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Winter may be postcard-worthy, but homeowners agree that this season also means getting warm and cozy is an everyday challenge.
Going out is all about having to wear layers and layers of clothes, while staying in requires being wrapped up in blankets and duvets, even with the heating on full blast. Despite all these, there is always one or two parts of our body that never gets warm enough. And at home, it is often our feet.
On this page:
- Pros and Cons of Radiant Floor Heating
- Water (Hydronic) vs Electric Underfloor Heating
- Electric Radiant Floor Heating Systems
- Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System
- Best Flooring Material for Heated Floors
- Types of Electric Heated Floors
- Cost of Electric Heated Flooring
- Getting Quotes from Competing Contractors
Sure, we can wear thick, wooly socks when it gets too cold, but some people are much too sensitive with the temperatures for this to be practical; they put on layers of socks when it gets cold, remove them when it gets warm enough, then put them back on when they feel the cold again. And repeat.
All that hassle can be avoided, if only they have an in-floor heating in place, and in this article we’ll talk about electrically heated ones.
It is a fact that even top-of-the-line radiators are not enough to completely warm up a room; we still get cold floors despite the rest of the room being already hot enough to melt ice cream in just a few minutes.
If you continue reading, we will explain why getting a radiant floor heating system in place is one of the best decisions you can make for your home. And if you are worried about the overall cost of having them installed in a room or two, we also got you covered in that aspect.
But, what we can say right now is the benefits definitely outweigh the cost.
Pros and Cons of Radiant Floor Heating
Would you believe that heated floors are not a recent development? In fact, those who lived in Ancient Rome already enjoyed the comforts they bring.
Romans had to rely on manpower, that is, their slaves, to fan the fires under the floor to warm it up. With a radiant floor heating system, there are no slaves involved – only technology.
Let’s face it – budget-conscious homeowners don’t get the appeal of getting in-floor heating systems for their homes. They already have an HVAC system, as well as portable heaters, so why should they still bother to get floor heating? If this is also your question, allow us to highlight their advantages and disadvantages.
The Entire Room Gets the Equal Amount of Temperature
One complaint about conventional heating systems is the fact that heating is uneven. Some parts of your room are warmer than the others, hence the mad scramble for the warmest seat in the room.
With radiant heating systems, this will hardly be an issue. Consistency is key; every nook and cranny of your room gets the same amount of heat. Anywhere you sit will already be warm enough for you, floors included.
There are some people who get allergic reactions when dust or dirt are present. Little did they know that their forced-air heating system may have something to do with it; it not only blows hot and dry air into the room but also all the dust and other allergens that have settled in its vents.
Since radiant heating systems are tucked away under your flooring, there is no chance of this happening. Not only that, it also increases the oxygen levels in the room. Conventional heating is the opposite, which also means that it raises carbon dioxide levels in a room.
It is a Silent and Invisible Worker
Some people can tune out the hum of machines, while some find it a great annoyance. Radiant systems are the exact opposite. They hardly make any noise, nor can you see them; you just feel the heated room. And because they are installed under your floors, it means more space is available in the room.
Regular Repair and Maintenance is Hardly Needed
To make a conventional system last for several decades, it must undergo regular checks and repairs every now and then. This can be burdensome financially. But with a radiant heating system, you don’t even have to get it checked that often. A yearly maintenance check is already enough.
Despite this, would you believe that radiant heating systems last a lot longer than conventional heating?
Lets You Save Money
While the upfront costs of radiant heating systems are higher than regular HVAC systems, you get to save with the former in the long run. To get your desired temperature, a HVAC unit must operate at higher temperatures than a floor heating system, often with a 40 to 60 °F difference between them.
Higher thermostat settings, as is the norm with HVAC systems, mean higher electric consumption. Since a radiant heating uses less resources, you get to save around 15% on your bills each month. And if you choose to get solar energy to power up your floor heating system, you save a whole lot more!
Operation is As Simple as It Can Get
Radiant heating systems are connected to thermostats that allow you to configure its operations. Just set your desired temperature settings, and even schedule when an electric system would run automatically, and you’re done! In fact, smart thermostats even allow you to do so with your tablet or phone.
You can also get to set the thermostat to run with different settings in each room; you can set higher temperatures for your bathroom alone, while leaving the rest of your home undisturbed by the new setting.
No Safety Risks Involved
Burns – the biggest safety risk when your home radiator is running. If you are not too careful, even the slightest touch may already warrant an ER visit. With a floor heating system, this is not a possibility, since all its heating components are hidden under the floor.
Financial Incentives in Some States
Some states also offer tax breaks and other financial bonuses for homeowners who use energy-efficient systems. This includes radiant heating floor systems.
Upfront Costs are Expensive
While it is relatively easier for a flooring contractor to install floor heating than a centralized one, the materials and labor are more expensive. And if you are getting it installed on an existing flooring, this will also increase the cost of not just installation but also your personal expenses, since you will have to move out temporarily while work is being done.
Its Installation Often Requires Removal of Existing Flooring
If you are already too happy with your current flooring, you might be disappointed with this next part: it has to go. Contractors have to access the space beneath it, and this likely means destroying them to do so. Goodbye, nice floors.
But if you are installing them under the flooring of the second level of your home or higher, you will likely have untouched floorings.
Total Floor Height is Raised
Radiant heating systems must be installed under your floors, and this means increasing the height of your floor afterwards. While this is negligible in most homes, those with an already low ceiling will feel the effect of even just a half-inch increase on the floor.
And if the increase is significant, this also means making necessary structural changes to make sure that the height, as well as the load, increase, will not affect the structural integrity of your home.
It Takes Longer to Heat Your Home from Startup
With a conventional heating system, you can immediately feel the warmth it produces in just a few minutes. Radiant heating systems take longer; the pipes must heat up first before it can efficiently heat up your home, and sometimes it takes hours to do so.
Repairs are Costlier
If there is any issue with your floor heating system, the only way for a contractor to inspect and do the repairs is remove your floors to access it and reinstall a new one afterwards. More often than not, removing the entire floor, not just a section of it, is needed to correctly diagnose and repair the issue. Not only is this going to be time consuming, it will also put a dent on your budget.
You Need to Have a Separate Cooling Device or Unit
HVAC systems offer both heating and cooling capabilities, while radiant heating systems can only warm up a room. Because of this, you need a separate air conditioning unit or any other similar device to cool down your room during hot days.
From the list above, you can see how its advantages greatly outnumber the disadvantages. The biggest deterrent for most homeowners is its installation costs, which hinders them from getting heated floors for their homes.
Water (Hydronic) vs Electric Underfloor Heating
If the concept of floor heating is quite new for you, you may not know that there are two popular options available for most homes –electric and hydronic or water-based. Both can warm up your floors to temperatures ranging from 75 to 95 °F.
The way they are heated distinguishes electric and hydronic systems from each other. Electric systems use electricity to warm up the cables or wires that will generate heat, while a hydronic one has tubes or pipes heated via hot water that passes inside those pipes.
Although they have the same basic function, they still have different characteristics that homeowners like you should know, especially if you are considering getting one installed.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating Systems
- Cheaper to install
- Can be placed in just a few rooms and set to run only during specific hours
- Works in a home that does not use a boiler or a separate water heater
- Easier to install, even for homes with existing flooring, which also lessens labor costs
- May be done via DIY work for experienced homeowners
- Zero maintenance needed, and is easier to repair due to its underground fault detector that indicates the location of the problem
- Quicker to warm up and produce heat (only needing 30 to 60 minutes to do so)
- Operating for a short while can already significantly heat up your floors, which may only cost you a few pennies each day
- Safety is a non-issue, as the electromagnetic field it emits is less than the amount produced by common electrical appliances
- Solely relies on electricity, which will greatly increase your electric bills if you use it for long periods
- Insufficient as a primary heat source; it must work together with an existing heating system to evenly heat up a room
- Only suited for smaller rooms due to electrical load limits. 120V electrical heating systems have a maximum coverage of 150 square feet, while 240V ones can only handle 300 square feet
- Heavy objects placed on the heated floor may affect its operations, or even damage it
- Increase in the floor height is minimal
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating System
- The most efficient heating system around
- May be used as standalone heating systems; it does not need HVAC units to completely heat up a room
- Can use various energy sources, including oil, solar, gas, and wood, which makes its overall operation costs cheaper
- Effective at heating large spaces, even the whole house
- Works well even without ducts, so heat loss is non-existent
- May be used for longer periods without significantly increasing your electric bills
- Retains heat for a longer time after it has been switched off
- Uses less energy once it reaches the desired temperature
- Can cost less to install on larger spaces than an electric system; its cost for every square foot decreases as the floor area increases
- Its components can be customized according to your needs
- Ideally installed while constructing a home is ongoing; installing them on existing flooring is time-consuming and costly
- Requires an average of 4 to 7 hours after switching on before you can feel its warmth
- Repair means a complete floor removal to see where the problematic component is
- At risk of leaking, which will not only affect its operations but may also ruin your flooring and cause structural damage when water seeps through
- It is a complex system made up of various components, making its installation more difficult and labor-intensive, which also ups labor costs
- Not suitable for DIY work
- Generally more expensive and takes longer to install than electric heating systems
- Requires a boiler to work, which adds up to your installation costs. In lieu of boilers that cost hundreds of dollars on average, some choose to use the cheaper water heater
- Impractical if only installing in only a few rooms
- Harder to install on higher floors. It can be easier to do so on floor joists, but you have to make sure that the joists can still handle the heating system
- Ideally should be inspected yearly or every other year to make sure it runs as efficiently as possible
Whichever type you choose, you really cannot go wrong with a radiant floor heating system in terms of the comfort it can bring to the entire household.
Best Flooring Material for Heated Floors
If you plan to experience what heated floors feel like, you need to make sure that your flooring not only suits your home but will work with your floor heating system. Thermal conductivity has a lot to do with it.
If your chosen material has a good thermal conductivity, it means the room will warm up faster. Those with poor thermal conductivity will hinder your heating system from efficiently heating up a room, or even prevent it altogether.
When it comes to heating up your floors, some flooring materials are indeed better than others. So, how do you know which one has a better thermal conductivity than others?
The rule of thumb is, the thicker the material, the poorer its thermal conductivity. Also, mineral-based materials are the best ones for it.
Tile (Ceramic or Porcelain)
There is no flooring material more suitable for radiant heating systems than ceramic or porcelain tiles. These two are comprised of minerals that conduct heat well, and their thinness means heat will travel upwards faster. Even if you switch off the system, tile will still retain and release heat for some time.
And as a bonus, any water leaks seeping from a hydronic system will not cause it to dilapidate, or even rot. Porcelain, specifically, will not be affected by too hot or too cold temperatures.
Aggregate or Natural Stone
Just like tile, natural stone is chock-full of minerals that makes your radiant heating system work efficiently in warming up any room. Stone is thicker than tile and will take more time to heat up a room once your heating system starts up. But, a natural stone floor storse up heat longer than a tiled floor does, which means it will warm up the room for a longer duration once you turn off your system.
And if you want a natural stone that works best with a radiant floor heating system, marble is your best bet. But if water resistance is your main concern, consider granite flooring.
For homeowners who want the appearance of wood floors with less maintenance required, laminated floors are the best option. Fortunately, it also has a good thermal conductivity that makes it suitable for heated floors. Also thinner than other flooring materials, heat will transfer to the surface quickly.
The downside of a laminate floor is that it can easily get damaged once water leaks onto it from a hydronic system. Also, too much heat can cause irreversible damage to it; manufacturers generally set a temperature limit of 85 °F for laminate floors.
If you believe you have to sacrifice wood floorboards to get heated floors, don’t bid adieu to it just yet. Although solid hardwood floors are not ideal, engineered wood is a good alternative. Its top consists of solid wood, while the base consists of multiple layers that are temperature resistant.
But if you plan to get an engineered wood flooring, pay attention to its thickness. Some are too thick and will prevent heat from rising up.
Although solid wood, vinyl, rubber, and carpet can also work with heated floors, they are generally not recommended. Solid wood will expand and contract at high temperatures, vinyl can release harmful chemicals in gas form, rubber can easily deform at prolonged heat exposure, and carpet generally acts more as an insulator than a conductor. Do note that there are also some heating systems specifically manufactured for such flooring materials, so consider that if you have your mind set to any of those floorings.
But among all these, tile and stone are the most commonly used for heated floors.
Types of Electric Heated Floors
Unlike hydronic systems that offer a bit of customizability, your options are limited for an electronic radiant heating system. If you plan to get the latter for your home, you only have three types to choose from:
Cheapest among the three, it primarily consists of a spooled wire that has to be manually set up and laid out in a serpentine pattern. Although this can be done through DIY work, the entire process is time-consuming, especially for beginners.
There are two ways of installing a loose cable heating system: using the self-leveling technique or the thin-set technique.
Faster of the two methods, the self-leveling technique only requires pouring a self-leveling compound over the wire after it has been laid out, and letting the compound harden, which takes a few hours.
On the other hand, the thin-set technique requires the use of a backer board, thin-set mortar, and end channel. The cable is laid out over the backer board, with the end channel used as a guide for the pattern. The mortar is applied over the cable and allowed to dry. Additional layers of mortar is usually added to even it out, since it has the tendency to shrink while it is curing.
Note that you cannot connect it to another wire to extend its coverage. Also, its installation must be done very carefully, as a small cut or break in the wire will compromise your entire heating system.
Unlike that of a loose cable system, a mesh mat system already has the heating wire set up in a pattern and has been woven into the mat. All the installer has to do is secure it to the flooring with hot glue or staple after every few inches to prevent it from lifting.
While the mat comes in different sizes, splicing the cable to cover larger spaces should still not be done. But you can cut the mat, not the cable, to allow it to cover corners and odd spaces in the room.
While a bit similar to a mesh mat, a solid mat system consists of either a plastic sheeting, metal foil, or synthetic fabric mat that covers up the heating wire.
There are three installation methods for this:
- Under-Floor Mat Technique – the mat is placed under the joists, whether on the ground or under the flooring of higher floor levels that need heating
- Under Floating Floor Mat – easiest way of installation, as the mat only needs to be laid out over the floor and secured. Laminate floors or floating wood may then be directly installed over this mat
- Under-Mat – similar to the installation of a mesh mat system, a layer of thin-set is first applied on the floor. The solid mat is then placed on top of it and then covered up with a combination of thin-set and grout float. Once it hardens, thin-set can be reapplied to allow the installation of your chosen floor material over it.
But just like the other two, solid mat heating systems do not allow the splicing of its cables to cover a larger area.
Due to its space limitations, electric radiant floor heating systems are commonly installed in smaller-sized rooms like bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. Although they can also be installed in basements and other rooms that are much harder for a HVAC unit to warm up, they can only work as supplementing heating in such cases. Because of this limitation, you should consider getting a hydronic system instead for homes with larger spaces.
Do note that not all electric systems are installable on subfloors; incompatible ones will not be efficient in warming up the room. But if your chosen system is deliberately installed on one, you also have to make sure that the subfloor is in good condition or get it repaired first.
If you think choosing between a hydronic or electric in-floor heating system is your biggest concern, think again. You also must deal with the fact that you need to decide which one to choose and where to buy it. With the number of options available on the market, it can be overwhelming.
If this is not your first encounter with radiant floor heating systems, you may already have an idea where to get it. But if not, we suggest purchasing them from established manufacturers for your peace of mind.
You should check out the following companies for your radiant floor heating needs:
- Warmly Yours – sells electric systems that can be placed outdoors or underneath the floor via concrete slabs or joists. They also work with floating wood, laminate, or carpeted floors
- Orbit Radiant Heating – sells electric systems that can be installed using concrete slabs and floor joists, and work with most flooring materials. You can get their products online or through their distributors all over the United States.
- Janes Radiant – sells heating systems of hydronic and electric types that can be placed under floors that use laminate, tile, stone, vinyl, carpet, and hardwood
- SunTouch – sells electric heating systems that can be installed outdoors and under the floor. Their underfloor systems can be placed on wood joists or concrete slabs, and work with wood, stone or tile floors
- InFloor – sells both electric and hydronic systems. Their products work both indoors and outdoors, and they are compatible with all kinds of floor materials and subfloors
- Warmboard – sells hydronic systems that are guaranteed to be energy-efficient and would work both outdoors and under your floors. They can be placed under various flooring materials, as well as a subfloor itself. You can get them online
- Nuheat – sells electric systems that work with tile, engineered wood, laminate, and stone. It is part of the Pentair Thermal Management, and its products are sold by various dealers across the country
- WarmUp – sells not just electric systems that can be installed on concrete slabs and joists, but also other products related to radiant heating. You can use their systems with vinyl, carpet, stone, and laminate floors.
- Radiantec – sells hydronic systems that are compatible with concrete slab or in-joist installations and most flooring materials. They also have products that allow your system to be powered by solar energy. Online purchases are possible.
- Thermosoft – sells electric systems that can be placed in joists and concrete slabs. Their systems are also compatible with floorings that use stone, ceramic, vinyl, laminate, carpet, and wood
Cost of Electric Heated Flooring
Radiant floor heating systems are costly – that is a fact. If you plan to get electric heating systems, it will generally cost less than a hydronic one. But, how much should your budget be?
Although you have the option to get individual mats installed, the cost of installing an electric system is often in terms of square feet.
Expect to shell out around $5 to $12 on average for every square foot of heating material and its necessities. On their own, various floor materials are much more expensive than others. Each square foot of ceramic tile ranges from $1 to $15, porcelain tile is around $2 to $4, carpet is priced at $1 up, engineered wood retails for $3 to $5, bamboo is between $2 to $4, and hardwood costs $3 to $10.
The flooring price differences will be negligible once you include the cost of installation of the tiles and heating system; the final cost will range from $10 to $12 on average, regardless of flooring material.
With a professional installation, you also have to pay an additional $3 to $10 per square foot on top of it. While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, getting your system installed by a qualified contractor ensures correct installation that will not give you headaches in the future.
For the entire project, you can spend around $400 to $700 for a bathroom floor heating and as much as $7,000 if you want your entire 1,500 square foot home to have heated floors.
Those estimates also depend on various factors, such as:
- Additional charges of the contractor, like transportation and other logistics
- Any demolition and cleanup that needs to be done on existing floors
- Floor level
- Your chosen material and its installation method
- Time the quote was made, as contractors offer better rates during the non-peak seasons of late fall and early winter
- Number of rooms to be heated
- Your chosen flooring material
The installation cost should not be your sole focus for electric heated floors; its operational cost is also something you need to keep in mind. Running solely on electricity, prolonged use will give you not only comfort but also high electricity bills. This is why electric heating systems should only be used to supplement the function of an existing HVAC system.
Getting Quotes from Competing Contractors
Home improvement projects can be costly and installing radiant heating systems is one of those that are undeniably expensive. But those who got them never regret spending hundreds to thousands of dollars for it. Not only do they no longer have to deal with ice-cold floors when walking barefoot, they also get to save on electric bills. These two alone make all their expenses worth it.
If you want to cut costs when you finally get an in-floor heating system for your home, your contractor the key to it. And if you choose to go with an electric system, you need to find a contractor who is also a qualified electrician as well; if not, you need to pay separately for an installer and an electrician.
So, where could you easily find the contractor who fits that bill?
Let us handle that for you for free!
Fill out our form and get as much as four qualified contractors to reply with their quotes or offers for the job. And since they are aware that they are not the only ones replying, expect to receive competitive quotes from them; they know that competitive pricing is a major factor in getting clients.
But if you are not convinced by any of their offers, no worries! It is your right to turn them down; we don’t require you to hire any of the contractors who send in their quotes for you to avail our service.
Looking forward to warm floors in your home soon? Let’s get to it! Start by filling out our form today and let’s get you a qualified contractor to do all the work!