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Underfloor Heating Clearly Explained

electric underfloor heating

Whilst a definite majority of our homes are heated by radiators, there is another option, and that is electric underfloor heating.

This is the other big player in home heating solutions and understandably so. It’s a funky, adaptable and unseen way to provide your home with vital heat. Later on in this article, we will go into depth about electric underfloor heating, how it works and the benefits it’ll have in your home.

The topic of underfloor heating can get a bit confusing so, as always when it comes to elucidating the finer points of home heating, Only Radiators is here to help.

It’s a hot topic – if you’ll excuse the pun. Not long ago on this very blog we featured a delightfully informative piece on underfloor heating vs. radiators, though in this new article we shall focus exclusively on the main types of underfloor heating and help you figure out which is the perfect system for you.

So, why don’t we start off with a little bit of underfloor heating background?

An Underfloor Heating History Lesson

Now, while its prevalence in modern home design may suggest its relative youth, there have in fact been many different types of underfloor heating throughout the years.

Yes, the technology dates back as far as 5000 BC to Korean roots, and has been replicated in many shapes and sizes before reaching the advanced versions of underfloor heating you see today in our expansive online store.

Perhaps the most famous of these systems is the Roman hypocaust.

roman underfloor heating

The word “hypocaust” itself comes from the Ancient Greek of hypo (“under”) and caust (“burnt”). The system worked by circulating hot air throughout a hollow chamber below a room so that it would subsequently heat the floor of that room.

It was at first a luxury reserved for stately villas yet became a fairly normal feature within Roman homes. You see, the hypocaust system was quite revolutionary as it was the first underfloor heating system to gain wide international traction. It was replicated by the Greeks and countless more civilisations in their own unique ways, to normalise the technology for the lower classes.

If you go on a day trip to any of the fantastic Roman ruins scattered about the UK, keep your eyes peeled. It’s quite likely you’ll see some evidence of the hypocaust system that kept the original owners’ toes nice and toasty in the brisk British evenings.

And so here we are, over 2000 years later, helping you to achieve the best underfloor heating solution for your own home. Perhaps back then there was a leading heating specialist too, just like us, though we bet our website’s better designed.

Anyway, enough history! Let’s take a look at how the world of underfloor heating looks these days, shall we?

Types of Underfloor Heating

At Only Radiators we supply a huge range of underfloor heating products. Stick with us and soon you’ll know just about all there is to know on the topic.

“Wait!” I hear you cry. “Before you get into all that technical stuff, how does underfloor heating work?”

Don’t worry, we’ll get to that. You see, as we cover the two main forms in which you see underfloor heating, we will be uncovering exactly how each system works. The basic process is the same, though – line the bottom of a room with a heat source that will emit said heat and that will (hopefully, if you set it up right) rise up into the room.

Simple and effective – the way it’s been for thousands of years.

Hydronic Underfloor Heating (“Wet”)

A water underfloor heating system sees water circulated around pipes beneath a room in a sub-floor layer. It was a popular path in decades past but often fell foul to hot and cold spots throughout the home.

Maintaining a wet system involves special tiling, sub-floor excavation, draining and a whole lot more that makes us tired just to think about it!

What’s more, the need to replace particular sections of pipe made wet underfloor heating systems a bit of a nightmare for builders everywhere. That’s why the world of heating was so excited by the introduction of the system we shall now discuss.

Electric Underfloor Heating (“Dry”)

The electric underfloor heating system utilises heat-emitting wires installed under your floor. It’s “dry” because there’s no water involved, you see? It’s as simple as it sounds, and the aforementioned builders rejoiced.

Still, within electric installations you will find a deviation between wiring systems set simply below the tiling and wiring systems integrated into the body of the tiles themselves.

loose cable installation

At Only Radiators we like to recommend a dry approach and here’s the three main reasons why.

Electric (Underfloor Heated) Avenue

Quicker to Heat

As with all things plug-powered, electric underfloor heating can boost to the required temperature in less time than the hydronic equivalent.

Maintenance

Electric underfloor heating is also by far the simplest to install, especially if you are not taking the integrated route. Although it's certainly most likely to win design awards, this path makes replacements fiddly.

It also means heating and flooring are irritatingly coupled – change one and you’ll need to change the other. There’s no tangible performance loss when taking the standard dry route so that’s our recommendation!

Simplicity

Another fantastic quality about electric underfloor heating installation is the sheer simplicity in how it is laid.

By purchasing electric underfloor heating mats in the sizes best-suited to fit your rooms, installing your system becomes much like laying a carpet. That means it can be easily renovated and rearranged and can handle all those adjustments we know you DIY fanatics love.

So high and dry is the way to go! What’s next?

Is Underfloor Heating More Efficient than Radiators?

I know what you’re wondering – “Can underfloor heating replace radiators?”

The answer is yes, it most certainly can.

But whether it should is a highly controversial subject that depends entirely on the home you own. You hear a lot of tales about underfloor heating not working properly. Most often, this is not the fault of the system itself.

