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If winter makes you think about anything at home, it is warmth and how to keep your home warm. In fact, interior design in winter can be very practical and fruitful because the cold weather highlights structural issues that need to be resolved, particularly problems that let the cold and wet in such as roof problems or issues with adequate heating. In this article we are going to focus on underfloor heating as one of the best winter home improvements you can make, taking you through all the details so that you can make the best possible choice for your home heating.

Why Underfloor Heating Is A Great Idea

Underfloor heating is a great idea in any home, modern or old. It provides well distributed heat across the home and takes away the common problems associated with open fires and radiators. Placed well underneath the floor tiles, underfloor heating is convenient and doesn’t affect the aesthetics of a room at all. You also get more choice with where you place furniture which is sometimes tricky when you’re working around radiators.

The two main types of underfloor heating – electric and wet – ensure there is an option that will work for most homes. The way they are placed also means that the aesthetic of the floor, even if it is vintage or designer floor tiles, is not disturbed or damaged. Overall, this style of flooring works well for many reasons and the only thing that stops most people getting underfloor heating is the cost and disturbance of having it put in, but long term it is economical, worth the cost and inconvenience of installation.

advantages of porcelain tiles

Electric Underfloor Heating

Electric underfloor heating is usually the method of choice for smaller areas of floor. It is extremely easy to put into place with the installation of a long cable placed in the floor or on the floor in the form of a mat which sits between the existing floor and top floor covering. People may use this method for a specific area of heating within a room, such as the floor in a social area.

Bathrooms are an excellent place for electric heating mats because they offer instant heat which is often desired in a bathroom environment. In this instance mats are appropriate but in full room underfloor heating it is important to opt for electric cables that are integrated into the flooring. In this instance the cables are connected to the flooring insulation and then covered over with additional protective layers before finally being sealed in with floor tiles or other flooring types like wooden planks, then finished with non slip tiles or wet room tiles.

Whatever the application is, the cables can never be cut to size and so the correct system has to be purchased for the project you are applying the heating to. Because of this need for precision it might be a good idea to have an expert advise you on the size of mat or cable system you need. You also need to ensure that the system is correct for the flooring type and specific application.

Wet Underfloor Heating

Wet underfloor heating is a much more substantial and bulky form of underfloor heating and it is the type most likely to be installed in more spacious buildings. The way it works is by circulating hot water through a piping system that sits underneath the floor. The pipes are connected to a source of hot water which could be a standard boiler, or it could be an eco-friendly source of water like a ground source heat pump. This type of underfloor heating takes up a lot more space than an electric underfloor heating system, takes a lot more money upfront to install and also requires more long term maintenance.

Wet underfloor heating systems are a lot less likely to be installed in a period building or building with delicate structures. It isn’t impossible to install them into buildings like this but it does take a lot more care and planning. A lot of damage can be done to the various layers of the property because floorboards, flooring, and other structures will need to be disturbed to make space for the system.

Underfloor Heating Questions Answered

Is Underfloor Heating More Expensive Than Standard Heating?

Underfloor heating could be more expensive than standard heating depending on who installs it and the type of system you opt for. It uses more materials and more work than installing radiators and a boiler so there is a lot more potential for initial installation costs to escalate. If you can install the system yourself (if you are qualified) then you will save a lot of money on upfront costs.

Compared to setting up radiators wet underfloor heating systems cost around £8-£10 pounds a metre more and electric systems cost between £5-£7 pounds a metre more (for setup). If you opt for much more beautiful radiators or modern radiator designs then the prices can be much more similar.

The costs can be reduced a lot if you choose to install underfloor heating on one floor and then use an ‘instant heat’ system elsewhere. For example your living room and kitchen could have underfloor heating and then upstairs you could use radiators and perhaps have a UFH mat in your bathroom. It is worth remembering that combination systems could work well in terms of costs and convenience. In most cases a household will have UFH downstairs and then radiators upstairs because upstairs rooms like bedrooms contain heat well and the heat from downstairs also rises upwards.

Is UFH More Efficient Than Conventional Heating?

Whether or not UFH is efficient for you is dependent on lots of different factors. It depends on the type of energy you use, how much you pay for that energy and how efficient your heating system is overall. How efficient your heating is will also depend on things like the age of the building you live in, how much insulation you have and the type of heating system you have (boiler, solar panel, ground source heat pumps etc).

