Real Estate

Finally, warm and toasty

Yes, it's possible to have radiant floor heating and new hardwood floors

by Kate Daly

Remember the freezing cold snap back in early December? That's when Carole Amos was huddled upstairs, wondering if there was any way to speed up the installation of a new radiant heating system in her two-story Mountain View townhouse.

She opted not to move out during her remodeling project because she was used to dealing with winters from growing up in upstate New York. Plus all three bedrooms in the 1,500-square-foot unit have their own electric wall heaters.

Amos recalls when she first moved in back in 2009, "It was warm and toasty." But then she noticed the original radiant heating system in the ceiling started faltering until it finally failed in 2012. Tired of depending upon a space heater and burning a Duraflame log in the living-room fireplace downstairs, she sought out a more permanent "elegant solution."

As a member of her homeowners' association she knew the complex was built during the mid-1980s with no furnaces or ductwork, and that most of her neighbors had opted to replace their systems with baseboard heating because breaking into the ceiling meant tearing out Sheetrock and creating a dusty, expensive mess.

She also knew she wanted to upgrade her flooring to hardwood after a broken water pipe damaged the existing Pergo® laminate (where it looks like wood, but is actually based on a picture of wood).

As a busy hi-tech professional, Amos decided she couldn't manage the project by herself, and brought in Jim Kabel, owner of CASE Design/Remodeling of San Jose, to oversee the work.

Kabel located a company in Illinois that specializes in combining radiant heat with wooden floors. He explains how the system starts with Environ™ Flex Rolls, "an electric grid in a kind of synthetic or composite material that lays very flat, very thin and comes in mats ... like electrical Legos."

The non-adhesive foil mats come in 120 or 240 volts, are 1/16" thick, and "provide even, room-filling warmth" (of) "12 watts per square foot operation for energy efficient comfort," according to the company.

After the laminate was removed, the mats were laid out on top of the concrete slab downstairs in the living- and dining-room areas. The stairs and upstairs hallway did not need mats based on the theory hot air rises. The stairs, however, did need a little lengthening in the treads to make them safer.

Abbey Carpet of San Jose then installed a prefinished engineered hardwood floor by floating it on top of the base layers. The product is made by Mohawk Flooring and called Rockford Maple Brendyl. Kabel describes it as "real wood laminated onto a substrate, an under layer of fiber board that makes the floor very hard and resistant to scratches and dents."

Amos likes that the product comes with a 50-year warranty for the AmorMax™ finish. The only caveat is no stiletto heels allowed. She also likes the reddish stain, satin finish and low maintenance. So far she is using a light mop and water to clean the floor. She is waiting to add some area rugs so the wood has a chance to adjust to the light levels in the rooms and fades uniformly.

As for the heat, Amos says she has been playing with the wall thermostat to get it right, but that already "the house feels more comfortable overall."

She passes along a tip from the floor installer that she didn't follow because she was in such a hurry to get her project done. He suggested ordering just one box of the flooring materials and have them snapped together in place, to ensure satisfaction before ordering the rest of the shipment.

Resources:

Contractor: Jim Kabel, CASE Design/Remodeling, San Jose, 408-323-5300

Radiant heating: WarmlyYours, Lake Zurich, Ill., 800-875-5285

Flooring: Abbey Carpet, San Jose, 408-269-2966

Goal of project:

Install radiant floor heating, replace flooring

Unanticipated issues:

Stair treads needed modification

Year house built:

1987

Size of home:

1,500-sq-ft condo

Time to complete:

Three weeks

Budget:

$32,000

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