Should You Hot-Foot It? The Pros and Cons of Radiant Floor Heat

by John Hargrave on January 8, 2015

Here’s a riddle: why do wedding dress retailers have heated floors?
Answer: Because they don’t want their brides getting cold feet.

Floor mats

Pretty funny, right? Wait... are you laughing with me or at me?

Certain flooring materials like tile or stone can get pretty chilly in the wintertime because they don’t conduct heat very well. Rugs, runners, and floor mats can mitigate this problem only so much, meaning that you’re forced to wear shoes, socks, or slippers if you want to keep your feet warm whenever you walk around your home.

However, there is a solution to this problem: heated flooring.

 

No More Cold Feet

There are two basic types of heated flooring commonly used today: electric and hydroponic. The names represent the source of the radiant heat, with electric heated flooring employing a cable hooked to a power source. Hydroponic heated flooring utilizes tubes through which hot water flows; these are hooked up to the home plumbing system and its hot water heater. Both types involve placing the cable/tubes on the subfloor underneath the flooring material itself, and both can be controlled separately from the home’s standard heating systems.

Sounds nice, right? Having warm floors throughout the winter months? But like any home improvement project, there are advantages and disadvantages to radiant heated floors.

 

Heated Floors: Pros

The benefits of heated floors extend beyond just foot comfort. Because the heat radiates upward, it can also provide extra warmth to an entire room; meaning that your furnace doesn’t have to work as hard to heat your home. Over time, this can help save money on your utility bills. Generally, radiant heating systems are easy to install and are built to last up to 35 years (or about twice as long as your average furnace).

Furthermore, heated floors are good for people who suffer from allergies, since no blower is needed to move warm air (and its irritants) around a room. The lack of a blower also makes this type of heating very quiet, so you won’t be disturbed by a heater “kicking on” throughout the day. Finally, you may not have to worry as much about blocking floor or wall vents with furniture if your heated floors are sufficient to warm up a room.

Floor mats

What a heated floor system looks like before the it is covered by flooring materials.

 

Heated Floors: Cons

Then again, the drawbacks associated with heated floors may be too significant to warrant their installation in your home. The biggest issue with heated floors is their upfront costs, especially when hydroponic systems are involved (since many rooms may not be configured for plumbing). For a whole-home installation project, heated floors will likely cost more than simply replacing the furnace, which is why this option isn’t as popular with budget-conscious homeowners.

Even if money isn’t an issue, installing heated floors may not be ideal in every situation. Since there can be hundreds of feet of cable or tubes involved, pinpointing a system malfunction can sometimes be difficult. If heated floors aren’t installed properly, the flooring materials under which they sit can be damaged from the natural expansion and contraction when they are heated and cooled repeatedly. Finally, heated floors don’t work as quickly to raise the temperature of a room as furnaces do; unlike hot air which is dispersed fairly quickly within a space, it takes longer for the flooring surface (as well as the room itself) to heat up to a comfortable temperature.

Floor mats

The furry members of your household will enjoy heated floors, too.

In the end, all homeowners must make their own decisions regarding whether heated floors are a favorable addition to and cost-efficient investment in their home. One thing that’s not in dispute? Heated floors are heaven on bare feet when the outdoor temperature is low.

Written by Chris Martin

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