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The Future of Warmth

Radiant Heating Powered by Alternative Energy Sources.

By Monica Irgens

From solar to wind, green energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the world. It has many benefits for the climate, environment, economy, and communities. It is important for the United States to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, rather than producing more coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

Over the past decade, solar power has experienced the largest percentage growth of any U.S. energy source. Solar generated just over 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2008. A decade later, it generated more than 93 billion kilowatt-hours, an almost 46-fold increase! As we experience cold temperatures in the fall and winter seasons, now is a great time to ask how are we using alternative energy sources, like solar power, to heat our homes?

A heating system is an important part of the building process, enabling us to have a safe, comfortable and efficient home. COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, and play in our homes. It’s emphasized that we need a dependable and quiet heating system, which delivers healthy air to our indoor spaces. We all want better indoor air quality, and more homeowners want the latest technologies in electric heating.

The living room and kitchen will have radically different conditioning needs than a bedroom or bathroom. A self-regulating, underfloor floor radiant heating system satisfies this demand because you can choose the room temperature for each individual area. A self-regulating, radiant heating system generates comfortable warmth that is evenly distributed over the entire floor area. The heat distribution is optimal when the temperature is higher at the ground level than at head level.

Radiant heated flooring gently warms from the floor up and promotes enhanced indoor air quality, in comparison to forced heat systems which blow dust and air throughout the home, tending to aggravate those that suffer from allergy and respiratory issues. Installing a low-voltage, AC/DC heating system gives you the option to run the system via a transformer or solar panels, a win-win for people and the planet!

A great example of this is a home located in the rural town of Burrillville, Rhode Island. The homeowner, Scott Rabideau, is a Wetland Biologist and Owner of Natural Resource Services, a consultancy dedicated to helping homeowners, contractors, and builders identify and preserve local New England wetlands, while still pushing their projects forward.

Dedicated to sustainability, his home, which he shares with his wife, features underfloor radiant heating as its sole heating source, powered by a solar flower (Smart Flowers). The 2-story house features 1,600 sq feet of finished living space and was built from a 1937 Sears & Roebucks kit. The homeowners have one solar flower dedicated for the house alone, and they are pre-wired for another unit for the house. Currently, they are using a net metering application with no battery storage system, which may be added in the future, as well.

Any extra power that is not consumed as generated, just spins the electrical meter backwards, essentially offering a power credit that is offset against power consumption not provided by the solar flower. When extra power is required to supplement the solar flower, grid power provides the rest as part of the net metering functionality.

A single solar flower covers close to 50% of the home’s total power consumption needs, including the entire radiant underfloor heating system by STEP HEAT. A heat loss analysis shows that the home operates at 3.16 watts per square foot respectively. With the electricity cost at $0.16/ KWH for Burillville, RI, the estimated annual cost is roughly $895, which doesn’t include any reductions in net cost from spinning the meter backwards, potentially putting the real annual cost of heating at just $450.

“Our overall goal was to modernize this multi-generational property and create an environmentally-friendly and sustainable home while also enhancing our comfort, wellness and ‘hassle free’ living needs. Choosing STEP HEAT ‘s low voltage powered radiant heat system as part of our net metering application with solar has exceeded our expectations in all areas,” said Rabideau.

We preferred the STEP HEAT product to geothermal, which is too expensive as well as complicated to operate and maintain. When we do add our second solar flower, and an eventual battery storage, we expect to achieve “net zero” living, which is our ultimate goal. Our support from Skip Mauro and the Green Wave Distribution team has been exceptional throughout the entire process from the design stage to system start up and into the future.

STEP HEAT, known for its radiant heating solutions, offers self-regulating, semi-conductive polymer heating elements, which are often connected to a 24V power supply from standard 120V, 208V, or 240V and can run directly to a solar panel or solar flower, or windmill. Most solar panels create DC energy output in either 12 or 24 volts. While most radiant heating systems typically use 120 or 240 volts AC and need an inverter, the thin STEP HEAT heating membrane can run on either DC or AC power.

STEP HEAT has an important role to play in the future of energy as a green-building product company, and has been on the impetus of energy diversification for quite some time. The future remains bright for renewable energy, and harvesting solar light energy and converting it into electrical power has enabled homeowners to power their radiant heating systems in new and progressive ways.

Monica Irgens is the President of STEP HEAT