Is heated flooring right for your home?
BY LIAM RAZZELL
Winter has arrived, and though your heater is on, there’s one part of your home that never warms up — the floors.
If you’re tired of chilly feet, and don’t want to wear thermal socks forever, heated flooring may be the perfect solution. From its benefits to expense and maintenance, here’s everything you need to know before you decide whether heated flooring will work for your home.
What is heated flooring?
Also called radiant heating, there are two types of heated floors: electric and hydronic.
Electric systems are composed of a maze of thin wires connected to a power source. Hydronic systems employ tubes connected to a hot water boiler. Both are laid on subfloors, encased in concrete, then covered with your desired flooring type. When wires or tubes heat up — with electricity or hot water, respectively — so do the floors above.
What are the benefits of heated flooring?
People mainly install heated flooring for comfort.
“It takes a hard floor and makes it feel soft,” says Joel Roper, contract and sales representative at Victoria-based Hourigan’s Flooring.
For that reason, it’s popular.
“Ninety per cent of people doing new tile add in-floor heat,” says Jan Van Herwaarden, project manager at Victoria’s Island Floor Centre.
What system will best suit your home?
That depends on how large a floor you want to heat.
“Once you start getting over 300 square feet of space, it stops being optimal to use a wire system,” says Roper.
Hydronic is most economical system for heating floors larger than a single room, because the boiler alone costs thousands of dollars.
In terms of expense, heating a tile bathroom or kitchen with electric heat will cost around $1,500. Large-scale hydronic installations cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Picking the right system also depends on the level of renovations you’re willing to undertake.
“Hydronic typically has to be done at the time of the build,” says Van Herwaarden.
Otherwise, you’ll have to gut your entire house.
Van Herwaarden notes it’s important to consider that heated flooring will increase your floor height, in some cases by almost an inch. If your ceilings already feel low, you may want to stick with those socks.
What maintenance and repairs are required?
Neither system requires maintenance.
Repairs are needed if a wire or tube breaks, which would only happen during future renovations. For example, if a tradesperson is too rough replacing a broken tile, wires can snap. With hydronic, if someone hammers a nail into a tube, you would have to dig out the floor, bleed the system, fix the line and address water damage.
Can you heat your whole home with heated flooring?
Yes, but doing so can present problems.
“In order to get your ambient temperature warm enough to be comfortable in the winter, your floor has to be really hot,” says Roper. “You don’t want to have a 40-degree floor and a 20-degree air temperature — that just doesn’t make sense.”
You also risk damaging your floors if you overheat them. While tile can withstand high heat, hardwood and vinyl floors can’t.
Still, people do heat their whole home, likely because nobody informed them it isn’t ideal, says Roper. But if you’re set on heating your whole home with radiant, he recommends installing a heat pump as a supplement.
For those ready to invest in continually warm toes, now the choice is yours.
Two types of radiant floor heating
Hydronic systems use water-filled pipes that are heated by a boiler. Experts consider this system to be the most efficient, since water conducts heat better and faster than air. The systems are also sealed, resulting in low emissions.
An electric radiant floor heating system uses electric wires or heating mats. While not as effective as hydronic systems, electric radiant floor heating systems still reduce the costs of a heating bill because of their efficiency in warming up a space.