Radiant Ceiling Heat - electric c.1967

sci_teacherFebruary 5, 2006


Does anyone have knowledge of how radiant electric ceiling heat was installed 40 years? Is the heat grid contained in the actual ceiling panels? Is it laid atop the drywall in some kind of grid? How is the electric service run to the grid? Can the ceiling panels be repaired (some are cracked and sagging) as drywall would be? Looking to repair or replace as needed.


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That was typically installed by first putting up one layer of 1/2" drywall, stapling the heating element wire to the drywall and then installing another layer of drywall over the wire. The wire was supposed to have layer of special mastic troweled over it before the second layer of drywall, but this was frequently omitted to pad profits of the installers. The mastic or plaster was supposed to improve thermal conductivity and omitting it probably contributed to burnout of some cables. Refer to NEC Article 424 for code rules. The second layer required extra long fasteners to reach the framing. I would plan to abandon the ceiling heat, install some conventional alternative to it and re-fasten the drywall to the joists.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 7:33AM
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Sci Teacher,
Did you repair your ceiling? I have a 1952 house w/ elec. rad. ht. and also have sagging and cracks. In the attic, I noticed that the upper drywall had pulled away from the ceiling joists (there's a 2" gap), the nails were still stuck in the joists w/ the nailheads still intact, like the drywall was pulled off! Any description of how you repaired your ceiling or any recommendations for repairing mine would be greatly appreciated (no one in the Norfolk area knows anything about older radiant heating). Thanks!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 6:31PM
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You could be dealing with Panelectric (tm). The heating elements are actually embedded within the drywall during manufacturing. It's still on the market.

More info @ http://web.irvineonline.net/panelectric/

    Bookmark   December 17, 2007 at 10:23AM
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We had it in our frst house hubby did the work.It was cable that ran back and forth on ceilind tacked somehow to ceiling.I didnt like it heat was all up at the ceiling.we now have floor radiant heat.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2007 at 7:03PM
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Interesting to see a thread on this.

I just moved into a home (built 1955) that has this type of heat but it hasn't been used for quite some time 'as far as I know'. My seller had only been here three years and didn't know anything about it and before that the history is lost.

We didn't even know we had it until we started wondering what the little control dials in each room were. We dismantled one to look and husband said it looked like a heating control but beyond that hadn't a clue. I then spoke to the local HVAC guy (small town) when he was here servicing our other system and he said all the houses in my neighborhood had this heat but he didn't know if anyone was using it, or when they had last used it.

Each individual room has it's own 220 circuit and all of these breakers were flipped off when we moved in and we haven't touched them. The home has a heat pump (although I am now heating with wood) so I don't need the radiant heat, but have wondered if it could be used or would be just too big a risk to take.

The controls in each room just taunt me. I'm so curious to try it out but more afraid of burning the house down. My electrical panel is fairly new and I wondered why they even kept it wired and just didn't disconnect them all, especially seeing as it is 220.

The individual room controls are labeled with a logo "Sunwarm". Ring any bells with anyone?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2007 at 5:28PM
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My house from the 50's had radiant hot water ceiling heat. Pipes embedded in the plaster ceiling. It was abandoned 20-30 yrs ago. I had to cut through them to install a/c.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2007 at 6:41PM
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don't know how old this house is but i do know it's old we have those heating wires on her ceiling covered with that stuff they blow on. The wire burned out in our living/dining room and we have been looking all over for that heating wire where can we buy this.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 7:07PM
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We had it didnt like it the heat was all up at the ceiling,now we have heat in the floor radiant.nice.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2010 at 7:30AM
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The idea behind radiant heating was that you'd feel warm (like standing in the sun) with a lower temperature setting on the thermostat.

The problem was that most people robotically set the thermostat where they were used to having it, so it didn't often save any money or energy. To the contrary. Even with insulation, the losses from convection into the space above the ceiling were pretty egregious, especially on homes where that space was unheated attic.

Ceiling radiant heat is an interesting historical anomaly. But unless you're really intent on period authenticity, Bus's suggestion is probably the right one - install something more maintainable and more efficient.

