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Solar Decathlon Teams Using Warmboard

MIT Solar House

Twenty teams have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to compete in the 2007 Solar Decathlon, which takes place in Washington D.C. from October 12-20, 2007.  As part of the competition, teams are challenged to design, build, and operate the most attractive, energy-efficient solar-powered home.  Using only energy from the sun and with an eye towards modern design, teams meticulously choose the products and materials that go into their home.  Interestingly, at least five teams, including MIT, UT-Austin, U. of Maryland, U. of Cincinnati, and Lawrence Technological University, are using the Warmboard Radiant Subfloor system.  I've noticed the increasing use of Warmboard in several green projects, so I thought I would do a small post on the subject.

Once you see the cutaway pictured below, Warmboard makes a lot of sense.  Warmboard is the SUBFLOOR with grooves cut into it.  An aluminum surface is bonded to the subfloor, and PEX tubes are placed in the grooves over the aluminum layer.  The heat from the PEX tubes spreads through the conductive aluminum layer, and this process creates an even distribution of heat throughout the floor.  After installing the tubes, practically any floor can go on top: bamboo, tile, carpet, cork, FSC-certified wood, etc.  Solar Decathlon teams like to use Warmboard because it offers the subfloor and the radiant paneling in one product.

Warmboard Cutaway




PEX Warmboard


Warmboard is an excellent product - however, until it comes down in price, it's a luxury item that only high-end projects can afford. If you add up the cost of this product (it's priced separately from the pex piping system) and a nice wood floor over it, it's out of reach IMHO.

In addition, the labor to install it isn't included typically by the supplier, so the contractor needs to give you a price for "sub-floor" installation. Since there are coordination and handling/protection requirements, this labor isn't going to be the same.

I hope Warmboard gets their own installation crews together and sells enough of the product to drop their prices within a range that more residential projects can include this great system.


Thanks for your perspective on the pricing issues. One of the reasons I've waited so long to write about Warmboard was because I wanted to hear more experiences with pricing. Even Warmboard understands their pricing seems a little high:

"Warmboard is an excellent value when considered as part of a complete radiant system. Of course given the quality of the plywood we begin with, the amount of highly conductive aluminum in each panel and quality of our manufacturing process, Warmboard is not inexpensive when considered as a single element of your radiant system. But the numerous job site and system efficiencies, which are inherent to Warmboard result in the highest performance for a bottom line cost that is competitive with systems that simply do not perform as well."

I'm a little confused as to why the teams are installing Warmboard over a plywood subfloor. From what I've read, Warmboard completely replaces a normal subfloor, and should be installed directly on floor joists.

Is there something I'm missing?

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