From fireplaces that only heat your space while lit to portable plug-in heaters that are expensive to run, are you unimpressed by the traditional selection of ho-hum heating options?
When it comes to warming your home, it’s important to choose a heating system that’s easy to install, energy efficient, and inexpensive to operate.
This is why many homeowners turn to DIY radiant floor heating as an affordable and efficient way to heat their homes.
However, if you’re completely new to the idea of radiant floor heating, you’re likely to have a lot of questions, including:
- Is radiant floor heating right for me?
- How does radiant floor heating work?
- Can I install radiant floor heating by myself?
Over the next few chapters, we’ll introduce you to the world of radiant floor heating.
We’ll cover the basics of how a radiant floor heating system works, and we’ll also take a completely impartial (we promise) look at the pros and cons of installing this system in your own home.
We’ll also discuss how much it costs to install and operate a radiant floor heating system.
Then, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of DIY radiant floor heating installation.
Finally, we’ll wrap things up with answers to the most frequently asked questions surrounding radiant floor heating systems.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know whether or not radiant floor heating is the right choice for your home and you’ll also be ready to do your own installation.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Floor Heating
Radiant floor heating isn’t a new trend. In fact, it’s one of the oldest ways to heat a space. You may be surprised to know that radiant floor heating dates back thousands of years. It was created by the ancient Romans. They used a form of radiant heat called hypocaust to keep themselves warm during cold nights. Rooms were suspended above a furnace and a series of pillars that allowed for maximum heat distribution. While hypocausts are found in ruins throughout Europe, radiant flooring was extremely expensive to create and not accessible to the average Roman citizen.
These days, you don’t need to be a Caesar to enjoy radiant floor heating. Thanks to hundreds of years of development, radiant heating is not only accessible to everyone who wants it, it’s also affordable and environmentally sustainable. You can feel safe when you install a radiant floor heating system in your home.
The Different Types of Radiant Floor Heating
There are two main types of radiant floor heating systems that you can install in your home: Hydronic and electric. Let’s take a closer look at both:
Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating
A hydronic system uses hot water to provide radiant floor heat. Water is heated up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and then pumped from your boiler or water heater through a maze of ½-inch cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) tubing. It uses the same boiler or water heater that you use to heat up the rest of your home’s water.
PEX tubing is preferred because it won’t rust and is flexible. You can use PEX for long, uninterrupted circuits with minimal fittings. Fewer fittings equal fewer leaks, which also means less maintenance.
The hydronic floor heating system is embedded into the subfloor and the finish floor, where it acts as a radiator.
You are free to use various types of water heating options. For those who live in colder climates, water boilers are generally the preferred option. You can use gas-fired and oil-fired water boilers with your hydronic system. If you live in a warmer climate, gas or kerosene water heaters are often best. To make this heating solution even more sustainable, you can also combine it with a solar water heater.
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems can have very low ongoing operation costs in colder climates, but require a significant upfront investment to install, which is cost-prohibitive for most homeowners. . For example, a hydronic system can be installed in an existing house, but doing so would require your existing flooring to be torn up, a boiler to be installed (if you don’t have one), and significant work done to route the PEX tubing. And that’s just in order to install properly. For this reason, these systems are most commonly installed during a new home construction.
Also note that installing a hydronic radiant floor heating system is complicated and next to impossible for a beginner or casual weekend warrior. Hydronic radiant floor heating installation is not DIY-friendly. It requires a professional.
Methods for Installing Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating
There are three unique ways to install hydronic radiant heat underneath your finish floor.
1. Buried Within Concrete
The first option is to lay tubing that’s attached to a wire mesh or foam board insulation on the subfloor and then pour concrete on top of it.
2. Above Flooring
The second option is to attach tubing in grooved panels or snap-in grids to the surface of the floor and then cover it with a self-leveling compound plus thin-set mortar.
3. Under Flooring
The third and final option is to attach tubing underneath the floor joists and then metal plates to support those tubes and keep them in place.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating
Now, let’s turn our attention to electric radiant floor heating systems.
Electric radiant floor heating systems use a series of heating coils to warm up a space. These coils are thin electrical resistance wires made of either copper or nichrome, which is an alloy of nickel and chromium. Electric wires are then wrapped in a water-resistant polymer.
These electric coils can either be installed and routed directly, or contained in plastic mats for ease of installation.
