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How does Underfloor Heating work?

Most of us in the UK are used to having radiators in each room. They are a staple structure in millions of homes and businesses and have been by far the most popular form of heating over the last half a century or more.

underfloor heating installers at work

In recent years, however, several alternatives have started to become popular, in particular, because of our need to find better economic and eco-friendly solutions.

One of these is underfloor heating which is being installed in more new builds today than ever before. It’s also a good choice if you are thinking of retrofitting an existing property.

We’ve seen a growth in the industry of around 13% each year over the last decade, with many local businesses providing cost-effective installations and the chance for homeowners and businesses to add greater energy efficiency to their homes.

With lower heat outputs than your average radiators, underfloor heating is often more suited for well-insulated, airtight rooms and homes. That doesn’t mean you can’t have underfloor heating fitted for an older home but you may also need to consider cutting down those drafts and improving insulation at the same time.

Here we take a look at how underfloor heating works, what the benefits are and how to get it installed in your home or business.

What is Underfloor Heating?

Underfloor heating has been around since the Greek and Roman times and it was an extremely efficient way to warm up a room. Stone floors had open, underground areas called hypocausts where warm air or water could be circulated. You can still see examples of structures such as these in places like Bath.

Indeed, until gas central heating and electric fires came along, underfloor heating was popular in the homes of the rich.

Underfloor heating has seen a resurgence in recent years with improvements in technology that means it can be fitted into almost any home. You can find either waterbased heating that is delivered through a network of pipes or electrical heating that makes use of a thin, insulated mat.

In modern homes, underfloor heating can be linked to modern renewable technology such as a heat pump but it can be just as well be connected up to the home boiler or the electrical network.

Underfloor heating can be fitted in any room with almost any type of floor covering. It’s easy to maintain and safe to run. For most homes, electric underfloor heating is the easiest to install and is more cost-effective.

7 Benefits of Underfloor Heating

  1. It’s energy-efficient: Traditional radiators need to be heated up to a high degree to get a room warm, especially during cold weather. Underfloor heating operates at a much lower temperature and provides more immediate coverage.
  2. No cold spots: One problem with older heating systems like radiators is that you can often end up with cold spots in a room or around the home. Underfloor heating covers the entire floor so this is never a problem, even on the coldest days.
  3. Reduces dust mites: These tend to gather in the carpet area and benefit from cooler areas to breed and grow. Underfloor heating generates enough warmth to keep these pests to a minimum.
  4. Easy to run: Radiators and other heating systems have a lot of working parts which can go wrong, whether it’s the boiler or air in the radiator itself. Underfloor heating requires little or no maintenance and can be run through a smart Wi-Fi thermostat to maintain the right temperature at all times.
  5. More space and freedom to design: One thing most people forget is that radiators take up a lot of room and can influence layout. You don’t want to put the sofa up against a radiator and block the heat, for example. There’s no such problem with underfloor heating and it gives you much more scope.
  6. It works with any floor covering: While different floor coverings have their individual thermal properties, electrical underfloor heating can be used with stone, tile, carpet, wood and laminate and even vinyl.
  7. It’s safe: Today’s modern underfloor heating solutions are produced to very high standards and are completely safe. It never gets too hot and provides more comfort and easy heating compared to traditional radiators.

Types of Underfloor Heating

There are two ways to heat your floor. The first is using a network of hot water pipes that are either served by a device like a heat pump or your home boiler.

The second, and by far the easiest to install and most popular, is electrical underfloor heating. This can be connected up to the mains and controlled by a digital thermostat. In newer systems, you can even use your mobile phone.

The big issue with water-based or ‘wet’ underfloor heating is that you need to put in place a network of pipes and connect them up. This is usually quite invasive, takes time and costs more than most electric underfloor heating solutions. Wet underfloor heating is best installed in new builds as part of the design rather than for retrofitting an existing property.

Electric underfloor heating is also suitable for small rooms such as the bathroom where you can easily add more comfort and the system can be laid down in just a few hours.

What is the Best Floor Covering for Underfloor Heating?

Underfloor heating can be used with any floor finish but you should look at conductivity when making your choices.

Tile and stone flooring, for example, conduct heat pretty quickly so it’s ideal for areas like kitchens. If you have an existing stone floor, however, you’ll need to take it up and replace it to fit the underfloor heating in place.

Laminate flooring is becoming increasingly popular in homes around the UK. Thinner panels with a higher density work best with underfloor heating. Engineered wood also performs well with this type of heating system.

Some carpets act as insulators so it’s critical to take this into account when deciding to introduce underfloor heating. You should look at a tog of no more than 1.5 when both the carpet and the underlay are combined.

Vinyl, on the other hand, heats up and cools down pretty quickly so it works well but underfloor heating is not recommended for areas where there may be rapid heat loss.

