Underfloor Heating Diagnostic with Thermal Camera

Once again, a thermal camera comes to the rescue. It’s easy to be caught all in awe of underfloor heating, also dubbed as “radiant heating”. Certainly, this seemingly new form of heating to fight the cold is HVAC’s new kid on the block. And why not? Its energy efficiency is tops. Quite frankly, it would leave many traditional centralized forced-air heating far behind eating dust. But to get into radiant heating without a thermal camera in hand is like going fishing with your bare hands. It’s reckless, plain and simple. 


For sure, your house would have a lot to gain if you switch to radiant heating. Top of the list: warmer feet right out of bed. You’d definitely experience a more convenient way of heating your precious home. Plus, you’d up your building aesthetics like no other. With your heating system under your floor (and out of the way), you get a lot more leeway in making your personal space as adorable as can be. 


But all that comes at a price: access. Unlike traditional centralized heating, underfloor heating is harder to reach. That’s precisely why a thermal camera comes in handy. It’s the perfect tool to ensure your radiant heating is in tiptop shape. And you’re getting heat as efficiently as you want it to be. 

conductor coils for underfloor heating

Underfloor Heating: Heating at Its Finest


Right off the bat, a little perspective should help us. You may think the idea of underfloor heating is a contemporary technology. Truth be told, however, this seemingly unconventional heating system has been with us thousands of years ago. You may not believe it but in-floor heating goes to back Neoglacial and Neolithic periods. Indeed, that’s way before the Industrial Age in the 1800s which gained momentum in Great Britain and transformed America into a modern society.


The proof? Archaeological digs in Aleutian islands in Alaska and in Asia reveal how dwelling places were equipped with stone-covered trenches located in the floor. Evidence show inhabitants thousands of years ago fired up these stones to obtain heat and combat the weather. So-called “baked floors” existed in Manchuria and in Korea in 5,000 B.C., foreshadowing Asia’s “heated floors” dubbed as kang and dikang


After his trip to Japan, the world-renowned revolutionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright did a fine job incorporating radiant heating in his designs in 1905 which culminated in his Usonian homes in the 1940s. Many credit Wright as the founder of modern-day underfloor heating technology. Technically, HVAC using underfloor heating is not only radiant heating as it uses not one but three ways of heat transfer to generate needed head and achieve indoor climate control: 


  • Conduction

  • Radiation

  • Convection

For any homeowner and structural designer, the merits of radiant heating are hard to ignore. For starters, think of all the savings you can get in the energy department. While there are basically two types of radiant floor heating - water-based systems and electric - both provide heating from the floor up. (Water-based in-floor heating uses hot water running through a system of pipes or Hydronics; electric in-floor heating uses heat generated from electricity.) This down-up method means you would need far lesser energy to heat a room compared to when you traditional forced-air HVAC systems where you use a system of air ducts from above. 


Note that you need your traditional radiators to achieve a temperature as high as 149 to 167 °F (65-75 °C) to amply heat a room. On the other hand, in-floor heating only needs to achieve 84 °F (29 °C) to give a room the warmth you need. The end result? Lesser energy used, lesser numbers in your monthly energy bills. 


  • 15% savings: in-floor heating average saved on your monthly heating bills 

But that’s just for starters. Not only do you need far less energy to tweak a room’s internal climate warmer with the underfloor heating, but you also achieve better results. 


We’re talking about quality warmth. For one, you wake up to floors warming your feet with in-floor heating, something you only dream of in forced-air heating. Plus, you don’t get cold spots. As radiators heat up the air nearest, rooms heated via forced-air tend to have “cold spots” which simply means the part of the air in the room, usually the central portion, feels cold. But not with underfloor heating. Radiant heating heats evenly the whole room. 


Think how much heat energy is wasted in a big room with a high ceiling in forced-air heating. A lot of energy is lost in the upper half of the room. To note, much of the heat from forced-air is lost in the air duct system and in the air. Instead, you get all your energy focused on heating in in-floor heating. 


This is the reason why bathrooms and underfloor heating are a match made in heaven. Just like the primeval homes in Aleutian, Alaska, stones and ceramic tile radiate heat perfectly. 


And there’s the case for IAQ or indoor air quality. With forced-air, there’s a lot of air circulated. As the air in a room swirls, so does all the toxins and foul negative entities in it. We’re talking about the following: 


  • Dust 
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dander
  • Allergens

That’s definitely hazardous for someone with weak lungs and asthma. Luckily, you won’t have such an issue with underfloor heating. Not only will you feel healthier, but your mornings will be met with more space and beauty in your rooms. Devoid of the bulky radiators hanging by your walls. 

man holding perfectprime thermal camera

How Thermal Camera Detects Radiant Heat


As you’re bound to find out, the heating system that functions best is the one that you don’t see every day. Without a doubt, underfloor heating offers significant benefits on the table. Moreover, all that gives you greater elbow room in designing your private spaces according to your wishes. It’s a given. Through the years, in-floor heating’s efficiency is getting more looks catching more and more attention. Indeed, its popularity is tops.


But make no mistake about it. Tracking an unseen system is an uphill climb. You’d have to move heaven and earth to know which part of the underfloor heating system is not working as expected. Indeed, without the penetrating ability of a thermal camera, you are going in blind when you diagnose the system. 


