Some questions about hydronic toe kick heat

worldmomJanuary 13, 2011

We're rethinking our plan to install electric radiant floor heating due to the cost ($2400-ish) and are now considering hydronic toe kick heaters. (Hydronic radiant floor heating wasn't an option because we don't have sufficient access to the floor from underneath, and a surface installation would raise the floor too much). I would love to see some pictures of toe kick heat vents in kitchens, whether electric or hydronic, to get a feel for how it will be to have the grills in my kitchen. Anybody have any to share?

I talked with the folks at Turbonics and was told that three units will be sufficient to heat our kitchen. I'm hesitant to install them in our perimeter cabinets because all but the sink, cooktop, and microwave drawer cabinets will have furniture bases, and these three exceptions will have decorative feet. I hate to detract from something we did as a design feature with an ugly grill. :o/

Our island is roughly 5x8, so I'm thinking maybe we could install units on 3 sides under the island. The three sides face the cooktop, main sink, and seating (with snack area behind) respectively. The fourth side faces the dining room and is highly visible, plus there is radiator heat in the dining room, so it's the obvious place not to put a vent. My concerns with this option, though, are that it will be noisy to have three units so close together, and that it will force us to tweak the design of the island a bit. Still, it will save us $1500 and allow us to utilize the hot water that already heats the rest of our house.

One other thing - we will likely be reinstalling one old radiator near our back door and we have three large south-facing windows. Right now with the demo we are down to one radiator, and have had sub-zero temps for the last couple of weeks. The kitchen has remained very comfortable, so I'm hoping the new heat system will just be a supplementary thing.

So, if you have this type of heating, my questions are these:

1. Which brand did you go with?

2. Do you have a wall (or cabinet) mounted switch, or is it controlled from the unit itself?

3. How noisy are they? (The Turbonics people said we'd never have to go higher than "low" with three units.)

4. How noticeable are the grills? I would love to see photos!

5. Do you use yours as your primary heat source?

6. Would you install this type of heating again?

Here are a few pics for reference:

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I have to run out but will try to answer some (if not all!) of your questions later tonight. Here are some close-up pics of our Turbonics kickheaters:

First pic is the side of the island facing our pantry wall and the doorway to the kitchen. Second pic is the side of the island facing the sink wall. We used the black plastic grates supplied with the units--they fade away and are barely visible unless you are looking for them. They do (or did) offer metallic-look plastic (much like the silver pedal on our trash cab opener I'd imagine), but we opted to stick with the ones we had.

We have ours hooked up to switches seen here (had the switchplate made to custom specs by a few tries to get it right, and DH had to carve out the back of the final version a little to fit the switches in snugly, but the end result is perfect):

There are various options for hooking them up as you seem to already know; with or without having them hooked up to the switches, including running both (or in your case, all three) units off one switch. We mostly run ours on low speed, unless it's bitterly cold, and we want to jump-start the warming! :-)

Anyway, have to run, but will pop in later with more info.

FWIW, we are very happy with ours, and our plumber, who tried to talk us out of getting kick-heaters, was impressed with these when he installed them and tested them out.

PS If you do a search at the bottom of the Kitchen Forum page, you might find some older threads with some of my posts about Turbonics.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 4:53PM
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I don't know that this will be much help but we have forced-air and put in toe-kick heaters when we redid our kitchen. We have one under each of the sinks which are on outside wall perimeter counters and one on the backside of the peninsula which blows into the eating area.
We have cream painted shaker style cabinets and the grills are brushed nickel and I never actually notice them. What I do notice is the increased warmth of the space.
A large part of our kitchen is over the open carport and it used to be so cold but we reinsulated the carport ceiling and added the heaters and what a difference it has made.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 5:33PM
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This is mine; it replaced a 36" tall, seven-section cast iron boat anchor that weighed 400 lbs; it puts out enough heat on the low fan setting to heat the kitchen, with 10' ceilings. It's by the main sink, so the extra warmth on the toes is welcome.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 6:59PM
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If you have furniture feet, can't you recess the kick back a bit more, paint it all out black or the floor color and have them really disappear? I would think the furniture legs would further hide the registers. One under center of fridge wall, one under sink and one on least obtrusive end of island.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 8:15PM
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Ours are Beacon-Morris. The rest of the 120+ yr old house has huge radiators. There is one under the kitchen sink which you can't see unless you are basically laying on the floor. It heats the whole kitchen on "low". ( Small kitchen but 10' ceilings.) Another one under the breakfast table, two more in the sitting area adjoining, and one in the powder room. There are always "on" and always on "low". The thermostat turns them on and off. Very, very quiet.

I love them--they heat up the room almost as quickly as forced air--kind of a treat when you are used to slooooooow radiators.

Our cabinetmaker made the wood covers because I didn't like the big dark hulkiness against the white cabinets. The Turbonics ones look nicer, if you aren't going to use a vent cover.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 9:30PM
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To answer the remaining questions; ours is the primary/ONLY heat source in the kitchen itself. We lost our wall space for baseboards when we did our reno--cabinets cover one of the walls that previously held our baseboard heat, the other wall went bye-bye!

As for noise, we have no basis for comparison--we never listened to any other brands. There is no motor noise with the Turbonics, just the sound of the air pushing the heat out. It is audible, and does require a bump up in volume on our kitchen TV, but it's not horrendous.

(FYI, they do generate a fair am't of heat inside the cabinets directly above the pipes/units. Not the best location for food storage perhaps)


    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 11:03PM
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Thank you, everyone, and thank you especially for the pictures. :o) They really do look pretty unobtrusive. Shanghaimom, I think your pictures are what Palimpsest was describing, and I'm really leaning toward doing the same thing rather than tweaking my island.

Do any of you know if the Turbonics units can be controlled by a thermostat? One brand I looked at (M-something? The name escapes me) was controlled by switches on the units themselves. I don't think I would like that. I'll have to investigate the Beacon-Morris option more thoroughly.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 11:24PM
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Worldmom, to clarify, our units DO have on/off and high/low switches which I could poke with a butter knife if I really wanted to but it has never been necessary. I thought hydronic toekick heaters were always connected to the thermostats(?)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 11:32PM
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The switches turn the fans on/off (could always be left in the on position if you prefer), but your heating thermostat/zone valve is actually what "calls for" heat. If you use switches for your kick-heaters, and don't flip them on, hot water still runs through the pipes, but the fans aren't on. There is some ambient heat, but it is not circulated without the fans.

If you opt to forgo the switches, your kick-heaters/fans would kick-on by themselves, whenever the water temp/heat reaches a certain temp (I don't recall if that is pre-set or can be set by the installer/owner).

    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 8:08AM
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