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Underfloor Heating Pros and Cons

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Underfloor heating (UFH) is an indoor space heating method that is believed to have been invented around 5000BC. However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that this form of heating began to reappear in North American and European homes. Due to its high efficiency and luxurious touch, underfloor heating is replacing the radiator and is becoming the new standard form of heating in new builds and renovated properties. But is underfloor heating the right solution for your home?

If that is the question that has been troubling you, then you have come to the right place. This expert guide explores this intelligent way of heating homes, explaining how it works, and shedding light on its advantages and disadvantages.

What is underfloor heating, and how does it work?

Underfloor heating is an energy-efficient heating system that uses radiant heat technology to warm a room from the ground up. The system is usually installed within the floor, making the floor one big radiator that provides uniform heating.

An underfloor heating system heats the room’s floor at a temperature of about 30 degrees, depending on the type of floor installed in the room. The floor then transfers the heat to the surrounding objects and people in the room via radiation (80%) and convection (20%). With every inch of the floor radiating heat, the room is heated evenly, and there won’t be any cold spots.

Underfloor heating systems are usually laid on an insulating material to ensure that the heat doesn’t escape into the ground.

Types of underfloor heating

Underfloor heating is available in two types: wet underfloor heating and electric underfloor heating.

Wet underfloor heating

Wet or warm water underfloor heating consists of a network of pipes or tubes buried within the floor screed or laid between the floor joists. The pipes are filled with warm water circulated by a boiler, heat pump, or a solar water heating system.

Installation of a wet underfloor heating system is complex and is mainly done on new builds. It is also possible to retrofit wet underfloor heating to your existing floors, but the process would be expensive and highly disruptive.

Electric underfloor heating

Electric or dry underfloor heating consists of a series of thin heating wires or electric heating sheets installed below or within the flooring. The cables or heating sheets are connected to a central room thermostat control and warm up the floor when required.

Although electric underfloor heating is cheaper to install, it can be 3x more expensive to run than a wet underfloor heating system owing to the high cost of electric heating. Therefore, it is best installed in single small areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, or en suites.

Pros of underfloor heating

Underfloor heating has several advantages that give it an edge over other heating systems. Here are some benefits of installing underfloor heating in your home.

  1. High energy efficiency

Underfloor heating systems are designed to run at lower temperatures than traditional radiators, meaning you get to save a lot on your annual energy bills. Whereas traditional radiators need to be heated to around 70 degrees, underfloor heating runs at a temperature of 30 degrees or even lower.

And since the heat from underfloor heating radiates from the floor up, the room will remain warm even when the door or windows are open. This means that even in draughty conditions, your boiler won’t be overworked.

The lower operating temperatures and high energy efficiency of wet underfloor heating will lower your energy bills by around 15%.

  1. Uniform heating across large areas

Unlike radiator heating, where areas near the radiators are hot while the middle of the room is cold, underfloor heating provides uniform heat distribution across the room. The whole floor will be radiating heat evenly, providing maximum comfort and eliminating cold spots.

  1. More space and design freedom

Installing underfloor heating eliminates the need for bulky radiators that typically take up space on your walls. It allows you to push furniture right up against the wall, thereby freeing up valuable space. Underfloor heating will increase the available floor area in your home by about 12%.

With more floor area and free walls, you can arrange your room however you want, and you can decorate your walls without planning around the radiators.

  1. Easy to manage

Underfloor heating systems require almost no maintenance once they are up and running. Moreover, they come with extensive warranties that can cover up to 50 years, meaning you will be covered should they malfunction down the line.

It is, however, essential to note that although electric underfloor heating systems don’t require annual maintenance, wet systems will need to be checked by a professional engineer once in a while. This will ensure that the system operates smoothly and resolve any developing issues.

Underfloor heating systems are also compatible with smart thermostats, meaning you can control your home’s heating even when you are away.

  1. Compatible with all floor types

Underfloor heating works on all floors, be it cement, stone, tile, laminate, carpet, or vinyl. However, as the conductivity of different floor materials varies, you should consult a heating engineer to find out the system that best suits your home’s flooring.

  1. Better indoor air quality

Radiators heat a room by circulating hot air around it. The circulation of air around the room spreads dust which can impact the health of persons suffering from asthma or dust allergies. On the other hand, underfloor heating features little convection and won’t disturb the air inside the room, making it a cleaner heating system.

Additionally, as underfloor heating operates at low temperatures, the oxygen levels in the room won’t be impacted when the system is on.

  1. Safety and comfort

With an underfloor heating system, you can sleep at peace knowing that the younger members of your family are safe from the sharp edges and hot surfaces associated with radiators.

Moreover, unlike radiators that warm the ceiling more than the floor, underfloor heating focuses more on the floor. This means you can walk barefooted around the house even in the coldest of winters.

  1. It can be easy to install

A wet underfloor heating system is easy to install if you are doing a new build project or renovating your existing house. You can also install an electric system yourself, especially if you are doing it in a small room. However, ensure you call a certified electrician to connect the system to your electricity supply.

  1. Increased home value

As earlier mentioned, underfloor heating adds a touch of class to your home. Moreover, as it is seen as an ultra-modern and highly advanced heating solution, it increases the value of your home, and potential buyers would be willing to pay more for it. This means that your investment in underfloor heating won’t be in vain if you end up selling your home.

Cons of underfloor heating

Like any other heating solution, underfloor heating also has its disadvantages. Therefore, you should consider the following shortcomings before committing to investing in underfloor heating.

  1. It is expensive to install

The cost of installing underfloor heating is 20-50% higher than installing a radiator system. Usually, the total installation cost will depend on factors such as:

  • The type of system you choose – wet systems are more complex to install and will cost 2-3 times the electric system installation cost.
  • The size of the installation – smaller projects like bathroom installation are cheap, whereas extensive ones such as a whole-house installation will cost more.
  • Installer rates – different installers charge different rates but expect to spend around £200 – £300 a day in labour costs.
  • Electrician or plumber rates – the installer will only lay the underfloor heating system in your home but will not connect it to your power supply or boiler. You will, therefore, have to call an independent electrician or plumber to join it, and they will charge you varying rates.
  1. Lengthy installation time

Underfloor heating installation projects take a longer time compared to radiator systems. This is because the self-levelling compound used in the installation process needs to dry before you can reinstall the floor coverings. For instance, electric systems will require 1-2 days to be completed. On the other hand, Wet systems need more time and can take several days or weeks to be completed.

  1. Floor height issues

Installing underfloor heating, especially wet systems in renovated houses, will raise the floor height by a few centimetres. This is usually the case considering the pipes and floor insulation increase the floor height. And with the floor height increasing yet the ceiling is fixed, there might be problems with fixtures such as doors.

  1. It takes a longer time to heat a room.

Due to the low operating temperatures of underfloor heating systems, they tend to take longer to heat a room from the bottom up.

  1. Repairs can be disruptive and expensive.

Wet underfloor heating systems are complex, and if they develop issues, your floor will have to be damaged for repairs to be done. Repairing the heating system and restoring the floor can be expensive.

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