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Dear Jim: I set my thermostat lower to save energy, but it gets chilly. My neighbors have warm floor heat at the same room temperature, but it's comfortable. Is it more efficient, and can I install it in my house? -- Pat W.

Dear Pat: Warm floor radiant heat, often called warm feet heat, is one of the most efficient and comfortable heating methods available for any climate. You can install it in just one or two rooms or the entire house. In mild climates or for just a room or two, your water heater can provide the heat.

It cuts your utility bills because you can set the thermostat lower without sacrificing comfort. In fact, it is probably more comfortable. The radiant warmth from the floor feels similar to sitting in the sun on a winter day. Since it warms objects, not the air, heat does not stagnate at the ceiling.

Other efficiency and comfort advantages are that no air blows out of registers. This minimizes dust in a home and the radiant system is silent. You can still use your ducted central air-conditioning in the summer.

If you install a warm floor radiant system in a new home and want central air-conditioning, install a ductless or high-velocity system. With no heating or cooling registers, you have more freedom in placing furniture.

The concept of a warm floor radiant system is simple. Heated water flows through small-diameter tubing that is attached to the floor. There are several types of polymer tubing that are extremely durable with no worry about leaks. Some of the tubing carries a 25-year to lifetime warranty.

There are many installation methods that can be adapted to either an existing house or new construction. New simple-to-install kits are also now available so you or any carpenter can easily install the system. It would still be wise to have a contractor calculate the heating needs for you.

In new construction, the tubing is often laid in a thin concrete bed on the subflooring. This provides excellent thermal mass and distributes the heat evenly. The thin layer of concrete also helps to soundproof the floor.

When adding radiant heating to an existing house, it is wise to use one of the installation kits for simplicity. Some kits include subflooring panels with grooves for the tubing and an aluminum covering. The grooves provide perfect spacing and the aluminum helps distribute the heat evenly.

Other super-efficient kits include a multipart system. Reflective foil is laid over the subflooring. Next, interlocking flexible blocks are placed on the foil. The tubing, with thermal plates, snaps in place. Finally it is covered with a bio-coverstone sheet for protection and thermal mass.

Write for (instantly download -- Update Bulletin No. 581 -- buyer's guide of 15 radiant floor kit and system manufacturers listing tubing types, sizes, zoning, comfort and design features and typical installation methods. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope.

James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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