Is Underfloor Heating Economical?

Underfloor heating is certainly more economical than traditional radiators. Radiators tend to sit at the side of the room. They work by heating the air around them and this needs to spread into the room before you feel the full effect. Because underfloor heating covers the whole floor you don’t have the same lag that you have with radiators.

Radiators also need to operate at higher temperatures which means they use more fuel and cost extra to run just to get a room warm for a few hours. Modern underfloor heating can be carefully controlled and the newest systems allow you to monitor and change the temperature in each room with your mobile phone.

In many new build homes, underfloor heating is combined with energy-efficient heat pumps that make them even more cost-effective. These pumps take energy from the outside, the ground or a water source to produce low-level heat in a property. They are extremely energy efficient and are considered renewable technology.

According to Simply Switch, the cost of running electric underfloor heating is very cheap. A small bathroom run for four hours each day could cost as little as £3 a month, while a medium-size living room might cost as little as £10 a month.

Is Underfloor Heating Expensive?

The answer to this is going to vary quite a lot depending on what you want to achieve. If you are looking to have underfloor heating for a small room like the bathroom, it can be relatively cheap. If you want to furnish your entire home it may cost between £75 and £100 per square metre for electric underfloor heating.

Water or wet underfloor heating is more expensive for a variety of reasons. First of all, you need to take up the floor and install a network of pipes. You also need to plan this to be as efficient as possible. The time taken to complete the installation can also add to the initial cost.

How is Underfloor Heating Installed?

The easiest to install is electric underfloor heating as this usually involves placing a mat of wires under the existing floor and connecting it to the mains.

Before you do anything, however, you need to make sure that the room is properly insulated. Because these systems deliver heat at low levels, any draft or cold spot can make a difference to efficiency.

Whether you have carpet, are laying beneath a stone floor, vinyl or engineered wood, you will need to take into account the amount that the underfloor heating matting is going to lift your floor. This is important because it can make doors difficult to open and close. The good news is that most modern underfloor electrical matting is very thin.

Once the system is laid and connected up, it will often be covered with a thin layer of screed which helps the heat be felt more quickly. This needs to dry completely before the original flooring is replaced.

Installing wet underfloor heating requires you to take up the floor and put in pipework that is then connected to a nearby boiler or other heating systems. If you want the heating in just one room this can be quite a simple process.

If you are planning to have it for your entire home, it requires careful planning and an understanding of the existing plumbing system, which is why this method is often left to new builds rather than retrofits.

You can install underfloor heating yourself but DIY is not recommended for bigger installations. Even if you do install your heating pad, you should get a qualified electrician to connect it up and ensure it works safely. For bigger rooms, we suggest that you use a local installer that specialised in underfloor heating.

How Do I Control My Underfloor Heating?

Your underfloor heating can be paired with a thermostat and you can control it in the way you would your normal heating. In more modern systems, this can also be linked to your mobile phone with an app that enables you to set the timer or put the heating on before you return home.

For a small area like a bathroom, you may be content to have a simple switch that you can operate to heat the area.

Can You Retrofit Underfloor Heating?

If you have decided to change your traditional radiators for underfloor heating in an older house, there are some things you need to consider before going ahead. The first is how well insulated your home is.

Older properties tend to have more drafts and cold spots which can mean that underfloor heating works less efficiently. It’s critical to get this remedied before you start the installation. In newer properties, underfloor heating is used regularly nowadays because they are tightly insulated.

If you are just adding underfloor heating to a small room, this might not be so important. It’s essential, however, to get the advice of a professional service when you are retrofitting an older property if you are not completely sure that underfloor heating is appropriate.

Is Underfloor Heating Suitable for Businesses?

Underfloor heating can be used in offices and can be a cost-effective solution and keep down operating costs. As with domestic properties, a lot depends on how well insulated the office space is and how large it is.

Underfloor heating is certainly used in some hospitality and retail sectors and works exceptionally well.

Is Underfloor Heating Suitable for My Garden Office?

Garden offices are becoming increasingly popular with many of us choosing to set up small businesses from home. Underfloor heating is ideal for a small space such as this and can easily be installed.

Why Choose AddHeat for Your Underfloor Heating

Operating across Stockport, Cheshire, Macclesfield and Manchester, AddHeat have all the experience you need when it comes to water and electric underfloor heating systems. We have worked on new builds as well as retrofitting older properties, for both domestic and commercial customers.

All the people who work for us are gas safe and OFTEC registered engineers who understand how to set up underfloor heating systems. As a family-owned business, we work with local homeowners and commercial enterprises to find the best solution for their needs.

If you are considering installing underfloor heating, it’s best to talk to the experts. Contact the friendly, professional team at AddHeat to see how we can help.

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