you can imagine that the room will get much warmer much faster than with wood or concrete.  The company claims it can raise the temperature 10 BTUs in 20 minutes.  That compares with one to two hours with concrete (depending on the tube density), and over three hours with wood.

Efficient heat transfer doesn’t just mean quick heating. It means the water doesn’t have to be made as hot, which saves on energy bills.

Sure, radiant heat sounds great in a single-family home.  But this is Chicago.  We have tens of thousands of people in skyscrapers, so they’re out of luck, right?  Not so fast. Warmboard is being used in multi-family buildings, including the 33-story Kilbourn Tower up the road in Milwaukee — another city that knows a thing or two about Great Lakes winters.

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

So, should you include Warmboard in your next new home build,  townhouse renovation, or residential skyscraper?  That’s up to you.  You’ve got to weigh the pro’s and con’s.  Chicago’s luxury high-rises have pretty much run out of gimmicks to one-up each other, so maybe this could be the next big perk.  And depending on the application, it could be worth up to 15 LEED points.  And we know how much developers love collecting LEED points like Pokemon cards.

To decide for yourself, follow this link to the Warmboard web site.  It’s full of charts and photos and graphs and other technical information you need to find out if you can delight your clients with the notion of lowering their energy bills and maximizing comfort, while not having to deal with cold floors on winter mornings.

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

(Photograph courtesy of Warmboard)

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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