Select underfloor heating for an ancient and vaulted mansion with seven storeys, for example, and you are probably not going to sense a spike in efficiency. However, if you can develop a design that works the best for the home you own, you may well be able to conceive a system that’s more efficient than radiators alone.

So, is Underfloor Heating Cost-effective?

There is a massive spectrum in underfloor heating costs depending on the system you choose, the quality of products, the style of installation and more. As with all things, you can do it on the cheap or at the top level. What will make the real difference is how responsive it is to the level of use you require from it.

It's a common misconception that electric underfloor heating will cost you more to run that normal radiators. Yes, it will probably cost you more to install, after all, there’s simply more to do, more to dig up and to lay down. However, as heating mats are thermostatically controlled and installed directly under the flooring, the time taken to heat up is not only fast but the running costs are much less than expected.

ufh running cost

The above table is based on the hypothesis that your rooms are well insulated. If you were to install some of our Comfortzone insulation boards, you will see a drastic improvement in the efficiency of any underfloor heating systems by as much as 50%. They reduce downward heat loss and provide must faster heat up times which means your room will reach it’s desired temperature more quickly. As a result of this, the heating doesn’t need to work as hard for a long period of time.

Some mitigating factors that may cause your underfloor heating system to overwork and overcompensate for, include droughts, poor insulation and extractor fans. Whichever underfloor heating system you decide to install, it will have to work longer and harder for your room to hit the desired temperature. You will not like seeing the drastic effect on your heating bills when you knew there was something you could do to avoid it!

Pick n’ Mix Your Way to Electric Underfloor Heating Success

That’s right – many decide to equip their ground floor with underfloor heating to maintain a base temperature. They then rely on radiators upstairs for a quick blast of heat when heading up for a cosy night.

You should also keep in mind that to run underfloor heating, your floors need to be correctly insulated. This approach will halve any of these expensive insulation updates needed to run your underfloor heating safely.

You do not want to spend 20 hours fitting underfloor heating only to discover your home cannot safely support it. So, if you need to know the insulation requirements, just give us a ring.

And if you really think about, what’s the point of underfloor heating upstairs anyway?

So we’ve established the best approach may well be a ground floor dry system – but what the heck do we lay on top of it? That leads us neatly onto…

What Flooring is Best for Underfloor Heating?

Slate, Tile, Marble & More

These are the prime materials to really consider for combination with underfloor heating. They are all great thermal conductors, meaning they draw heat most effectively from your chosen system and channel it upward into the room.

The only factor to check is compatibility between your tiling adhesive and underfloor heating system. You would not want to melt the bond and be left slipping and sliding all over your newly-laid floor!

Wood Floors

Under wood floor heating systems depend entirely on the wood itself. After all, there are two main types of wood used in popular home flooring and these are laminate or solid timber.

Electric underfloor heating systems for wood flooring perform best when combined with a 3mm polythene foam layer. This will help to conduct your underfloor heat as well as enable your new wood floor to settle properly into position.

If you find yourself taking this route, we advise not going overboard on expansive furniture and thick rugs. These additions will only make it harder to get your floor heating really going.

Carpet

Perhaps the least likely candidate when it comes to deciding what flooring to match with your underfloor heating. Carpet is nonetheless an effective heat conductor. Combine this quality with the mats that make up most electric underfloor heating systems and, for once, your DIY project is starting to look like it might be easy.

Your carpet will help to keep generated heat rising up into the room (as long as it’s not too thick!) so refraining from “togging out” and you’ll be sweet.

A Match Made

Some of our team love underfloor heating while others are radiator purists through and through. One thing we can agree on is the optimal combination of electric underfloor heating systems beneath a slate, tile, marble or similar flooring.

In fact, we’d bet that 2000 years from now, when whatever advanced human or even alien civilisation is charting our (current) history, they’ll be documenting this optimal combination in the exact same way that we just celebrated the hypocaust system of the remarkable Romans.

Yep – you can take our word on that (well, except for the aliens… maybe?).

Underfloor Heating Accessories

With any great project, it’s tough to truly declare it finished due to the excellent range of accessories and aftermarket upgrades out there.

With underfloor heating it’s no different, and that’s why we stock a massive range of underfloor heating accessories. Just like the Mk3 in the garage or Colnago hanging in the study, it’s never… quite… finished.

Maybe you’d like some Thermogroup Reinforcing Tape for improved seal security. Or, maybe you've calculated that replacing your more-frequented rooms with Comfortzone Coated Insulation Boards will minimise energy bills. There’s always something to tinker with.

Then of course, there’s all the underfloor heating thermostats and controls you can look into. Whether you want the sheer simplicity of a manual thermostat or would like to experiment with all sorts of funky dual control touchscreen units and 7-day programmatic machines – let us help you find the right solution.

Here to Heat and to Help

For more underfloor heating information (as if you haven’t had enough!) or advice on any sort of home heating solution, then please give our dedicated team a shout and we’ll be delighted to help you out.

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Also, check up on the Only Radiators blog time and time again for industry-leading home heating ideas. Also, sign up to our newsletter for exclusive news, money-saving tips, competitions and much more!

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