Underfloor Heating

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.

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.

Eighty per cent of households in Scandinavian countries use underfloor heating and a growing number of US property developers are heating homes this way, but it is still only seen in relatively few UK households.

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.

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Advantages and disadvantages of underfloor heating

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.

Advantages


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.

Cheaper bills

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 your gas and electricity bills.

Environmentally friendlier

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.

Improved comfort

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.

Smart control

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.

Self-installation

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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Disadvantages


Installation costs

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.

Building work

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.

Heating time

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.

Although more affordable to install, electrical underfloor heating is usually more expensive to run than water underfloor heating. You can reduce costs by switching to a cheaper electricity supplier so that you can warm your home comfortably and make your money go further.

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.

Water-filled heating systems are more expensive to install than electrical underfloor heating, but water systems are often cheaper to run. You can compare and switch gas suppliers to get better value for money and generate even further cost savings.

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How to install heating for under your flooring

Only electrical underfloor heating can be self-installed and, unless you are a trained plumber, you should not attempt to install water underfloor heating.

Installing an electric heating system yourself keeps costs low, and saving money on the installation process breaks down one of the main barriers keeping households from committing to underfloor heating.

Electrical wiring should be placed underneath your flooring but on top of any insulation. Otherwise, the heat will be trapped underneath the room and the energy will be wasted.

There are some limitations to which type of flooring you can install heating underneath. For example, wooden flooring poses more problems than laminate, tile or stone, but as long as the thickness and moisture content of wood floors is minimal, the installation will be fine.

Although you'll be laying down the wiring system, it is strongly advisable to consult an electrician before connecting to your mains supply, to ensure you've installed the system correctly and that it is safe to use.

The cost of underfloor heating

How much your underfloor heating system will cost depends on the type of system you choose, how many rooms you choose to cover and whether you need the help of professionals to install it.

You also need to consider additional costs like new floor materials or smart technology, as well as the amount you pay per unit of gas or electricity.

If you decide to go for electrical underfloor heating, you could pay:

  • around £75 per square metre for heating pads, or
  • around £100 per metre for individual wiring, plus
  • fees for insulation and other materials, and
  • electrician fees.

It is harder to estimate the costs for a water-filled underfloor heating system, but it's likely to set you back thousands of pounds to install. However, water underfloor heating systems typically:

  • are 25% more efficient than radiators using a traditional boiler, and
  • use water heated at 50°C as opposed to 70°-90°C.

Although underfloor heating systems are energy efficient, the savings you make through lower running costs may not cover your expenditure from installation. It's important to consider the bigger picture and whether the additional benefits such as improved comfort, increased house value and smart control will be worth the spend in the long run.

Compare and switch energy deal to save money

An easy way to bring down the costs for underfloor heating is by comparing new gas and electricity deals to see whether switching from your current tariff can save you money.

Independent and unbiased, UtilitySavingExpert.com generates a wide range of competitively priced gas and electricity deals from trusted suppliers for you to review. Use our free online comparison tool to find and switch to the energy deal that offers you the best value for money.