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Heated floors have quickly risen to be one of the biggest trends for home remodeling projects. Considered more of a luxury for many homeowners, heated floors (aka "radiant heating") offer many practical benefits. If you are considering installing heated floors in your home, you may be curious to know what kind of flooring works best for this system. We've done the research to bring you the answer.
Below are the best flooring options to use with radiant heat:
- Solid Stones and Tiles
- Engineered Wood
Much consideration should be taken before installing heated floors in your home. Things such as incorrect installation, less than ideal flooring materials, and insufficient electrical amperage can spell disaster for a newly installed radiant heat system. Let's take a look at why these flooring options and other home considerations are important to finalize before starting this type of home project.
Ideal Flooring Materials For Radiant Heating
Radiant heat systems require flooring materials that naturally conduct heat and can withstand long periods of direct contact with high temperatures. Some of the best solid flooring types for heated flooring include:
Solid Stone And Tiles
Solid stone and tile flooring is a popular choice for homeowners looking to get the most out of their heated floor system. And from a thermodynamic standpoint, they are the best choices for heated floors. The reason is that they can retain heat the longest and heat the fastest.
While different types of solid flooring have better levels of heat conduction than others, they all top other types of heated floor options. Stone tile does not expand as it warms, neither does it contract when it gets cool. Contraction and expansion can cause cracking in flooring materials, which is not an issue with this type of flooring.
Ceramic tile is very similar to stone and is one of the top choices used for flooring. Ceramic is a good option as its thin profile creates and allows for superior transferability of heat. It's also fairly easy to clean and can be a great alternative to slate and natural stone.
Porcelain is also a great tile to consider. It's great at retaining heat and its non-porous surface is very resistant to staining. Porcelain is super-thin (which is great for heated floors). Its major downside is that it can be a bit difficult to work with.
Granite is another great heat-conducting stone and can offer several color options for flooring tiles. Its major disadvantage is that it can be prone to cracking.
Commonly used as a roofing material, terracotta can hold heat very well and requires very little maintenance.
Slate is a great option for high-traffic areas in your home. It is fairly strong and can withstand a lot of traffic. Its conductor nature makes it a suitable option for heated floor systems.
One of the more appealing options, marble is a bit slower to heat up than other solid stones. However, it conducts heat fairly well and can work wonderfully as a heated floor option.
Engineered wood is made up of multiple layers of HDF or plywood and a solid layer of wood on top -- which functions as a veneer over the artificial wood pieces. It works well with radiant floor heating because of its stability and unique construction. This flooring option is less susceptible to expansion and contraction due to temperature and moisture changes, unlike solid wood. It's very stable and can offer the same aesthetic appeal as its hardwood counterpart.
Laminate flooring works very well over radiant heat as it can typically handle up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (temperatures above this can cause warping and discoloration). It's also a great alternative to tile hardwood flooring if you're looking to save money on materials. Laminate is constructed of multiple layers of the wood which run in opposite directions. Similar to engineered wood, it's also more stable than hardwood flooring and it does not contract and expand when the temperature changes.
Vinyl flooring is commonly used in bathrooms and kitchens and can be a more affordable material option for heated floors. Vinyl is flexible, waterproof, conducts heat fairly well, and is easy to maintain. It's advised that the temperature settings for the subfloor not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit when using vinyl as a top floor for radiant heating systems, as it could damage the material.
Materials To Avoid With Heated Floors
Some materials are not ideal for radiant floor systems. Let's take a look at a few:
Solid Wood Flooring
Although solid wood flooring is beautiful to look at it, unfortunately, it's not ideal for radiant flooring systems. Wooden floor planks are natural insulators. They're typically around 18-23mm think and do not conduct heat well. As the wood heats up, it expands. Once the heat is gone, the wood contacts again, which can cause severe warping with a radiant system.
If this were to happen continually, the wood would suffer irreparable damage and would need to be replaced fairly quickly.
Thick carpets can be a comfortable flooring option; however, they would not be a good material to use for heated floors. Thick carpets tend to prevent effective heat transfer due to their dense and porous nature.
Natural cork can be an eco-friendly and affordable choice for flooring material. However, similar to solid wood flooring, cork is an insulating material. This would mean that installing it over your radiant heating system would minimize the effect of the heat and reduce its circulating efficiency. Cork can also be easily damaged with a wet radiant system due to excess moisture, and an electrical radiant system will likely dry it out.
Are Heated Floors Worth It?
To determine whether or not a heated floor system is worth the investment, there are a few things to consider. The most obvious consideration is the cost. Heated floors professionally installed in your home can run between $7 to $19 per square foot.
So for example, if you're looking to install heated floors in your 10ft by 12ft bedroom, your costs may run anywhere between $720 and $2,160.
Another consideration will be the type of radiant flooring system that you install. There are two types of radiant heat systems: hydronic systems, which utilize copper wiring to conduct heat, and electric systems, which conduct heat by pumping hot water through polyethylene tubing.
Hydronic radiant systems are typically more wallet-friendly than their electric counterparts.
Next, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of installing a radiant heating system can help you determine if it's a good option for your home. Let's look at a few of them:
Advantages Of Radiant Heating Systems
1. Potentially Lower Utility Bills
Radiant flooring systems typically require less energy to produce heat when compared to forced air systems. This is particularly true for hydronic systems, as water is a more effective heat conductor than air.
2. Don't Require Ductwork Or Vents
Heated floors don't need ductwork to function. If your home isn't equipped with a central HVAC system, you won't have to spend extra money to install or maintain them.
3. Don't Take Up Additional Space
Unlike radiator baseboards and other visible heating components, radiant flooring systems don't take up extra space in a room. And if your home is on the smaller side, this can be a huge benefit.
5. Even Heat Distribution
Most heating methods, such as forced-air and radiators, deliver heat from a focused point within a room. Radiant flooring has an advantage, as it offers even heat distribution across the entire flooring space, and as a result, the entire room.
When Heated Floors May Not Be Worth It
There are certain conditions where radiant flooring may not be ideal for your home. These conditions can raise the project cost of your heated floor systems or cause you to have higher ongoing heating costs from excessive heat loss. They include the following:
- The home is on the larger side (ex: 3,000 sq ft or more)
- Rooms have several windows or doors
- Insufficient insulation
- High ceilings
Overall, determining whether or not a heated floor system is worth it will depend on your priorities and the estimated budget for your project.
Do Heated Floors Use A Lot Of Electricity?
Radiant floors can be as energy-efficient as other types of heating methods, though electric systems will typically be more than hydroponic ones. And for the most part, they tend to operate with efficiency 25-40% higher than other types of forced air heating.
Because these systems are typically zoned to specific rooms and controlled by individual thermostats, they can help to lessen monthly energy costs. Also, their even heat distribution allows for more day-to-day efficiency than radiators, which can produce hot and cold spots as a result of convection heating.
Ultimately, the amount of energy used depends on the type of flooring system installed in the room, as electric uses more than hydroponics systems. The amount of electricity used also depends on the size of the heated floor system, how often it runs, and various heat loss factors within the home or room (i.e windows, doors, high ceilings, etc.).
An important thing to note is that radiant flooring systems don't have to run 24 hours a day to keep a floor warm.
Does Underfloor Heating Warm The Room?
Yes. Underfloor heating is an effective way to warm up a room, and in most cases, hydronic systems can be used as the primary and cost-effective source of heat for a home. Electric systems are typically recommended for small spaces or individual rooms.
How effective an underfloor heating system can be in warming a room includes factors such as insulation efficiency, the number of doors and windows in the space, the presence of fireplaces, and ceiling height, amongst other factors. The main consideration here is the potential for heat loss in the room, and whether or not this is higher than the heat output available from the system. The better your home is insulated, the more effective a heated floor system will be at maintaining optimal heating temperatures.
Can You Put A Rug On A Floor With Underfloor Heating?
For the most part, it's recommended that you not use rugs (especially thick rugs) with underfloor heating. Rugs not only add additional resistance for heat to get through to the floors, but they can also cause heat to gather beneath the rug. These high temperatures can cause damage to the floor, and depending on the material, and if the floors are laminate or vinyl, it can cause the planks to melt, lift, or warp.
The rug itself can also be damaged, especially if it's made of synthetic fibers (as opposed to natural fibers), as it can melt if exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time.
There are, however, specific rugs that are suitable for placement on top of heated floor systems. These rugs have hessian backing and have low thermal resistance. Still, careful consideration should be given in terms of the thickness and overall size of the rug.
The ideal rug for radiant heat flooring should have negligible effects on the day-to-day performance of the flooring system.
Wrapping Things Up
As you can see, there are several flooring materials available to work effectively with radiant heat systems. Hopefully, this guide has equipped you with more knowledge about them as well as how radiant heat flooring works in general.
Before you go, be sure to check out some of our other HVAC posts about heated floors: