Radiant glass heat -- one way to cut excessive heat cost

In October 1977 William Julien of South Chatham, Mass., had the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company do an electric-heat survey on his home, using baseboard electric resistance heat. Accoring to the company's survey, Mr. Julien's annual heating bill would run to about $975.

But instead of conventional electrical heating, the Juliens elected to put in electric radiant glass heat. The heating bill through the 1978-79 cold season came to $437 for the 7- room, 2-bath Cape Cod home -- less than half the power company's estimate and so far below the national average for space heating $1, 000). The Juliens have been smiling ever since.

Another Chatham resident, Charles Gritis, opted for glass heat in his 1,500 -square-foot ranch home. Out of a total electric bill of $668 for June 1978 through the following May, estimated heating costs ran to a mere $212. (More about this low cost later).

Indeed, both homeowners had found a lower-cost way to keep warm.

Back in 1966, when wasteful prosperity was at its height and fuel oil hovered around 29 cents a gallon, Gene Heacock saw fit to install glass heating in his Cedar Grove, N.J., home. At the same time he decided to upgrade some of the insulation in his house. The net result was that his average annual bill for oil-fired steam heat of $335 dropped to $175 for electric heat.

Mr. Heacock is an electrical contractor who, over the years, installed, and still does, every conceivable type of electrical heating, including radiant glass heating, for his clients.

"Based on my experience in the electrical heating field, I chose glass heat with no hesitation," he says.

It wasn't fuel costs that prompted Mr. Heacock to install radiant glass heat. After all, it didn't cost much to heat a home in those days no matter what system was employed. What the contractor wanted for his own home was what he was putting in the homes of his more discriminating customers -- comfort.

The French-invented glass-heat method (so named because the radiating panel is made of tempered glass) radiates long infrared rays which are most readily absorbed by the objects, including the human body.In fact, they are the same rays that warm us from the sun.

When the system is switched on, within minutes the rays provide warmth to the body even though the air is still cool.It can be likened to driving a car on a cold winter day. The air can be frigid inside the car. Thus, you too, are cold until you round a bend in the road and the morning sun streams in through the windshield. You are instantly warned even though the air in the car hasn't yet warmed up a fraction of a degree.

As a result, there is little or no heat stratification (hot air layers next to the ceiling and cold air around your feet) as with hot-air systems, including conventional electric baseboard heat.

Other pluses for radiant heat:

* It does not dry out the air and does not stir up dust. "Even your plants will love you for it," is how one user expresses it.

* It is quiet and odorless.

* And it requires no maintenance. A service contract, necessary with furnace- or boiler-produced heat, isn't needed at all.

Because the tempered-glass panels constantly emit heat to the room, they do not build up high temperatures; therefore, while they are hot to the touch they will never burn the skin if accidentally handled. In fact, in a room heated by this type of radiant heater, you will feel warm even though you will not know if the radiator is on without getting close enough to touch it. This, in turn, contributes to the long life of the panels. (The higher the temperature the more readily an element will burn out).

Mr. and Mrs. Reg Law bear testimony to this. They intalled glass heat in their Braintree, Mass., home 20 years ago and, as Mr. Law puts it, "we've had trouble-free heating since then except for one panel in the bath- room which shorted out after it was moved in a remodeling program."

Recently, a 30-year-old panel was tested and found to have lost none of its efficiency. The fact that the glass is tempered means that even if hit with a pitched baseball, it will not break.

Radiant glass heat was developed originally in France in the late 1930s and installed in the Maginot Line to keep officers and men of the French armed forces warm and comfortable at all times. The system came to the US immediately after World War II when New York businessman Basil A. Needham, now retired to Florida, went to France and bought the rights for North America. His Continental Radiant Glass Heating Corporation of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., has been promoting glass heat ever since those early postwar years.

The Corning Glass Company makes a similar product, aimed largely at the industrial market.

Very simply, the heating panels consist of an aluminum grid fused to the back of the tempered glass panels. The electric current passes through the grid, creating heat, which the glass absorbs and radiates out into the room. Its high fuel efficiency is explained this way:

* When warmed by long-wave radiation, people feel comfortable at lower air temperatures than they do when having to rely on convection systems (hot air in contact with the skin). As a result, they feel the same comfort on lower energy use. The body feels as pleasantly warm in radiant heat at 65 degrees F. as it does with convection heat at 72 degrees F. -- one reason folks in homes heated by this method have little difficulty adhering to the President's request for a lower thermostat setting.

A word of advice from Clark Spencer, whose Scituate, Mass., home is heated this way: "Throw away the thermometer. Guests can feel perfectly comfortable in your living room until they notice that your thermometer reads 65 degrees F. They know that they're supposed to feel cool at that temperature so they rush to turn up the thermostat."

* Convection systems, as with conventional baseboard electric heating, heats up air which rises, like a balloon, straight for the ceiling, depositing most of the heat where it is of least value.

With long-wave radiation there is almost none of this heat stratification, so all the energy consumed by the heater is used to warm people or objects, such as your favorite chair. Remember, it is hot air that rises; radiant heat travels in whatever direction the radiating panel transmits it. An infrared heat ray striking a white ceiling will bounce off the ceiling (light colors reflect radiant heat while dark colors absorb it) and return to warm people at lower levels.

On average, there is no more than a 2-degree differential between ceiling and floor temperatures in a room warmed by longwave radiant heat.

* Each glass panel (one for every room) is individually controlled. So when a room is not being used the panel can be shut off, much as you turn off the light when leaving the room.Because almost instant heat is available from these panels, this form of conservation can be carried out with little discomfort.

A disciplined "switch it off when you leave the room" approach is one reason the Gritis family heated their 1,500-square-foot home for such a paltry sum.

For years glass heat has had a place in the market as a comfort-promoting quality product. Its energy efficiency wasn't worth promoting in a fuel-cheap economy. Compared with conventional electric resistance heat, it was expensive to install. But now energy economics have swung around to favor glass heat.

Glass heat is said to be 30 to 50 percent more fuel-efficient than oil or gas heat, depending on the region of the country in which you live.

Continental claims it to be 30 percent cheaper to operate than conventional electric resistance heat.But now a study prepared by Dr. Donald L. Gochenour, associate professor of industrial engineering at West Virginia University, suggests that 46 percent greater efficiency is the more realistic comparison. The study involved two identical solid cedar homes built at Northbend State Park , near Parkersburg, W. Va.

One of the more graphic illustrations of the economy of radiant glass heat vs. conventional electric heat comes from the Westminster Village Arms in Lowell , Mass.

The owners of the 432-apartment complex, using glass heat, also own another complex of 403 units that uses conventional electric resistance heat. According to Brian J. Robinson of Puritan Management Company: "Although there are fewer units (in the latter complex), the electricity cost is approximately $70,000 a year higher than Westminster. Certainly there are differences in site and construction characteristics, but not to the extent of $70,000."

To install glass heat in, say, a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home would run to around $ 1,800 (possibly less if it were well insulated because of the smaller heating units required). Average heating cost in the Boston area, where electricity runs around 6 cents a kilowatt-hour, would be somewhere between 30 and 35 cents a square foot -- or $360 to $420 a year in a moderately tight home of 1,200 square feet.

The cost would be somewhat higher in a house where all the rooms were kept constantly in the comfort zone whether they were in use or not. By the same token, the cost would run lower in those homes where Gritis- family methods were adopted.

In Rochester, N.Y., where electricity runs about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour, the cost would be considerably less, even allowing for the colder weather there.

Increasingly, glass heat is being used as supplementary heat rather than extending the existing system in rooms that are added on to a home. It is also available in portable models. Prime candidates for radiant glass heat, apparently, are solar homes. They use it as a backup system because it provides the same sort of heat after dark that the sun does during the day.

For further information on glass heat or for the names of a glass heat specialist in your area, contact Continental Radiant Glass Heating Corporation, 70 Remington Boulevard, Ronkonkoma, N.Y. 11779.

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