Electric radiant floor heating systems are cheaper to install than hydronic systems. Why? One of the biggest reasons for the cost differential is that you can install an electric radiant floor heating system yourself without paying for a professional to do it. That said, you’ll still need to consult or hire an electrician to verify that the heating cable is appropriately connected to the electric circuit supplying power to the system (we recommend this be the only load on the circuit). In the end, you’ll pay a lot less out of pocket (by thousands) when going with an electric radiant floor heating system compared to a hydronic one.
Electric radiant floor heating is much easier to install than a hydronic heating system. With an electric system, there’s no need to mess with water heaters and professional installers. In fact, you can install your electric radiant floor heating system on your own. If you can lay tile, you can lay a radiant floor heating system. It’s just as easy, if not easier.
It’s easiest, although not required to install your electric radiant floor heating system during a room remodel when everything is already out of the space and you’re ready to demolish the existing finish floor. You will need to install electric radiant floor heating underneath your finish floor.
Methods for Installing Electric Radiant Floor Heating
Like hydronic systems, there are three ways to install electric radiant heat under your floors.
1. Loose Cables
The electric wires are covered with thin-set mortar to create a flat surface. Then, you’ll add the finish floor above this surface.
2. Mesh Under Tile
Electric cables are interwoven into mesh mats and covered with thin-set mortar.
3. Solid Mats
Instead of being woven into a mesh mat, cables are enclosed within a synthetic fabric mat, which is then smoothed onto thin-set mortar. You’ll add another layer of thin-set mortar on top of the solid mats to complete the radiant system.
How Radiant Floors Work
Whether you choose to install a hydronic or an electric radiant floor heating system, they both work similarly:
Radiant floor heating systems provide even heat from the floor upwards.
In a conventional forced-air heating set up, warm air comes out at 120 degrees Fahrenheit but quickly rises to the top. This happens whether your registers are embedded in the floor or inside of the ceiling. As the warm air drops, it start to cool. This cooling effect creates an uneven temperature in your room. Your upper body may feel warm, but your feet will feel cold.
However, a radiant floor heating system produces a more ambient, comfortable temperature that you feel from your toes upwards. This is because the thermal radiation rises from the floor surface and warms every object that it touches, from feet to furniture.
A radiant floor heating system can heat a room to as high as a toasty 95 degrees Fahrenheit, if it has excellent insulation and the right type of flooring. However, most homeowners can expect radiant floors to warm up a room to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a hydronic radiant floor heating system, the water heater or boiler is connected to a manifold, which is a system of pipes that channel water into different zones on the floor. You may then heat the different zones independently of each other through your smart thermostat.
Electric radiant floor heating systems also use thermostats.
These heating systems work with a sensor that indicates the heat level and responds immediately to a thermostat control. You can also control an electric radiant floor heating system with a light switch.
It doesn’t take long to heat up a room that uses this type of system. Depending on various factors, including room size, ceiling height, insulation, and floor type, you’ll have a warm and toasty room within one hour. And because you can connect a smart thermostat to your radiant floor heating system, it’s also possible for you to program your floors to start heating up even without you being in the room. Imagine programming your bathroom floors to heat up before your morning shower. That’s one of the wonderful gifts of a radiant floor heating system.
What Type of Flooring Can You Use With a Radiant Floor Heating System?
Which type of finish floors are compatible with radiant floor heating? This is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive.
The answer is that almost every type of flooring can be used with radiant heat. However, some options are better than others.
Some of the best finish floor options for a radiant floor heating system include: Tile, stone, and marble. These materials are the best conductors of radiant heat. You can also use hardwood, engineered hardwood, and laminate.
When it comes to carpet, things get a little tricky. You can definitely use carpet with a radiant floor heating system. The downside here is that carpet acts as an insulator and doesn’t conduct the same degree of heat as tile or stone. Carpet can actually block the radiant heat from rising. The insulation effect of carpet is maximized when you pair it with thick padding underneath the carpet.
You can still use carpet with a radiant floor heating system, just be sure to use a thin pad underneath the carpet to reap the benefits of your radiant floor heating system. Choose a pad that’s no thicker than 3/8ths of an inch. A foam rubber pad is the best option.
An electric radiant floor heating system can be covered with a floating floor that doesn’t need to be glued down or nailed to the subfloor. This is one of the reasons why an electric radiant floor heating is the perfect option for DIYers who want to warm their homes efficiently and effectively.
Chapter 2: The Pros and Cons of Floor Heating
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of radiant floor heating. What are the biggest benefits (and the biggest drawbacks) of installing this type of heating system in your home?
Pros of Radiant Floor Heating
Why choose radiant floor heating? Here’s a look at the top benefits you’ll get from installing and operating a radiant floor heating system in your home:
Evenly Heat an Entire Room
A radiant floor heating system allows you to efficiently heat up an entire room. That’s because with a radiant floor, your entire room is covered. There are no “hot spots” in a room. There are no cold corners, either. You enjoy an even blanket of warmth, rising from your toes.
Reduce Your Energy Bill
You’ll see a noticeable decrease in your energy bill when using radiant heat. Depending on the type of system and how much of your home it covers, you stand to save an average of 30% on your annual energy expenditures.
More Affordable Than Running a Furnace
Those who rely on gas, oil, or wood furnace heat can also benefit financially from a radiant floor heating system. Furnace heating systems are not only expensive to install, but they’re also expensive to run. This is because furnaces use electricity for ignition and fan motor operation. Also, you’ll find that the heat from a furnace quickly rises to the ceiling. You may feel comfortable on the sofa, but that warmth will quickly dissipate once your feel come in contact with the cold floor.
Reduces Allergies and Improves Air Quality
Those of us who suffer with allergies know that forced air systems can cycle and recycle dust and other allergens throughout the home. Radiant floor heating systems are proven to reduce the presence of dust mites in your home by up to 80%. You can breathe deeply knowing that your air is free of harmful substances that can trigger an immune attack.
No Duct Work to Deal With
Forced air systems may be a modern marvel, but they’re also a lot of hassle behind the scenes. Not only will you have to pay to get the duct system installed, you’ll also need to pay regularly for duct cleaning services (especially if you want to safeguard against airborne allergens). Radiant floors don’t require ductwork, which lets you save not just on one cost but a recurring cost that you’ll face as long as you have a forced air system.
Never Feel the Immediate Chill
Have you ever had this experience: You’re hot, so you turn off the forced air. Then, within 3 minutes, you’re cold again so you turn the forced air back on.
And then the cycle repeats itself.
With a radiant floor heating system, you’ll never get caught in that vicious cycle. The air remains a constant and comfortable warmth for as long as the system operates. And even after you shut off the radiant floors, you’ll still be able to enjoy the residual heat for hours, in most cases.
Low to No Maintenance
Electric radiant wires or mats require no maintenance. The system is truly set and forget. If you plan to install a hydronic radiant floor heating system, you’ll need to do an annual boiler or water heater check, which you’ll likely do regardless.
Easy to Install
Electric radiant floor heating systems are incredibly easy to install. They can be applied to the subfloor and tiled over directly. You don’t have to worry about the tile glue or grout damaging the electric mats. They won’t.
As mentioned earlier, hydronic radiant floor heating systems must be professionally installed.
Can be Installed Outdoors
Did you know that you could install radiant floors outside, too? You can use a radiant floor heating system to heat up your patio.
Doesn’t Interfere With Your Decoration
Sometimes, heating systems interfere with interior decor. Radiators, fireplaces, heat registers, stoves, and other heating devices can interrupt your furniture layout. You have to consider them when deciding on where to place the sofa or television.
However, with a radiant floor, you’re free to place furniture anywhere that you choose. Every part of the room will benefit from the same ambient temperature.
Also, a radiant floor heating system is aesthetically pleasing. There are no visible heating elements that you have to contend or play nice with. It doesn’t get in the way and it’s never an eyesore.
Cons of Radiant Floor Heating
Now, let’s discuss potential negatives to radiant floor heating.
You may not be able to install it yourself
Although you can definitely install an electric radiant floor heating system yourself, you won’t be able to do the same with a hydronic system. You’ll need to hire a professional to set it up and to buy the supplies. With an electric radiant floor heating system, you may also need to hire a professional electrician to connect your radiant floor to panel.
Can be expensive to install
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems are typically expensive to install, and may be cost prohibitive to do so. It’s definitely an investment.
Isn’t meant to be a standalone heating source
Radiant floor heating systems work best when used as a supplementary heating source. If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to get by with only radiant heat alone, but you probably won’t want to— at least not for the entire home. If you’re looking for a cost effective way to heat an add-on room or basement, you could use radiant floors as a standalone heating source. However, if you live in colder climate, you won’t be able to live on radiant heat alone.
