What you need to know to decide if it’s right for you
An environmentally and spatially-conscious alternative to traditional methods of heating, underfloor heating systems are rising in popularity around the world.
Advantages and disadvantages of underfloor heating
Growing demand for underfloor heating shows it is gradually becoming a mainstream option. Favored by many developers and contractors, underfloor heating gives homeowners and businesses the ability to diverge from conventional heating methods and removes the need for radiators, freeing up space, which comes at a premium for most new builds.
Virtually invisible, this also enables commercial office space to be more easily converted into flats and apartments, with floor space maximised and added comfort for rooms with floors made of stone or tile.
Luxurious, but sometimes beyond realistic budgets, and comfortable, but potentially difficult to fit, there are pros and cons to installing underfloor heating. However, it can also be surprisingly affordable and has the advantages of energy efficiency and environmental benefits.
When you think of heated flooring, you might imagine a luxury hotel or high-end home, but it doesn’t need to be defined as pure indulgence. Rather, there are long-lasting practical advantages, along with the added comfort.
Smarter use of space
An obvious benefit of underfloor heating is that you free up space in your home. By removing the need for radiators or other heating sources, you can take back the full space of each room. The luxury of fully utilising your floor space may seem frivolous to some, but space comes at a premium, particularly for new builds and within cities, and almost every household could better manage their space without the limits that their current heating appliances present.
Better energy efficiency
Much more energy-efficient than traditional methods of heating like radiators, heating that is installed underfloor works by warming the air around it. In contrast, radiators are positioned on a wall at the side of a room and mainly heat the air close by, with much of the heat escaping upwards and being wasted. Underfloor heating goes much further and heats the entire room evenly from below. The heat is not wasted and almost all of it goes into the room where it is installed, and where it is intended to go.
Radiators usually operate at a higher temperature than the intended room temperature. This is because they are inefficient at heating the rooms they are in, with lots of heat escaping, so radiators need to be turned up to achieve the room warmth that a home occupier wants. Underfloor heating works much more efficiently and can, therefore, operate at lower temperatures to reach that same intended room temperature. Distributing radiant heat that is retained within the floor, these heating systems also don’t require as high temperatures from boilers. You use less energy and save money on cheaper gas and electricity bills.
Water filled underfloor heating systems are estimated to be 25% more efficient than radiators, making them a sustainable choice with less energy being wasted. As eco-conscious consumers look to solar panels and other renewable energy, greener lifestyles and electric cars, the long term energy and cost benefits of underfloor heating will complement the drive to lower carbon emissions.
Underfloor heating is thought to provide a more pleasant experience for home occupants because it creates an ambient temperature by heating the room from ground to roof. Comparatively, radiators, which heat the air above, create an uneven distribution of warmth and largely won’t produce the desired effect. In addition to keeping the whole room at the same temperature, underfloor heating presents the added comfort of allowing you to walk around barefoot in your home, even in winter months.
Using underfloor heating, you can create heat zones and control precisely which rooms you want to warm. This allows you to heat the areas that you will be using during the day and perhaps switch to different zones in the night, as a smarter and less wasteful way to heat your home. Combining this method of heating with smart technology can save 20-30% of the energy you use, and specifically alleviates the need to use energy that is usually wasted. Wireless smart technology is easy to set up and the controls work instantly.
Increased Home Value
Adding a desirable feature to your home improves your property value. Not only does underfloor heating offer a taste of luxury for you and your family to enjoy, but it also means your house will be worth more money when you decide to sell it. As long-term investments go, this is one of the more comfortable options.
You can install electrical underfloor heating systems yourself, making it a cost-effective choice without hindering the luxurious end results, particularly if you are handy around the house. However, for a water-based system, you’ll need professional installation, even if you are confident in your DIY abilities. Heating under tiles and stones works particularly well, so it would be a good idea to start with your bathroom if you plan to install underfloor heating yourself.
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The most prominent blocker for households to move to underfloor heating is the costs associated with installation. Whilst you will make savings on your bills in the long run, you may be faced with a considerable upfront expense. This makes installation costs a major disadvantage. It would be useful to do some estimates to see whether the energy efficiency savings would balance out the fitting cost, then consider the other benefits alongside this.
Not only can it be costly to fit, but the installation process of underfloor heating involves an upheaval of your current flooring and some building work to fit the system. It’s less hassle if it’s a small part of a total home renovation, or if you are installing it in a new build property, or already planning to fit new flooring.
Rooms with underfloor heating take longer to heat because they operate at lower temperatures than traditional heating systems. Whilst a radiator is inefficient in comparison, it does bring warmth to a room more rapidly. Combining the underfloor heating system with a timer or smart technology can be a useful solution to ensure the rooms are always set to a comfortable temperature when you want them to be.
Furniture and Fittings
In some cases, heating systems under your floor will cause restrictions for what you can place above them. Most items of furniture are fine, but thick rugs or dog beds could trap heat underneath them and fixed items will need to have the heating system fitted around them. This applies to kitchen units, bathtubs and toilets.
Types of underfloor heating
The two main types of underfloor heating are electrical and water-filled.
Electrical underfloor heating
Using a large system of electrical wires under the floor, this form of underfloor heating is easier to install than the pipes required for water.
If you would prefer not to use individual wires, it’s possible to use heating mats, which are laid out to cover a large portion of the room. However, wires will allow you to reach every section of the room more easily. Heating mats come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be mass-produced, which means they usually present as an affordable option and you can opt to place them yourself instead of hiring a professional. Positioned above your top layer of insulation, these can be fitted underneath most types of flooring.
Water underfloor heating
For a water-based underfloor heating system, a set of pipes is constructed across your entire floor. With such extensive piping, this system might not be suitable for all homes, and it is much more difficult to install than the electrical alternative. Consequently, installation costs are higher and you’ll need to enlist the help of a qualified plumber to carry out the work.
In a similar way to how your radiators are heated, pipes for a water underfloor heating system are linked to your boiler, which pumps through hot water. The difference is that underfloor heating can be set at a lower temperature than radiators, requiring less energy from your boiler. Additionally, the floor heating system warms a room with a pleasant, even distribution, and is more energy-efficient and cheaper to run than traditional radiator systems.