Designing and constructing an industrial building (from factories, to gas stations, to call centres) is complex process. In modern energy and fashion conscious society, the design and installation of a radiant systems has become a vital aspect of this process.
Radiant systems have a lot of scientifically verified advantages over conventional all-air systems. However, before those benefits can be realised, you have to get past designing and installing the radiant system. In this blog, I will cover some key considerations for installing a high mass radiant cooling floor system.
- Insulation: Insulation is one of the most important components of properly functioning radiant systems. Insulation is usually installed between the slab that has the piping embedded, and the lower foundation layer. This will increase the efficiency of the radiant system, through only facilitating the transfer of energy in the desired direction (in and out of the occupied space).
- Proper tubing: The type of tubing used is important because it needs to be leak proof, in some cases resistant to freezing damage, flexible in design and application, and robust (durable and long-lived).In this regard, Uponor PE-Xa tubing is a premier product. In short, PE-Xa is highly durable, inexpensive (relative to copper), and perfectly suited to underfloor radiant cooling systems. Its flexibility in particular gives it the ability to be fitted and moulded to a wide range of spaces and applications, ideal for a range of industrial projects.
- Securing the piping: Given that PE-Xa tubing is highly flexible, it can be shaped to reach all areas of the space, and provide even heating across the floor surface. However, as it is shaped and placed where it needs to go, it will have to be fixed. Depending on the type of installation, this can be done using three methods; 1) plastic staples, which can fic the tubing directly to the insulation layer, 2) fixing wire, which can fix the tubing to non-structural wire mesh, and 3) PEX rails, which are fastened to the subfloor.
- Construction joints: In the case that pipes have to cross a construction joint, they will have to be sheathed in 1 m long Uponor protective pipe sleeves. In this way the pipes can deal with the mechanical stress of construction.
- Industrial manifold: Before the concrete is poured, you will need to install the Industrial Manifold. The manifold can be fixed either to the existing wall where it will stay once construction is finished, or to a temporary structure that can be modified to fit to the final structure once it is built. The tubing is then fed out and connected to the manifold, prior to concrete being laid.This leads to one of the most important steps of the installation process. Once the tubing is in place and connected to the manifold, the system should be pressure tested at 50 psi for 24 hours. The system should be kept under pressure until after the concrete is poured. There should be a minimum of 3⁄4 inch concrete on top of the tubing, but the final slab thickness should be determined by the structural engineer.
- Type of concrete: For installing a radiant cooling floor system there are a few different type of concrete to consider; reinforced concrete, pre-stressed concrete, roller compacted concrete, steel fibre concrete, and vacuum concrete. I will not go into details of the differences here, but the different types, but your choice here will affect how the radiant system is installed.When concrete is laid with mesh reinforcement (steel-reinforced concrete, pre-stressed concrete with mesh reinforcement), the tubing is attached to the lowest level of the mesh. When concrete is laid without mesh reinforcement (steel-fibre reinforced concrete, pre-stressed concrete without mesh reinforcement, non-reinforced concrete), the tubing must be attached to a raised support structure that is laid onto the concrete base. This method is a patented Uponor system, which allows the tubing, or radiant plane, to be positioned in the center of the concrete slab. The tubing thus sits between the lower and upper levels of the mesh reinforcement. The raised pipe supports are attached using special spacers, which are attached to the upper reinforcement.
- Concrete compaction: Once the concrete is poured, it needs to be compacted. This is usually achieved using high-frequency internal vibrators. In most cases, the vibrators are drawn slowly through the freshly poured concrete at the same time it is levelled. Importantly, this process is compatible with an underfloor radiant cooling system.
- Weight bearing properties: For some buildings where radiant floor cooling is required, heavy duty vehicles will need to travel across the surface within which the radiant system is installed. In this regard, high mass radiant cooling systems are installed directly into the floor concrete, which means that they can bear very high weight loads and traffic from vehicles without suffering damage or reduced function. In some cases, it is possible to use the steel reinforcement framework within the concrete as a support structure the tubing, which means that the radiant cooling system will never compromise the structural integrity and strength of the building construction. It is worth mentioning here as well that Uponor PE-Xa tubing is capable of bending, contracting and expanding if necessary without fracturing. This is not true of more rigid piping alternatives such as copper or PVC. In addition, make sure to consider the weight bearing properties of the insulation layer if one needs to be installed. Insulation does not reduce weight bearing capacity if properly installed and considered.
- Equipment fixtures: Machinery installed in industrial buildings often has to be anchored to the floor. If the anchors penetrate deep enough to reach within 50mm of the piping, then radiant systems will have to avoid these areas, creating a so-called ‘blind area’.
Radiant cooling floor systems are useful for a wide range of industrial applications. However, depending on exactly what you desire and what the purpose of the space is, the installation procedure may differ.
Overall, there is a lot to consider when installing a radiant cooling floor system. In this blog I touched on some of the key aspects, but keep in mind that installation of high mass radiant systems is the subject of comprehensive manuals. The best thing to do is understand the basics as I have outlined them here, and then consult a professional on the subject.