To Sum it Up
While we know you’ll love running a radiant floor heating system in your home, it’s important that you consider both the pros and cons to make sure that it’s the right choice for you and your budget. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss how much it actually costs to install and then run a radiant floor heating system in your home.
Chapter 3: Is Radiant Floor Heating Worth It?
Now, let’s tackle the two burning questions in the back of your mind:
- How much does a radiant floor heating system cost to install and operate?
- Is it actually worth it to install a radiant floor heating system in your home?
We’ll start with costs.
How much does it cost to install a radiant floor heating system?
The answer depends on the type of radiant floor heating system that you use. Let’s crunch the numbers.
Hydronic radiant floor heating systems are expensive to install. The price varies wildly based on your selected installation method. You can expect up to $15 per square foot for installation. this means that your starting point for a hydronic radiant floor heating system ranges from $12,000 for a 2,000 square foot average home all the way up to $30,000. It also makes a hydronic radiant floor heating system approximately 50% more expensive to install than a conventional forced air heating system.
Electric radiant floor heating systems are decidedly less expensive than hydronic systems to install. You can expect to pay between $2 to $11 per square foot for installation. Price depends on the type of electric radiant floor heating system (cable kits or mats) and the size of the space that you’re fitting. Cable kits are cheaper than mats, but more labor intensive. And the more you buy, the less you’ll pay.
How much does it cost to operate a radiant floor heating system?
Let’s talk operating costs.
While hydronic radiant floor heating systems are more expensive to install, they can be less expensive to operate in the long run, although operating costs can be highly variable depending on a number of different factors (the efficiency of your heating unit, how the tubing is installed, how many rooms you’re heating with one system, etc.).
Electric systems are more straightforward.
With an electric radiant floor heating system, an 8 x 10 bathroom may consume the same amount of electricity as a few 100-watt light bulbs. The actual cost you’ll pay depends on how much your utility company charges per kilowatt hour.
Find your kilowatt hourly rate and then multiply that number by 8, which is the average amount of hours you’ll operate your radiant floor heating system. (The national average is 10¢ per kilowatt hour.)
Next multiply the total by the square feet of the space you’d like to heat up.
Then multiply this number by either the standard spacing, which is 12 watts, or the alternate spacing (mat kits), which is 16 watts.
Divide this number by 1000 to find your daily operating costs.
(3) Finally, multiply this number by either 12 watts (standard spacing) or 16 watts (alternating spacing or Mat Kits) and divide by 1000 for your daily operating costs.
Keep in mind that your supplemental radiant floor heating system will also offset your primary heating costs, too. This means that you’ll pay less for your primary heating when you install radiant floors.
A radiant floor heating system can be significantly more efficient in heating your home than a traditional forced-air heating system. How much you’ll save depends on how well insulated your home is to begin with. If you don’t insulate your walls, heat from any source will leak out and all of your hard work will go out the window (pun intended).
Is it worth it to install a radiant floor heating system in your home?
In the final analysis, is a radiant floor heating system the right choice?
When weighing the costs, remember that a radiant floor heating system is more efficient than other methods to maintain a even heat throughout a room. It also extends the life of your primary heating because it won’t need to work as hard. A radiant floor heating system will likewise offset your primary conventional heating costs.
Also, a radiant floor heating system is easy to maintain. Once you install it, you don’t have to do anything else. It will work on its own.
Chapter 4: How to DIY Install Radiant Heated Floors
Installing a radiant floor heating system is easy, especially if you opt for the electric system. But how easy?
Here’s a step by step guide to installing the different types of Easy Heat Warm Tiles® in your home. Keep in mind that different manufacturers may have different installation instructions.
For installing EASYHEAT® Warm Tiles® Floor Warming Cable System:
- Tile and Stone Over Double Layer Plywood
- Tile and Stone Over Cement Backerboard
- Tile and Stone Over Concrete
- Engineered, Floating Wood Floor Over Single Layer Plywood
- Crack Suppression Systems
- Anti-Fracture Systems
- Waterproofing Systems
For installing EASYHEAT® Warm Tiles® Floor Warming SAM Mat (Self-Adhesive Mat):
- Self-Adhesive Mat Tile and Stone Over Double Layer Plywood
- Self-Adhesive Mat Tile and Stone Over Cement Backerboard
- Self-Adhesive Mat Tile and Stone Over Concrete
- Self-Adhesive Mat Engineered, Floating Wood Floor Over Single Layer Plywood
- Self-Adhesive Mat Crack Suppression Systems
- Self-Adhesive Mat Anti-Fracture Systems
- Self-Adhesive Mat Waterproofing Systems
In addition to those installation tutorials, check out these videos that visually guide you through the process of installing your EASYHEAT® Warm Tiles® electric floor warming system:
- Installing Your Warm Tiles® Cable Kit
- New Construction Electrical Rough-In
- Renovation Electrical Rough-In
- Cable Installation on Double Plywood
- Cable Installation on Backerboard
- Cable Installation on Concrete
- Thermostat Wiring 240 Volt Units
Chapter 5: Frequently Asked Questions About Floor Heating
Still have questions? Here are answers to the most-asked questions on radiant floor heating.
How do I know which type of radiant flooring (electric or hydronic) is best for my needs?
The answer depends on the size of your project, your installation budget, and whether or not you’d like to earn your DIY stripes. In the large majority of remodel or new build situations, especially if you’re going to do it yourself, electric is going to be more affordable, easier to install, and easier to operate. Hydronic systems can make sense for new builds where a significant portion of the house is being heated; however, professional installation will be required.
Do I need to hire someone to install my radiant floor heating system or can I do it myself?
If you choose to install an electric radiant floor heating system, you can do it yourself. Hydronic systems require professional installation.
How difficult is it to install a radiant floor heating system myself?
It’s incredibly easy to DIY your electric radiant floor heating system. Simply follow the installation instructions that we have listed in chapter 4.
Do I need to have experience to install a radiant floor heating system?
No. Even if this is your first home DIY project, we’re confident that you’ll be able to install your electric radiant floors by yourself.
Can I install a radiant floor heating system on top of an existing subfloor or concrete?
Floor heating systems can be used with marble, ceramic, concrete, tile, slate, paver (brick, stone, etc.), laminate, and engineered floating wood floors. You should not use these systems with wood, carpet, linoleum, or vinyl. Additionally, electric floor heating cable must be embedded in mortar and shouldn’t be used for nail down installations.
How effective is a radiant floor heating system in a cold environment?
We don’t recommend using a radiant floor heating system by itself, especially in a cold environment. To get the most use out of this system, you should pair it with a primary heating source.
Is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) needed to run a radiant floor heating system?
Yes. A GFCI is required.
Can I use an electric radiant floor heating system in wet areas, such as a shower floor?
Yes, electric floor heating can be installed in tiled shower areas. You’ll need to install the cables in a scratch coat using the standard method noted in the installation instructions. Next, a waterproofing membrane is installed over the cables to ensure that all water from the shower is directed to the drain and does not come in contact with the cables.
How close to a toilet can I put heating cables?
Keep cables a minimum of 8 inches away from wax seal to keep the wax from melting.
How much height will a radiant floor heating system add to my floors?
Floors with heating systems installed are approximately 3/16″ higher on average than those without heating cables.
What type of thinset should I use?
You should use a polymer-modified thinset.
How close do I need to put the heating cables?
Heating cables should be kept a minimum of 2 inches apart.
How close to the wall can I install the heating cables?
Keep heating cables a minimum of 2 inches from the wall.
Will a radiant floor heating system improve my allergies?
Yes because it will minimize the circulation of mold, dust, and other allergens.
How long will it take to heat my floor when using a radiant floor heating system?
It takes between 30 minutes to one hour to warm the floor. The warming time depends on floor material and thickness.
How much electricity does a radiant floor heating system consume?
To calculate your individual costs, see chapter 3 of this guide.
Is there a way to regulate energy consumption with a radiant floor heating system?
Absolutely. You’ll regulate energy consumption by installing a smart programmable thermostat that has built-in energy efficiency settings.
What are the wattage requirements for a radiant floor heating system?
Most electric systems can be used with 120V or 240V.
How warm will my floor get to the touch?
The temperature range will vary depending on several variables, such as the spacing between the cable, how far the cables are from the tiles’ surface, the temperature of both the room and the area underneath the floor, and the total thermal mass of the floor. In general, cables will reach a maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Is radiant floor heating safe for my home?
Absolutely. Specific to Warm Tiles electric floor warming systems, thermostats, and relay kits, they have withstood rigorous safety testing by the Underwriter’s Laboratory and have received UL listing for the United States, as well as cUL certification for Canada. Additionally, all Warm Tiles thermostats contain a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) that provides protection against electrical shock.