Radiant cooling

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A radiant cooling system is a system using a temperature-controlled surface that cools indoor temperatures by the removing sensible heat and where more than half of heat transfer occurs through thermal radiation.[1] Heat will flow from objects, occupants, equipment and lights in a space to a cooled surface as long as their temperatures are warmer than that of the cooled surface and they are within the line of sight of the cooled surface. The process of radiant exchange has a negligible effect on air temperature, but through the process of convection, the air temperature will be lowered when air comes in contact with the cooled surface. Radiant cooling systems use the opposite effect of radiant heating systems, which rely on the process of heat flow from a heated surface to objects and occupants.

System design[edit]

Radiant cooling systems are usually hydronic, cooling using circulating water running in pipes in thermal contact with the surface. Typically the circulating water only needs to be 2–4 °C below the desired indoor air temperature.[2] Once having been absorbed by the actively cooled surface, heat is removed by water flowing through a hydronic circuit, replacing the warmed water with cooler water.

Since the 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. As a result of the high cooling capacity of water, and the delivery of a cooled surface close to the desired indoor air temperature, radiant cooling systems potentially offer reductions in cooling energy consumption.[3] The latent loads (humidity) from occupants, infiltration and processes generally need to be managed by an independent system. Radiant cooling may also be integrated with other energy-efficient strategies such as night time flushing, indirect evaporative cooling, or ground source heat pumps as it requires a small difference in temperature between desired indoor air temperature and the cooled surface.[2]

System types[edit]

While there are a broad range of system technologies, there are two primary types of radiant cooling systems. The first type is systems that deliver cooling through the building structure, usually slabs. These systems are also named thermally activated building systems (TABS).[4] The second type is systems that 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.

Chilled slabs[edit]

Radiant cooling from a slab can be delivered to a space from the floor or ceiling. Since radiant heating systems tend to be in the floor, the obvious choice would be to use the same circulation system for cooled water. While this makes sense in some cases, delivering cooling from the ceiling has several advantages.

First, it is easier to leave ceilings exposed to a room than floors, increasing the effectiveness of thermal mass. Floors offer the downside of coverings and furnishings that decrease the effectiveness of the system.

Second, 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 gain from sun penetration, because the cool floor can more easily remove those loads than the ceiling.[2]

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.

Ceiling panels[edit]

Radiant cooling panels are generally attached to ceilings, but can be attached to walls also. 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.[1] Perforated panels also offer better acoustical dampening than chilled slabs. Ceiling panels are also very suitable for retrofits because 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.


Radiant cooling systems offer lower energy consumption than conventional cooling systems based on research conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Radiant cooling energy savings depend on the climate, but on average across the US savings are in the range of 30% compared to conventional systems. Cool, humid regions might have savings of 17% while hot, arid regions have savings of 42%.[3] Hot, dry climates offer the greatest advantage for radiant cooling as they have the largest proportion of cooling by way of removing sensible heat. While this research is informative, more research needs to be done to account for the limitations of simulation tools and integrated system approaches. Much of the energy savings is also attributed to the lower amount of energy required to pump water as opposed to distribute air with fans. By coupling the system with building mass, radiant cooling can shift some cooling to off-peak night time hours. Radiant cooling appears to have lower first costs [5] and lifecycle costs compared to conventional systems. Lower first costs are largely attributed to integration with structure and design elements, while lower life cycle costs result from decreased maintenance. However, a recent study on comparison of VAV reheat versus active chilled beams & DOAS challenged the claims of lower first cost due to added cost of piping [6]

Limiting factors[edit]

Because of the potential for condensate formation on the cold radiant surface (resulting in water damage, mold and the like), radiant cooling systems have not been widely applied. Condensation caused by humidity is a limiting factor for the cooling capacity of a radiant cooling system. The surface temperature should not be equal or below the dew point temperature in the space. Some standards suggest a limit for the relative humidity in a space to 60% or 70%. An air temperature of 26 °C (79 °F) would mean a dew point between 17 °C and 20 °C (63 °F and 68 °F).[2] There is, however, evidence that suggests decreasing the surface temperature to below the dew point temperature for a short period of time may not cause condensation.[5] Also, the use of an additional system, such as a dehumidifier or DOAS, can limit humidity and allow for increased cooling capacity. Non-uniformity of panel surface temperature is commonly associated with application of radiant cooling panels in indoor spaces.[7]


  1. ^ a b ASHRAE Handbook. HVAC Systems and Equipment. Chapter 6. Panel Heating and Cooling Design. ASHRAE. 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d Olesen, Bjarne W. (September 2008). "Hydronic Floor Cooling Systems". ASHRAE Journal. 
  3. ^ a b Stetiu, Corina (June 1999). "Energy and peak power savings potential of radiant cooling systems in US commercial buildings". Energy and Buildings. 30 (2): 127–138. doi:10.1016/S0378-7788(98)00080-2. 
  4. ^ Gwerder, M.; B. Lehmann; J. Tödtli; V. Dorer; F. Renggli (July 2008). "Control of thermally-activated building systems (TABS)". Applied Energy. 85 (7): 565–581. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2007.08.001. 
  5. ^ a b Mumma, S.A. (2002). "Chilled ceilings in parallel with dedicated outdoor air systems: Addressing the concerns of condensation, capacity, and cost". ASHRAE Transactions. 108 (2): 220–231. 
  6. ^ Stein, Jeff; Steven T. Taylor (2013). "VAV Reheat Versus Active Chilled Beams & DOAS". ASHRAE Journal. 55 (5): 18–32. 
  7. ^ Saber, Esmail M.; Iyengar, Rupesh; Mast, Matthias; Meggers, Forrest; Tham, Kwok Wai; Leibundgut, Hansjürg (December 2014). "Thermal comfort and IAQ analysis of a decentralized DOAS system coupled with radiant cooling for the tropics". Building and Environment. 82: 361–370. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2014.09.001. 

Further reading[edit]

ASHRAE Handbook. HVAC Systems and Equipment 2012. Chapter 13. Hydronic Heating and Cooling.

ASHRAE Handbook. HVAC Systems and Equipment 2008. Chapter 12. Hydronic Heating and Cooling System Design.

Kessling, W., Holst, S., Schuler, M. Innovative Design Concept for the New Bangkok International Airport, NBIA.

Olesen, B.W. Radiant Heating and Cooling by Water-based systems. Technical University of Denmark, International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy.