Underfloor Heating – A Brief Guide

[update 2022]

What is Underfloor Heating?

 

Underfloor heating uses a pipe or wire network, of either water or electrical systems to heat the floor. Underfloor heating is considered to offer improved energy efficiency, improved comfort and better interior choices than a standard radiator system.

 

While a radiator will circulate heat, it is often inefficient, with the highest temperature being at the ceiling, and the cooler temperature being at the floor (closer to occupant level). The air circulation contributes to ventilation losses and results in higher fuel costs. Radiators require high temperature water flow due to the small surface available to be heated. Rooms heated with radiators can also experience cold spots due to the heating being in one area of the room.

 

Underfloor heating creates a more stable and consistent temperature, with a lower energy consumption. Warm water is pumped through the underfloor heating tubes within the floor, and emits the heat across the whole surface heating the room effectively. A lower water temperature is required (around 40C) due to the higher surface area of the heating system (radiators normally operate at around 65C).

 

Underfloor heating Warmup 2

image credit: Warmup

Underfloor heating Warmup

image credit: Warmup

Why Use Underfloor Heating?

 

Improved Indoor Air Quality

An underfloor heating system often encourages the use of perceived cold flooring materials such as slate, tiles, terrazzo and concrete. These surfaces have low VOC emissions compared to other flooring options. The temperature control of an underfloor heating system also provides improved conditions that prevent mould, bacteria and dust mites.

 

 

Energy

Underfloor heating systems require a lower temperature to operate which results in lower energy requirements for the system (especially the water based systems).

 

Control

Smart thermostat systems allow control over individual zones or spaces, meaning different zones can be set to different temperatures, or turned off completely when specific parts of the building are not in use.

 

Position of the system

For a solid concrete floor the insulation position is important, in terms of exposing thermal mass of the concrete to the heat from the pipes, or isolating the concrete/thermal mass from the heat.

 

Systems which require a 24 hour heating cycle, exposing the concrete slab to the heat from the heating system will allow for a more even heating regime. These systems present a slower response time to alteration requirements in temperature, due to the thermal mass of the concrete.

 

When using an intermittent heating application, where a faster response time is required for temperature changes, it is more prudent to have less thermal mass available to absorb the heat, and instead place the insulation layer below the screed or timber floor, but above the concrete slab.

 

It is important the building type, client brief and heating requirements are thoroughly considered prior to selecting the underfloor heating system and flooring type in order to provide the best solution.

Water vs Electric Underfloor Heating Systems

 

There are two types on underfloor heating system, wet and dry. The dry system is electric powered, and the wet system is heated water pumped through the pipes.

 

Water Systems

 

A network of pipes are filled by warm water which is heated by a boiler or heat pump, and concealed within the floor. Typically the pipes are embedded within a floor screed, but they can be used in timber floor settings too.

 

The water systems are well suited to larger floor areas, and retain their temperature better than the electric systems. The water system is the best option for installing underfloor heating in a new build or when planning a whole house system.

 

Water system – pros

  • Extremely efficient to run
  • Works at low temperatures
  • Work well with use alongside heat pumps

 

Water system – cons

  • Initial costs are high
  • Pipes are often difficult to reach if there are any problems
 
 

Electric Systems

 

Electric underfloor heating systems consist of cables which are laid over the floor deck.

The electric system is often used in retrofit situations or for smaller spaces like a bathroom. These work really well as they heat up quickly, but they don’t retain their heat in the same way a water system will.

 

Electric systems – pros

  • Inexpensive to install
  • No pipework – easy to install

 

Electric systems – cons

  • Expensive to run
  • Heavy items and furniture can damage the system
 

 

The electric system is more often seen in refurbishment or retrofit as it is a more slimline installation and has less effect on floor levels. It is possible to get low profile water systems for renovation projects however.

 

Wet systems are more often seen in new build scenarios, due to the increased floor thickness that is required for them. Water systems can also benefit from the varying renewable heat sources available such as air source heat pumps, ground source heat pump, biomass, and so on. The electric system is more limited.

Underfloor Heating Floor Types

 
Underfloor heating can be installed in numerous types of flooring build ups.
 

Floating

 

Not fixed directly to the floor deck.
 
Underfloor heating types Nu Heat Floating
image credit: NuHeat
 

A floating floor does not need to be fixed to the sub floor, and is usually supported on a continuous layer of insulation. This type of system can be suitable for new projects, extensions, over solid concrete slab, beam and block or over suspended timber joists.

 

The build up for this would usually consist of:

 
  • Subfloor
  • Floor insulation
  • UFH mat / tray
  • UFH tubes
  • Chipboard deck
  • Flooring finish
 

This system is a dry floor construction giving a medium heat output and a medium response. It is lightweight and quick to install, and allows for floor coverings to be installed immediately. This is suited to an intermittent heating application.

 

Batten

 

Timber floor over a solid sub floor.

Underfloor heating Batten Omnie FoilBoard_Batten-1000x5601

Image credit: OMNIE

When installing an underfloor heating system within a batten space the system must be in contact with the floor deck in order to provide good thermal performance.

 

A typical build up for a batten floor underfloor heating system would be:

 
  • Subfloor
  • Floor insulation with pipe trenches, between battens
  • UFH tubes/pipes
  • Chipboard deck
  • Flooring finish
 

This system is a dry floor construction giving a medium heat output and a medium response. It is lightweight and quick to install, and allows for floor coverings to be installed immediately. This is suited to an intermittent heating application.

 

Suspended

 

Timber suspended floor using joists to support the deck.

Underfloor heating Omnie FoilBoard_Sus

image credit: OMNIE

The underfloor heating system to a suspended floor usually fits between or straddles the joists. This system is suitable for new projects, extensions, and also retrofit options.

 

A typical build up for a suspended floor:

 
  • Insulation between joists
  • Pipe mat with trenches
  • UFH pipes/tubes
  • Chipboard deck
  • Flooring finish
 
 

This system is a dry floor construction giving a medium heat output and a medium response. It is lightweight and quick to install, and allows for floor coverings to be installed immediately. This is suited to an intermittent heating application.

Screed

 

Common underfloor heating construction filling with screed or concrete.

Underfloor heating NuHeat Screed

image credit: Nu Heat

Screed is frequently used in floor construction and particularly popular with underfloor heating systems. It is suitable for use in new builds, extensions, over solid slabs or beam and block. It does provide a deeper system and therefore a thicker floor build up than the dry systems mentioned previously.

 

Typical build up of a screed underfloor heating system where an intermittent heating application is required:

 
  • Concrete slab
  • Floor insulation
  • Protection layer
  • Clip track for pipes
  • UFH pipes / tubes
  • Sand and cement screed
  • Floor covering – usually tiles, ceramic etc
 

A typical build up of a screed underfloor heating system where 24 hour heating application is required:

 
  • Floor insulation
  • Concrete slab
  • Protection layer
  • Clip track for pipes
  • UFH pipes / tubes
  • Sand and cement screed
  • Floor covering – usually tiles, ceramic etc
 

Note that on the 24hr heating requirement, the floor insulation is under the concrete slab to allow the thermal mass of the concrete to absorb the heat.

 

This is a wet floor construction, gives a high heat output and works well with a longer heating cycle. Floor coverings must be fitted after the screed is dry.

 

There are also retrofit systems, and many acoustic options out there too.

 

Floor finish options

 

What is the best floor finish with underfloor heating?

 

Stone and Ceramic Floor Coverings

 

Hard flooring like stone or ceramic finishes are the most preferable option for underfloor heating as they provide the most efficiency.  They have a high and even heat transfer, are durable, and can be installed on any floor level.

 

Stone and ceramic flooring will not be affected by the fluctuating temperatures, so would not be prone to damage.

 

Polished Screed and Resin

 

An increasingly popular choice of floor finish in domestic properties, polished screeds and resins are durable and work well with underfloor heating.

 

They provide an even and efficient heat transfer, with the screed acting as a thermal store thus holding the heat for longer.

 

Timber Floor Coverings

 

Solid wood floors are not always considered to be appropriate for underfloor heating as they struggle to cope with the constant fluctuating temperatures and it is likely they will become warped and damaged over time. Care must be taken to select the board width and thickness to ensure compatibility.

 

Engineered wood is more suitable, as it can perform well with the fluctuating temperatures.

 

Timber transfers heat well and is available in a wide range of colours, patterns and finishes.

 

If specifying timber floors with underfloor heating, discuss the options and requirements with your timber floor supplier to ensure the floor is compatible with the system and operating temperatures.

 

Vinyl and Linoleum Floor Coverings

 

Vinyl and laminate floor coverings are suitable for underfloor heating, and provide a more affordable option than hard woods or ceramic tiles.

 

Heat can permeate a vinyl/lino covering well as it is a fairly thin material. Be sure to check with the manufacturer that the vinyl is suitable for use with underfloor heating.

 

Carpet Floor Coverings

 

Carpets can be used with underfloor heating, but the Tog value of both the carpet and underlay must not exceed 2.5.

 

For those who want a traditional design scheme carpets are certainly an option, refer to the carpet manufacturer to ensure the carpet is suitable, and the underlay does not contain polyurethane or felt as these can affect heat transfer.

More information

 
 

There are some great suppliers and manufacturers available that provide useful information, data, images and details. Some of my favourites include:

 

 

NU-HEAT

 

Nu-Heat has a great selector tool along with plenty of resources and guides for underfloor heating –https://www.nu-heat.co.uk/knowledge-hub/

 

Warmup

 

Warmup provide a range of product literature to help you decide on the right underfloor heating system for your project.

https://www.warmup.co.uk/underfloor-heating/literature

 

 

OMNIE

https://omnie.co.uk/underfloor-heating/

 

Images courtesy of:

https://www.omnie.co.uk/

https://www.nu-heat.co.uk/

http://www.warmup.co.uk/

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks Emma for your website’s cornucopia of excellent material.
    Your article regarding under floor insulation really interested me.
    We are still trying to educate clients to install timber subfloor insulation, and as regards conc slab on ground, very few actually insulate the slab..Aust Construction
    Code specifies slab edge insulation for hydronic or electrical heating for slab.
    Full slab insulation is almost unheard of.
    But from July 1 this year, our winter, power prices have risen dramatically and perhaps folk will think about floor insulation more intelligently within the Aust bldg environment.
    So thanks for your material which will help me as a designer to offset the large thermal draw that so often charactizes australian domestic architecture.
    As usual you’re doing a fine service for us all.

    Kind regards
    Gordon, shivering in a Victorian winter.We’re not that from the Australian Alps, so we do feel the breezy cold.

    Reply
    • Hi Gordon, great to hear that the content is useful for you – thank you for your comments, I appreciate it. Keep warm 🙂
      Regards, Emma

      Reply
  2. Hello. This is a great article. Can I add the article to my new blog? If so how do I do it?

    Spot the Newbie.

    Reply
  3. Pipe network is very beneficial for the underfloor system. I was using last one year in the house and it’s working at low temperatures

    Reply
  4. good day;
    being a home & building designer in Canada for the past 40 some years, i have used in floor heating constantly over the past 25 plus years. put it in my own home that i built in 1983. the tech knowledge was not great back then.
    we generally put tubing over an R- 16 or more for a poured concrete slam , as for a basement or as a frost wall & poured interior slab on grade.
    for wood framed floors, we prefer a 1 1/2″ concrete over pour on a sub floor with radiant tubing stapled to the subfloor. we have tried putting the tubing under the subfloor, with insulation below it,but find there is a greater loss of heat than with the over pour.
    a combination of inslab heat & ductless mini split heat pumps is the most common in our area at this time.

    david

    Reply
    • Hi David, many thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  5. Hello,
    I am looking at underfloor heating in my new extension as well as laying it over my existing ground floor in a screed (matching heights).
    A couple of questions, is a solid slab or block and beam more efficient, and if I do a slab should the pipes be embedded or on top with a screed matching the existing floor level.
    Going for maximum efficiency as I am planning to move to air source heat pump eventually. Might even convert upstairs to wet underfloor suspension between joists.
    Kind regards
    Mark

    Reply

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