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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels

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[#1] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 09:01:08 AM
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I have a client who is considering the purchase of a home with electric radiant heat panels. The panels are apparently installed above the drywall (I haven't seen the house yet). He has a few concerns:
1. What is the life expectancy of these panels? House was built in 1979, so system is 30 years old. Replacement of the panels seems like it will be very difficult.
2. House has had very high electric bills the last few years. The agent attibutes this to the former owner, who was quite old, and according to her kept the heat up very high. These panels are supposed to be fairly energy efficient, but I don't really know much about them.
3. Is there a way to test the panels to determine if they are "wearing out"?

Anybody out there have experience with this type of system? It is very rare in our area.

Thanks

Don in Colorado
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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels
[#2] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 09:20:21 AM
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Quote: House has had very high electric bills the last few years. The agent attibutes this to the former owner, who was quite old, and according to her kept the heat up very high. These panels are supposed to be fairly energy efficient, but I don't really know much about them.


Have the agent put that in writing and then promise to pay anything over normal electric bills ad infinitum.

Radiant ceilings panels aren't terribly efficienteffective. About the best one can hope for 30-35 btu's per square(some of that goes up) foot so it takes a nice tight, well insulated home to be a candidate. As a rule, just about any fuel source is cheaper than electric.

Chad Fabry
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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels
[#3] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 09:42:10 AM
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Quote: Originally posted by Don Woodring

I have a client who is considering the purchase of a home with electric radiant heat panels. The panels are apparently installed above the drywall (I haven't seen the house yet). He has a few concerns:
1. What is the life expectancy of these panels? House was built in 1979, so system is 30 years old. Replacement of the panels seems like it will be very difficult.
2. House has had very high electric bills the last few years. The agent attibutes this to the former owner, who was quite old, and according to her kept the heat up very high. These panels are supposed to be fairly energy efficient, but I don't really know much about them.
3. Is there a way to test the panels to determine if they are "wearing out"?

Anybody out there have experience with this type of system? It is very rare in our area.

Thanks


I've inspected hundreds. There are two types. The first is pre-manufactured panels that you nail up and plug together. With the second system, you staple up the wires and plaster over them.

As far as I know, as long as you don't break the wires, the life expectancy is unlimited. In the case of a broken wire, an electrician can chip away the plaster, splice the broken wire, and you're good to go. I occasionally see these repairs where some fool homeowner broke a wire while installing a hook in the ceiling to hang a plant.

The old lady story is believable. These are very efficient systems -- as electric heating goes. Like all electric heating systems, 100% of the energy is turned into heat but, because it's radiant, people feel the warmth right away; you don't have to turn on the heat and wait for the house to warm up. Unlike in-wall fan & coil systems, you don't have to heat up the air. And unlike a central furnace, you can turn on the heat in only one room at a time. When the system is working, if you close your eyes and tilt your face up, it "feels" like sunlight. I find it a pleasant way to heat a house. However, despite the efficiency of the system, if you pay a high rate for electricity, this will be an expensive way to heat a house, particularly if you're an old lady who wants it to be 97 degrees all the time.

The panels don't "wear out." There are several ways to test them. The simplest is to turn up all of the stats to full and wait. Then walk through each room and turn your face up. You'll feel the heat. You can also use an IR thermometer or, of course, and IR camera.

One of the slickest, and fastest, ways is to use a pen-style voltage detector. Hold the detector out at about waist height. Slowly raise it until it starts to beep and hold it there while you turn up the thermostat to engage the heat. As soon as the stat clicks, your detector should stop beeping. If you then raise the detector another foot or so, it'll start beeping again. The detector is revealing the collapsing electric field as the heat engages. With this technique, you can confirm working coils in every room in the house in about 2 minutes.

A couple of other things. If you want to locate the coils, spray distilled water on the ceiling and turn up the heat. All will be revealed.

I've also told this story before. I had a old lady customer who called to tell me that her radiant ceiling heat didn't work on Thursday nights. (It worked every other night.) I went out to look at it and it worked fine. It turns out that every Thursday she had her old lady friends over to play cards & bunco. Since they were all sitting around card tables, their laps were in the "shadow" of the radiant heat. And since the customer was cheap and never turned on the heat in that room until the last second, everything in the room was cold. So while the card players' heads were warm, their laps were cold, and a bunch of old ladies have little compunction about complaining loudly about cold laps.

I told her to turn on the heat earlier in the day so that the floor and the furniture would have a chance to warm up. She didn't believe me and bought a bunch of those radiant heat dishes from Costco instead.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels
[#4] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 12:32:11 PM
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Thanks Chad and Jim. Good info.

I called the guy back, and he said the seller has now agreed to install forced air heat...$20k or so.

I'm just happy that he didn't cancel the deal, causing me to lose the inspection!

Don in Colorado
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[#5] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 12:36:00 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Don Woodring

I have a client who is considering the purchase of a home with electric radiant heat panels. The panels are apparently installed above the drywall (I haven't seen the house yet). He has a few concerns:
1. What is the life expectancy of these panels? House was built in 1979, so system is 30 years old. Replacement of the panels seems like it will be very difficult.
2. House has had very high electric bills the last few years. The agent attibutes this to the former owner, who was quite old, and according to her kept the heat up very high. These panels are supposed to be fairly energy efficient, but I don't really know much about them.
3. Is there a way to test the panels to determine if they are "wearing out"?

Anybody out there have experience with this type of system? It is very rare in our area.

Thanks


For what it's worth, the homes built with this type heat in my area were very well put together, tight, and had very well installed insulation. The comments above will give you other information.

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[#6] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 12:51:11 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Don Woodring

Thanks Chad and Jim. Good info.

I called the guy back, and he said the seller has now agreed to install forced air heat...$20k or so.

I'm just happy that he didn't cancel the deal, causing me to lose the inspection!


You know, you might want to suggest that he leave the ceiling panels intact and in functioning order. He could then use them to heat a single room, if he wished, or he could use them to supplement his new system.

Who knows, he might actually come to prefer the soft radiant heat from the ceilings over the nasty scorched air from the furnace.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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[#7] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 6:01:01 PM
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Quote:
You know, you might want to suggest that he leave the ceiling panels intact and in functioning order. He could then use them to heat a single room, if he wished, or he could use them to supplement his new system.

Who knows, he might actually come to prefer the soft radiant heat from the ceilings over the nasty scorched air from the furnace.

- Jim Katen, Oregon


That's what I was thinking. If its all working, I'll tell him to keep the panels and throw a party with the 20k (and invite me).

Don in Colorado
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[#8] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 6:46:57 PM
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Quote: You know, you might want to suggest that he leave the ceiling panels intact and in functioning order. He could then use them to heat a single room, if he wished, or he could use them to supplement his new system.


You were supposed to tell me that before I cut through all of my wires Just kidding.

2 winters ago, we used the radiant heat in 2 of our rooms-- the back family room and one bedroom. I was chilly, and the better half was downright cold most of the time. Our house is only about 1500 sq. ft, and our electric bill hit $350.00 one month.

On our house, half of the wires were plastered into a single layer of drywall, while the other half had a double layer of drywall installed.

Brandon

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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels
[#9] Posted: 10/22/2009 - 7:20:00 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Brandon Whitmore

Quote: You know, you might want to suggest that he leave the ceiling panels intact and in functioning order. He could then use them to heat a single room, if he wished, or he could use them to supplement his new system.


You were supposed to tell me that before I cut through all of my wires Just kidding.

2 winters ago, we used the radiant heat in 2 of our rooms-- the back family room and one bedroom. I was chilly, and the better half was downright cold most of the time. Our house is only about 1500 sq. ft, and our electric bill hit $350.00 one month.

On our house, half of the wires were plastered into a single layer of drywall, while the other half had a double layer of drywall installed.


Which power company are you with & what do you pay per kwh?

In McMinnville, people who are on Mac power & light pay about 4 cents per kwh. I'm on PGE, & I pay about 8 cents. Electric radiant doesn't make sense at 8 cents per kwh but it's a pretty good deal at 4 cents.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Electric Radiant Ceiling panels
[#10] Posted: 10/23/2009 - 02:57:40 AM
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After taxes and fees, I pay 14 cents per kwh.
Chad Fabry
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[#11] Posted: 10/23/2009 - 06:12:49 AM
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Ain't it grand that we have the largest hydro electric facility in the East, and the NYPA sees fit to to charge us such exorbitant rates? There are a few small towns in my area that have their own muni electic systems (most are purchasing through coops rather than producing these days) where electric heat makes sense, outside these areas even electric stoves are rare. Gas and propane rule here.

Tom

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Life is tough enough as it is, it's tougher when you're stupid. Don't do stupid things.
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[#12] Posted: 10/23/2009 - 8:48:03 PM
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Hi Jim,

I have PG&E, but can't remember what we pay per kwh. I'll check the next time we get the bill , but 8 or 9 cents rings a bell/ bill.

Brandon

Portland Home Inspector
   
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