It’s worthwhile to note that underfloor heating systems are not as easily broken as forced-air heaters. Some may last for years with hardly a need for maintenance. Some experts even call it a maintenance-free system. And for many HVAC installers and suppliers, a warranty of 20 to 30 years is not uncommon. It shows just how much confidence in the ability of radiant heating to deliver over the years. 


And yet, issues do occur. Like any system, underfloor heating can exhibit abnormalities which if undetected can give you a major headache. This is where a thermal camera is at its “bestest best”. So much, you can say it’s a match made in heaven. 


Essentially, there are three main types of radiant floor heating. As aforementioned we have the two major types, heating via electric wires and heating via hot-water tubes. A third type is the forced-air underfloor system.  


As a recap, these are: 


  • Hydronics underfloor heating systems

  • Electrical underfloor heating systems

  • Forced-air underfloor heating systems

To note, forced-air in-floor heating systems are not as prevalent as the first two. In essence, the heating in this system is minimal compared to the two major types. As such, radiant floor heating using forced-air is used mainly by commercial buildings. 


Basically, the concept of radiant heating has not changed since man used it thousands of years ago. Heated floors use invisible waves rising from below via thermal radiation. As objects get warmed up, the heat produced travels to nearby objects. It’s a systematic way of distributing heat all throughout the room. 


  • In a sense, it’s like cooking. 

  • And it’s no accident that Korean fire hearth centuries ago was both used as a kitchen range for cooking and as heating material to improve the overall room temperature. 

To note, Europe’s fascination with the open fire gave way to the furnace so common during the 13th century and through the Industrial Age. In turn, the idea of a furnace bred the modern-day heaters. To distribute all the heat, this, in turn, bred the air duct system we now know as the forced-air underfloor heating system. 


In the pursuit of comfortable living, underfloor heating has become a prized possession for many American homes. The warm-feet cool-head feeling has been much sought-after. Especially true for bathrooms. And many home buddies who are severely limited in space such as those living in major cities choose to accentuate their bathrooms with in-floor heating instead of the whole floor. 


The whole underfloor heating system may not be visible to the naked eye but its radiant heat makes it visible in the powerful infrared light detectors of a thermal camera. Regular checks, therefore, is a good preventative measure to offset the presence of major heat leaks. 


Without a thermal imaging camera, you’d have to do a lot of tinkering to troubleshoot. That’s to arrive at the defective portion of the floor.  And all that deduction can cause a lot of delays given that the system is hidden from sight. 


When you use an infrared camera, you get the energy layout in a flash. A bird’s eye view so to speak. In doing so, you can pinpoint the weak spots in the system. As the flow of heat could be jeopardized, the heat signatures will show the diminished heat signature. In a way, this will appear standing out like a sore thumb. In short, you get to survey the entire floor quickly without a hitch. 


This is where a trained eye can benefit most from a thermal camera energy audit. It’s always best to have the blueprint of the layout at hand to counter-check data provided by thermography. Why? Simply because there are other factors that could affect loss in energy readings other than a glitch in the heating system. A fine example is an electrical tape that can dip the energy readings. 

man holding perfectprime IR0005

Possible System Issues in Underfloor Heating 


Setting up is one down-side of underfloor heating. It simply takes a lot more time to setup. Dwelling places about to be constructed can simply incorporate the heating system in the flooring; old houses with established floors will need more extensive time. 


It’s no secret setting up is where you will have to spend precious dollars too. While, on the other hand, forced-air systems will require far lesser in establishing its system. 


Additionally, an improper setup in your underfloor heating system can lead to major issues. Some of these are: 


  • Issues with the screed floor

  • Issues with the placement of pipes

  • Issues with the energy flow from one pipe to the next

Fortunately, these problems can easily be exposed using a thermal camera. Then again, there’s a good chance you will forget about your radiant heating as it’s out of sight. To make matters worse, the need to regularly inspect may not come to mind as usually radiant heating is not as issue-prone as forced-air systems. 


But regular frequent inspection is advised. When you factor such due diligence, energy leaks can be found in their early stages. And in the process, you prevent major failures in the system. 


Like the constant dripping of water from a defective faucet, in-floor heating system leaks can give you a significant headache if not attended to with haste. We’re talking about compounded energy waste and possible property damage. All told, that’s precious dollars down the drain. 


With a thermal camera, you can pinpoint the exact location of a hot water pipe that’s leaking. Additionally, the heat signature readings can lead you to a short in a hot wire in real-time. That’s why regular check-ups cannot be overemphasized. Anomalies in the system such as these can easily add up. 


Think of the damage that will ensue when in-floor heating system anomalies are not found out early on. An undetected leaking pipe can bring about substantial damage to your flooring. As a result, floors can easily be displaced over time. Repairing it would require needed repairs that could drain your precious funds. 


It’s paramount that you be systematic in your approach when dealing with underfloor heating. You should be extra mindful when remodeling your precious abode for instance. As tracking these pipes would be a tall order, you need to have each pipe marked clearly before you decide to put in the construction work. 


Definitely, your people would have to put in extra work when you start construction without knowing the exact location of the pipes. It’s a hit-and-miss scenario when that happens. The result? You put the whole underfloor heating in a compromised position which could result in damaged lines, adding a hefty amount to your bill in the process. 


It seems a long and winding road. Thankfully, you’d have the underfloor system figured out with a thermal camera in hand


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