Radiant heat flooring also known as underfloor heating (UFH) is an innovative heating process that provides warmth and comfort to your home from the ground up by being installed under your floors. The use of floor heating systems was first engineered by the Romans to heat their marble floors. Underfloor heating is a viable solution to traditional heating and is energy efficient as well as a great space saver compared to alternative home heating units.
Types of Radiant Floor Heating
Homeowners can choose between two of the most common underfloor heating systems which are the wet underfloor heating system or electric radiant heating systems.
Wet Underfloor Heatings:
The first of the radiant heating systems is the hydronic, or wet UFH system. The benefit of the wet system is its use of warm water generated by your home’s central heating system that may include a boiler or water heater. As the water runs through plastic pipes installed between the sub floor and the finished floor, it heats the surface to a comfortable temperature between 73 degrees and 89 degrees. An added benefit of the wet system is its use of water at low temperatures resulting in cost effective water heating.
Electric Underflor Heating:
The second underfloor heating option is an electric mat system. With this type, cables are attached to either a mesh mat or to a continuous roll of material. The mats or rolls are connected to a power supply and thermostat. The installation costs of an electric system are typically less than a wet system, but in the long run the electric system is more expensive due to the increase in your monthly energy bill.
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Underfloor Heating Installation Costs
The cost of installing either the water-based or electric system varies and depends on whether you are hiring a general contractor, plumber, or electrician to do the job. All of these services may be required depending on the system you choose. If you are installing radiant floor heating in a 2000 square ft. home you can expect to pay around $3200 for total installation or $1.50 per square ft. of your home.
Besides having the knowledge and certification to install the system, an underfloor heating installer will know how to calculate exact total installation costs that allow for variation in room size, ceiling height, type of flooring to be installed, desired temperatures for each room, and what to expect in terms of heat loss based on all of those factors.
Electric vs Water Based Heated Floor System
With an electric system, if your home is being built or remodeled and the sub-flooring and finished flooring has not yet been installed, this will help lower the cost as it eliminates the need to pay to have the flooring removed prior to installation.
You will also need to factor in the cost of materials which will include underfloor heating mats or cables, insulation for the system to lay on, heating sensors and/or thermostats, and fees for a licensed electrician.
A water-based system, while cost effective over time, will initially cost more than an electric system to install. If your home is in the process of being constructed or renovated, it is much easier and cheaper to install a water-based system and to address any initial issues, one being enough room between the sub-floor and the finished floor to install the pipes. If there is not enough room, which may be encountered in older homes, adjustments will need to be made to accommodate the pipes. This can add to the cost factor of a water-based underfloor system.
Keep in mind, with an electric system, a contractor is working with thin wiring that is easy to manipulate. With the water-based system, pipes are much thicker and there must be enough room to work with for installation.
Pros of Underfloor Heating
One of the main pros of underfloor heating is that it is out of view and does not need a designated area of floor space for storage. Other advantages include:
All types of underfloor systems evenly distribute heat to the rest of the room.
Wet underfloor heating systems can warm a large area more efficiently than traditional heating systems or electric underfloor systems.
An advantage of underfloor heating systems is the way it warms the initial area by conducting the heat through the floor surface versus using a forced-air heating system.
An underfloor water heating system is cost effective once installed and is best suited to new construction so the floor can be designed from the start to accommodate the pipework.
A water system requires less energy resulting in the lowering of the monthly energy bill.
An electric underfloor system works best in smaller areas.
For allergy sufferers, underfloor heating is the perfect option since the process does not push allergens, dust, or pet dander into the air like an air-forced system.
The use of a programmable timer with an electric flooring system allows you to warm specific floor areas versus the entire home. The underfloor system is designed to work separately from your central heating system.
Cons of Underfloor Heating
Underfloor heating installation can be costly and is a better option for new homes being built, a new room addition, or for homes being remodeled or renovated which includes removal of the finished floor. This is especially true of the water-based system because of the complex process of installing the pipes and/or expanding the area between the sub-floor and finished floor. It can also be more expensive if the flooring is being installed on the second floor of a 2-story home.
Because underfloor heating works with lower temperatures, whether installing the water, gas, solar, or electric system, it can take longer to warm individual rooms.
There may be restrictions as to what type of furniture can, and cannot, be placed on the flooring. Electric underfloor heating is not recommended for floors covered in thick carpet.
An electric underfloor heating system has the additional cost of hiring certified electrician to ensure all of the wiring to the cables and thermostat are correctly connected.
Lifespan of Underfloor Heating
The lifespan is over 25 years for an electric underfloor heating system as long as the flooring remains intact.
A system using a gas boiler lasts approximately 10 years due to the many components that may need to be replaced.
Water-based systems are designed to last for 50 years.
It is recommended to purchase an extended warranty from a reputable company to cover parts, pipes, cables, and thermostats that may need replacing due to accidental damage or a faulty part.
What Flooring Works with Underfloor Heating
If you are considering underfloor heating but not sure if the type of flooring you have installed is suitable, consider these helpful tips.
Carpeting over underfloor heating systems is possible as long as the thermal resistance (tog) of the carpet and underlay is less than 2.5.
Many homeowners enjoy the beauty and easy maintenance of terracotta, stone, slate, porcelain, and ceramic tile. Each type is suitable for underfloor systems because of their thermal conductivity. Although if using thick tiles, it will take more time to thoroughly reach peak temperature. Once it does, heat distribution is the same as with thin tiles.
Laminate, vinyl, and timber/hardwood flooring is possible but each type must be certified for UFH use. Not all brands are compatible with underfloor heating systems.
Underfloor Heating Maintenance
For the most part, your new underfloor heating system will not require a lot of maintenance. An annual maintenance check will address replacement of any parts causing leaks due to faulty seals or washers. A check-up will also ensure valves are functioning properly.
A water-based system should not need any pipe maintenance but in the event there is a problem, having the pipes flushed by a professional can remove any build-up or blockage.
Overall, depending on your choice of system, additional components that need periodic and/or annual maintenance include circulating pumps, boilers, central heating systems, heat pumps, solar panels, and radiators.