Radiant Heating Systems and Wood Flooring
With a radiant heating system, the heat source is near or actually touching the flooring and expected conditions can involve extra gaps between strips/planks and or cracks in the flooring itself. The heating system should be engineered for wood flooring with correct heat source temperatures and thermostatic controls. For information, check with The Radiant Panel Association, 800-660-7187.
What happens when the heating is turned off? Seasonal spring and summer humidity increases and can affect the flooring product dramatically.
A solid unidirectional 1/2-inch and thicker wood floor has to have a nailing base or subfloor. Gluing is not recommended for these products. It is important not to subject the heating system to harm by puncturing mats or tubes with fasteners. There are generally three types of heating systems. The "in slab" system, which has heating tubes imbedded in the slab; the "staple up" system, which has heating tubes attached to the underside of the subflooring on conventional joists; and the "thermal mass" system, with heat tubes embedded in a cement type material with sleepers or screeds as the nailing base.
For slab systems where the tubes are placed before the slab is poured (Figure 1), a floating subfloor is generally recommended as the nailing base. For 3/4 -inch thick flooring, this can be 2 layers of 1/2-inch thick plywood with the top layer installed at 45 degrees to the room dimension if the flooring is not to be on the same diagonal. The plywood should not be attached to the slab. Fasten the two layers together with 7/8-inch screws or staples on a 6-8-inch grid. Or use 3/4-inch plywood cut into 16-inch-by-8-foot planks scored 3/8-inch on the back (Figure 2), and lay in a staggered pattern (Figure 3). Also use necessary vapor retarders for on grade and first floor slabs.
Next are the sleeper systems with heating tubes between sleepers as the floor-nailing base in concrete or with reflective pans. It is important that: the sleepers be spaced on average no more than 12 inches on center for proper nailing frequency (Figure 4); sleepers should be a dense wood like southern pine or equivalent; the sleepers lay flat, and may require some kerfing (Figure 5); and sleepers be placed to support flooring at end walls and doorways (Figure 6). Also it is a good idea to mark where heating tubes cross sleepers.
The staple up system, where the heating tubes are placed on the underside of the primary subfloor between the joists, is another frequently encountered system. The major caution is to use fasteners short enough not to puncture the tubes. For 3/4-inch subflooring, 1 1/2-inch fasteners are generally recommended; 2-inch fasteners will exit the plywood and can puncture a tube (Figure 7). The longer fastener, 1 3/4 inches or 2 inches, may be used if the angle of nailing is greater. But, be advised that some fasteners, particularly those of wire, may not follow the angle of nailing and run out of the subflooring unexpectedly.
As has been stated in previous articles, know the wood product's dynamics; check its moisture content; know what expected conditions are present in the area; accommodate the wood product to those average conditions; and with these special installations, take more time to install carefully.