Types of Radiant Cooling Systems

Radiant cooling systems typically use chilled water running in pipes in thermal contact with the surface. The circulating water only needs to be 2-4°C below the desired indoor air temperature.Heat is removed by the water flowing in the hydronic circuit once the heat from different sources in the space is absorbed by the actively cooled surface – ceiling, floor or walls.

Majority of the cooling process results from removing sensible heat through radiant exchange with people and objects and not air, occupant thermal comfort can be achieved with warmer interior air temperatures than with air based cooling systems. Combined with higher cooling capacity of water than air , and the having a cooled surface close to the desired indoor air temperature, radiant cooling systems offer significant reductions in cooling energy consumption.

The latent loads (humidity) from occupants ,infiltration and processes generally need to be managed by an independent system. Radiant cooling can also be integrated with other energy-efficient strategies such as night time flushing, indirect evaporative cooling, or ground source heat pumps .

Types of Radiant Cooling Systems

There are primarily two types of radiant cooling systems:

a. Chilled Slabs:

These deliver cooling through the building structure, usually slabs, and is also know as thermally activated building systems (TABS).

Radiant Cooling SlabLaying of PEx pipes in Slab for Radiant Cooling

Radiant cooling from a slab can be delivered to a space from the floor or ceiling. Floor cooling is similar to floor heating that has been used in Europe since last few decades. However, delivering cooling from the ceiling has several advantages:

Ceiling Cooling Radiant CoolingRadiant Cooling through Ceiling embedded pipes.

– It is easier to leave ceilings exposed to a room than floors, increasing the effectiveness of thermal mass. Floors have furniture, coverings and furnishings that decrease the effectiveness of the system.

– Greater convective heat exchange occurs through a chilled ceiling as warm air rises, leading to more air coming in contact with the cooled surface.

Cooling delivered through the floor makes the most sense when there is a high amount of solar gains from sun penetration, as the cool floor can more easily remove those loads than the ceiling. Chilled slabs, compared to panels, offer more significant thermal mass and therefore can take better advantage of outside diurnal temperatures swings. Chilled slabs cost less per unit of surface area, and are more integrated with structure.

Find below a video of installation of Radiant Floor Cooling system at a school auditorium in New Delhi, India:

b. Ceiling Panels:

These deliver cooling through specialized panels. Systems using concrete slabs are generally cheaper than panel systems and offer the advantage of thermal mass while panel systems offer faster temperature control and flexibility.

Radiant cooling panels are generally attached to ceilings, but can also be attached to walls. They are usually suspended from the ceiling, but can also be directly integrated with continuous dropped ceilings. Modular construction offers increased flexibility in terms of placement and integration with lighting or other electrical systems. Lower thermal mass compared to chilled slabs means they can’t easily take advantage of passive cooling from thermal storage, but controls in panels can more quickly adjust to changes in outdoor temperature. Chilled panels are also better suited to buildings with spaces that have a greater variance in cooling loads. Perforated panels also offer better acoustical dampening than chilled slabs. Ceiling panels are also very suitable for retrofits as they can be attached to any ceiling. Chilled ceiling panels can be more easily integrated with ventilation supplied from the ceiling. Panels tend to cost more per unit of surface area than chilled slabs.

Below is the summary of comparison between Slab Integrated and Panel Systems:

Slab-Integrated Systems Panel Systems
Method Pipes are embedded on floors, walls or ceilings. Mats of small, closely spaced tubes are embedded in plastic, gypsum or plaster on walls and ceilings.
Thermal Mass High Low
Thermal Inertia High Low
Typical Surface Area Upto 100% of Ceiling/Floor Area. 50-70% of ceiling area.
Cooling Surface Temperature 18-24 deg C 13-15 deg C
Cooling Capacity 24 Btu/hr-ft2 30 Btu/hr-ft2
Best Application
  1. Buildings with high-performance envelopes
  2. Moderate Climates
  3. Use with natural ventilation and/or low-energy cooling or heating sources.
  1. Buildings with greater variation in skin loads
  2. Buildings with spaces with highly variable internal loads
  3. Mixed-mode buildings with zoned or seasonal operation.
Additional Opportunities Use to remove solar loads from structural elements, or to create a “constant-temperature” slab or pre-cooled building.Lower cost per unit surface area. Good for retrofit applications including supplementary space conditioning.Some designs integrate acoustical solutions.


[Adapted from Moore, Bauman and Huizenga. “Radiant Cooling Research Scoping Study”. Center for Built Environment, Internal Report: April 20, 2006]

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