Underfloor heating is a great alternative to traditional radiators or hot-air heating systems, So why is it so uncommon in British homes?
We look at the pros and cons of underfloor heating, the different types of underfloor heating systems available, how to install them and the costs involved.
The pros and cons of underfloor heating
Underfloor heating is often associated with luxury — think plush hotel rooms — and indeed there are few things more luxurious than the feeling of a warm, heated bathroom floor on a cold winter’s day.
Like the best high-end fitting, underfloor heating is hidden away and out of view, doing away with the clutter of radiators. And, due to the even distribution of heat, it is a fairly efficient way to heat a room.
Because radiators heat up the area immediately around them, this ends up being quickly dispersed upwards, and away from the desired area. On the other hand, a good underfloor heating system will heat a larger area.
This means radiators have to work harder for you to feel the effects, and require the water to be at a higher temperature to work effectively.
Alternately, underfloor heating works at a lower temperature. It is also possible to install yourself, and works particularly well with tiles and stone — making it a popular choice for bathrooms.
However, there are some important downsides to underfloor heating systems that you should consider before getting one installed.
One of the biggest downsides is cost — not from the system itself but from the cost of installation — making them particularly suitable for new-build properties or when you are already having work done on your floor.
Due to the lower temperatures, an underfloor heating system will also take longer to heat a room, so it is vital to combine it with a timer. They can also restrict what you can place on the floor as they can’t sit under particular fittings and items of furniture.
Electric underfloor heating
Electric underfloor heating relies on a network of wires under your floor that heat up. Depending on the shape of the room, you can go for heating mats, which cover large areas, or individual wires which can get in every nook and cranny. Heating mats are generally a bit cheaper.
The wires usually sit on top of a layer of insulation. They can fit under different floor types (but shouldn’t be under carpets that are too thick).
Electric wires themselves are fairly thin, making them easier and cheaper to install than a water-based system, but they are also slightly pricier to run, making them better suited to smaller areas.
Water underfloor heating
Water-based systems, in contrast, are a network of pipes linked to your boiler that pump hot water around your rooms.
Better yet, because underfloor heating systems distribute heat more evenly, they actually need water at a lower heat than a radiator, making your boiler more efficient.
The difficulty with water systems comes in the installation, and costs are typically initially higher for this reason.
Pipes are thicker than wires, so there needs to be enough room in your floor for the system to be installed, or the ground may need to be slightly raised. This means that while they’re a great solution for new builds, they can be difficult to install on some properties.
Consequently, installing a water-based system is not easy and, unlike electric systems, shouldn’t be installed without assistance.
Installing underfloor heating systems
Electric underfloor heating systems can be installed yourself, cutting overall cost. Crucially, your underfloor heating mats or cabling should be placed above a layer of insulation, otherwise you will just heat the ground!
The type of system you install will depend on the type of floor you have, with different types available for different surfaces.
If you are not sure about the DIY aspect, you can ask a professional installer for help. Either way, you will need a qualified electrician to attach your system to the electricity supply, and to connect a sensor to work the thermostat.
When it comes to a water-based system, you shouldn’t even attempt to install it yourself.
Installation will require the laying of the pipes, connection to the boiler system, and possibly even raising the floor.
Underfloor heating cost
Underfloor heating cost depends entirely on what system you opt for and whether you install it into a new-build (or install at the time of renovating an existing property) or not.
An electric system will cost £75 per-square-metre for pre-fitted underfloor heating mats, or £100 a metre for the loose cables. Further costs come in the form of insulation to lay under the system, heating controls and electrician fees.
Water-based systems will cost significantly more, with total costs after installation running into thousands of pounds. While a water-based system will save you money, it won’t save you much, making it more of a luxury option than a money-saver.
Deciding if underfloor heating is for you
Underfloor heating is not necessarily a money saver, with the Energy Saving Trust noting that a water-based system will only save you £20 a year for the average home using a condensing boiler. Given the substantial installation costs, you are unlikely to save much.
However, it’s because the majority of costs come from installation that underfloor heating is ideal when building a new-build home, or building a new room, bathroom or extension.
The main attraction for underfloor heating though is comfort. The way both types of systems heat a room mean not only will your feet be toasty and warm, but the heat through the room will be more evenly distributed and consistent.
For example, if you have a stone floor with underfloor heating built in, the heat will be retained, even when the window is open. Compared to the way radiator heat dissipates — the second a draft enters a room — that can be an attractive proposition.
It also provides a very clean and minimal look. A bathroom with underfloor heating has no additional clutter created by bulky radiators.