Insulation in particular has a great impact on whether or not your underfloor heating is as effective as it could be. The floor needs to have a good level of insulation in order for the EFU to work as is should. It might cost more money to have adequate insulation laid when your UFH is laid but in the long run this will make the system work more efficiently and you will save money. If you want to know how efficient UFH will be in comparison to a standard system in your home, consult an expert who can advise you on this before you make any major investments in a new heating system.

Is A Wet Or Electric UFH System Better?

Electric UFH delivers instant heat and is also a lot quicker to install compared to a wet system. Both systems can work for the entire house, but electric systems are good for smaller installations, such as just the bathroom. From a convenience and building disturbance point of view if you are fitting underfloor heating electric works best if you are fitting the system into your current home. Electric systems work well with renovation because they are slimmer and easier to maintain compared to wet systems.

Electric systems are also really good for odd shaped rooms because flexible wiring can be fitted to suit, and heating mats offer a cheaper option for larger areas. In terms of costs though, electric systems are thought to be slightly more costly to run. Wet systems might cost you more to install upfront, and they aren’t suitable for certain homes, but they should be cheaper long term if used in a larger space.

Can Any Type Of Flooring Be Placed On Top?

The type of flooring placed on top does matter when it comes to underfloor heating. Different materials are more or less suited to underfloor heating.

  • Wood – Wooden flooring is usually either solid or engineered. Solid wooden floors need a little more planning in conjunction with UFH because they need room to be able to ‘breathe’ whereas engineered wooden flooring doesn’t tend to need this. In all instances it is a good idea to lay the wood a few days before any underfloor heating is placed so the wood has ‘found its shape’ and has dried out. If you have a choice, wood may not be the best flooring choice to combine with UFH altogether. It doesn’t conduct heat very well. Wood effect porcelain tiles are an alternative.
  • Carpet – Carpet provides wonderful insulation for a home but if it is very thick it will lower the heat that you get from your UFH. Your underfloor heating expert will be able to advise you of how thick your carpet should be for maximum comfort and maximum UFH output.
  • Slate/ Marble – Stone is excellent for underfloor heating because it conducts heat really well and warm stone feels lovely to walk on. Also consider mock finishes such as slate effect porcelain tiles or marble effect porcelian tiles.
  • Ceramic – Ceramic floor tiles work well with underfloor heating because they conduct the heat well. Experts will lay the tiles with materials that suit underfloor heating as certain materials are not compatible.
  • Lino – Lino can work with underfloor heating but needs to be laid using glue that is not affected by the heating. The glue needs to be given plenty of time to dry out thoroughly before the UFH is placed.

Which Heating System Is Best For UFH?

The more efficient your heating system is the better your underfloor heating will be. With a boiler it is a simple case of choosing an efficient boiler that is efficient regardless of whether you have radiators or UFH. When you install an energy efficient systems like ground source heat pumps and solar panels,  consult an expert in how they work in conjunction with heating the home, so that the entire system is considered rather than just one aspect of it. With the right combination of UFH and energy efficient heat sources you can have an extremely low cost, eco-friendly, heating system in your home.

Is Underfloor Heating Right For You?

Underfloor heating could be right for you depending on a few different factors. Consider the following when thinking about whether UFH is right for you:

  • Is it affordable? – Think about the costs long term and also short term. It may cost you more to install it now, but the long term reduced heating costs could make it well worth your while.
  • Is it desirable? – How much do you want underfloor heating? It may be you’re happy with your current heating system and only want a change to be more ‘modern’ or because others seem happier with heating their home that way. This is a costly change to make if you’re not really needing or wanting to make a switch.
  • Does it work for your home? – If you have well maintained older floors or structures in your home that need protecting, there will be an underfloor heating type suitable for you but you should look into exactly how it needs to be installed and how it may affect your building before you make any changes.
  • Are you happy with the installation? – Wet installation systems in particular can take time and upheaval to get installed and working. If you want a wet UFH system then you have to allow the time for it to be installed. Even more time will be needed for the flooring to set or breathe depending on the flooring type you choose.
  • Have you considered a combined system? – Combining radiators with UFH in a large home is a great idea. Many homes have combination systems and it is worth looking into working your heating this way for the most cost-effective and efficient way of heating your home.

Whatever You Do, Hire an Expert

Whether you choose a wet or dry underfloor heating system you should always make sure you hire an expert to install it. Electrics and water underneath the floor are a major potential for risk and issues. An unqualified expert putting UFH in badly could well do substantial damage to your home and put your life in danger. Make sure you consult a company who is fully qualified to do the work, so you can enjoy underfloor heating safely in your home for many years to come, with minimal maintenance.