Written by Jackie Calla '17E November 2016

Now that the colder weather is arriving it’s time to learn more about our new Greenway Dorm’s radiant heating!

Background of Radiant Heating

Radiant heating is by no means new. One of the earliest examples of humans using radiant heating was the approach used by the Romans as early as the 1st century B.C. called hypocaust. The Romans used hypocaust in public spaces; it consisted of constructing buildings with a hollow space under the floor into which hot air was sent for heating rooms and bathrooms.

Radiant heating uses infrared to heat spaces. Unlike most commonly used heating systems, radiant heating does not rush air into a room but instead heats the objects that are in the direct pathway of the infrared rays. These objects (walls, floors, and ceilings) heat up and subsequently transfer and radiant the heat to other objects in the room. Radiant heating is a great way to transfer heat efficiently. 

Radiant Heating

Radiant Heating at Greenway

In our Greenway dorms, there are 3 different layers of walls that allow the dorms to supply heat directly to the panels of the walls and to the floors. The ceiling of the dorms, for instance, have exposed structural concrete slab which have radiant tubing embedded. Nearly all dorm rooms have southern exposure to maximize views and benefit from passive solar heating. There are two forms of radiant heating: electric and hydronic. The type of radiant heating our Greenway Dorms use is hydronic - the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating system. The steam plant at Amherst facilitates the hydronic radiant heating system because the steam from the plant warms up the water allowing the heat to warm walls and radiate throughout the greenway dorms. The steam plant is a more efficient powerplant because it is a single source for electricity and thermal energy, and is located close to the point of use allowing for increased efficiency of energy conversion and usage. The hydronic radiant floor system pumps this warm water from the steam plant through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor and through the walls. As an added way to boost the effectiveness of heating our greenway dorms, the lighting has been installed on the walls to increase the heat that can be generated.

Greenway Radiant Heating

The other type of radiant heating is electric, in this system there are loops of charged cables embedded in the concrete ceilings and between the subfloor and the floor’s visible layer that generate heat either continuously or during the evening and overnight hours. 

One minor drawback of radiant heating is that it takes longer to warm the air because it takes time to circulate enough hot water to the panels of the walls and floors. So, be ready to wear a sweater for a bit until the warmth sets in!

Benefits of Radiant Heating

There are many benefits of radiant heating! Let’s see how they are making our Greenway dorms perform better and ways in which your own home can benefit from switching over to radiant heat.
The greatest benefit from radiant heating systems is their efficiency. Radiant heating at Greenway uses less electricity than conventional heating systems because it gets its electricity from the steam plant on campus. The use of less energy results in much lower utility costs and GHG emissions. Additionally, no ductwork is needed meaning more of the heat that is produced makes it to the area it is intended to go.

Hear the silence: Unlike conventional forced air systems which hum and swoosh, radiant heat systems are quiet. There is no echoing or noisiness coming from vents or furnaces. 

Radiant heating provides better air quality. It does not kick up dust or pollen that may swirl in the air that you may later breathe in. It also prevents drafts and static electricity since heat is transferred from panels to people and things instead of having air rushed into and around a room.

Radiant heat is the easiest to install in new construction as well as being simple to add to old construction or remodels. If you’re installing new tile, radiant heat mats can easily be installed under them. Radiant panels also fit nicely on ceilings or walls and you don’t have to worry about where to put ducts or registers—radiant heat doesn’t need them.

It is also easily controllable through individual and programmable thermostats. The thermostats at Greenway are controlled by the college’s engineers and are constantly being monitored.