BTW, I had something similar many years ago, 2x4 radiant panels that dropped into my rec room's drop ceiling grid. I think they were made by Armstrong - called something like "Warm and Safe." I still have one of the spares I bought for that system when the manufacturer discontinued the product. It hangs over my cellar workbench for those cold winter projects.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 10:21PM
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we just moved into a house that has "ceiling heat". What is this exactly and will it help lower electric bills?

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 12:34AM
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Not with Electric going as high as they say..It was expensive in 70s I remember.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 8:27AM
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i have found 6 rolls of 400 watt at 240 volt and 1 1000 watt at 240 volt roll of radiant heating cable. these were made in 1979 and never used. still new on the roll, if interested just contact me at my e-mail. hogx2@aol.com

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 8:42AM
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I have a 1986 home with electric radiant ceiling. I was working very well and about 6 weeks ago, I changed the thermostat. About 3 weeks later the heat was spiking. I turned off the thermostat and it was still crazy hot. Then I turned off the breaker and it turned down. It ran fine for about 2 weeks, then crazy hot again. I replaced the thermostat and a couple days later, crazy hot. Any ideas? Could the thermostat be hooked up wrong? Could it be the breaker? What else could it be. I actually like the heat until this happened.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 10:40PM
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What kind of thermostat did you install? I wonder if perhaps you bought the wrong type, one which can't handle the current your heating system requires. That might cause the thermostat's contacts to weld closed, so that the heat is on all the time rather than cycling on and off.

Another possibility is that the thermostat was factory defective, or it might be incorrectly installed.

You could try replacing it with a known-good unit.

Probably the safest course of action would be to call an electrician to check it out.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 3:48PM
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Thank you for your post, I purchased a 1987 home with Radiant Ceiling Heat and had a similar problem in one of the rooms. So I turned the heat off in that room. Would like to be able to use it a little. Let me know if you find a solution. I also like the ceiling radiant heat. I find it as economical as anything else these days. Including the heat pump in the 1994 home I had.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 5:16PM
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Most heating panels today are those located in the floor. They have different wiring and are designed to operate under safe conditions. (meaning it will turn itself off if there's an electrical issue).

Heat travels upward, Your actually losing a great amount of heat from these wires.It's only convenient if you have a second story.. There is no typical repair other than to "tear out" these wires (and your plaster as well). Most have 220 volts so a qualified electrician should only put their hands on this system...

My advice is to abandon the ceiling wires. Leave the breaker off.....until you sell or remodel the place...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 7:29PM
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I live in a 1960's 2 story 3 bedroom apt with the electrical heating in the ceiling and i have to say i LOVE it! It is extremely efficient and cheap as you only heat the actual rooms you are in. I spend a lot of time in my office here so only put on that thermostat. Before we go to sleep at night we turn it on for about 10-20 minutes and then turn it off. I would recommend this to anyone trying to save on bills who only uses a few rooms at a time - better than cranking out heat for the whole house - and I hate those heating units that blow air at you from the ceiling - very dusty and annoying trying to close vents in unused rooms.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 9:45PM
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does anyone know an installer or someone who can troubleshoot this type of heat?

i have this heat and we just had a fire because of the heat wires in the ceiling.
the problem is we loved the heat and we are really interested in keeping this system but needless to say very nervous about turning it back on until we get a some one down to say that it is okay.

my electrician doesnt know anything about it and i cant find any knowledegable person who is willing to look at it.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 9:51PM
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I have radiant ceiling heat in my 1965 home. Recently it was necessay to run plumbing through the ceiling in one room. I believe that i have lost the heat in that room. The electrican said it needed a new thermostat but I don't think that it worked. Has anyone had a similar experience and is there a way to correct it? Does going throught the heating elements in the ceiling cause a loss of heat?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:43AM
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Does going throught the heating elements in the ceiling cause a loss of heat?

I haven't worked with any of these systems, but it's a safe bet that if you break a cable it will no longer conduct electricity and thus won't produce heat.

That said, I'd expect the cables in the ceiling to be connected in parallel. If you broke one the others should still work - unless the cable you severed was the one which fed the whole parallel array. (Again, though, I'm speculating here, I have no direct experience.)

In any case, it sounds like you need to have a chat with your plumber.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 7:51PM
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Our wiring in the ceiling was attached to blueboard?? and then plastered over in the late 60s. Can I paint, fix cracks and or remove a drop ceiling?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 12:49PM
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davidr IS WAY OFF BASE!!!! 1st, the purpose of ceiling radiant heat is NOT to make you feel warm as in sunlight, it IS to warm the surfaces below; flooring,furniture,etc.,therefore warming the living space fully from the bottom up!! It's NOT a heatlamp! It is the MOST efficient form of electric heat. Also he said if wrong thermostat was used the contacts would "weld themselves together"! Idiots like this harm people all the time!! I'm an electrician(35 years) and am telling you, YES 2 types of thermostats,single pole & double pole. The heat would be 240V (dbl pole).If a dbl pole thermo was installed, it would `correctly` break BOTH 120V legs of the power. If an `incorrect` 120V(single pole) thermo was installed, but not wired correctly, it could allow continuity thru the heat elements hence still heating BUT the contacts WOULD NOT WELD TOGETHER!!!! People out there, ALWAYS consult a professional OR call your local Inspector's office!!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 1:56AM
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AGAIN, davidr needs to NOT advise where he could be dangerous/WRONG!!! He's using words like `parallel` when he has NO idea what the hell he's talking about! YES, if your plumber cut thru a ceiling heat wire you lose heating ability! It is a closed loop electrically. Contact a qualified tech (thru internet, etc) to come out and bypass the broken continuity.Also, in reference to other notes I saw, with electric radiant ceiling heat the ceiling DOES NOT GET HOT ABOVE NOR BELOW THE GYPSUM!! Educate yourselves!!! Either way Rickdig, check with professionals-be safe! Good luck!!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 2:26AM
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Does anyone know of a reliable way to locate the wires? I want to locate the wire along the ceiling edge by the wall to install some media wiring. Or at least avoid it.

I like this heat because there is very little air movement. It creates less dust.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 7:26AM
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Hi Everyone, I was raised in a house with electric ceiling heat. My parents built it new in 1960 (I was 7.) and they lived in that house until 2012 and never had to spend one penny on maintenance on that electric heat. I would say that is pretty awesome. And it was clean heat, no dust except when the A/C ran in the summer. Any way here I am and I have just bought a house built in 1977 with electric ceiling heat and it has some problems. I have answers to most of my questions from this and other forums but still have several unanswered question. First the problems are that in several rooms the ceiling heat does not work so I will start with checking thermostats and then if needed broken wires in the ceiling. Also in one room a 16 square foot (4'x4')area of the ceiling is sagging where the roof leaked at one time so that will need to be fixed. I don't mind the work or the expense if it is justified. My question is "What is the expected operating life of the electric heat wiring in the ceiling?
Thanks in advance for a great forum and any forthcoming advice and information.
PS Before I forget. What is the best way to remove the plaster from the sagging ceiling so I can pull the wires loose from the damaged wall board in preparation to replace it with new wallboard and reattaching the wiring.? I was thinking maybe a rolling pin and roll it back and forth across the damaged area.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 10:39PM
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My 1968 ranch style house was built with electric radiant heat in the ceiling. It's the type with a wire snaked back & forth, embedded between two layers of sheetrock or plaster. The previous owner also added gas forced air heat. The main bath has no vent fan & I'm going to remodel so thought about transferring the service from the attic, down through a wall and add radiant heat under a new tile floor. Does this sound feasible? In the attic, there is a vertical 2x4 (extending up approx. 18" from the ceiling joists) above each room thermostat. There's a 4" electric junction box on each 2x4 with wires coming/going. Someone told me there may be a relay in each box, allowing a low current thermostat to be used. Does that sound realistic? The wires down to the thermostat are small (like standard thermostat wire), while the lines from the service panel to the box on the 2x4 in the attic are substantially larger. What do you think?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2014 at 1:14AM
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I have a 2 story house that was built in 1976 with radiant
heat in the ceiling drywall and is coated with popcorn type
ceiling. The living room and hall are tied together on
one thermostat and has stop working. All other rooms work.
Who can I contact in virginia to service this kind of heat?
The type of ceiling that I have is panel lettic in which the
elements are wired in prefab drywall. Holes can be cut for
lights fixtures and it will still work.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2014 at 5:51PM
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