The pros and cons of installing underfloor heating

It’s officially snow season and our thoughts turn to keeping our homes warm. There are different ways to do that, and one of those ways is via underfloor heat.

In ancient Rome, underfloor heating was the height of sophistication — a sign its owner was an individual of high status. When it came to Roman building methods, it was state-of-the-art, cutting edge, something you might have invited the local merchants round to see, with your hypocaust (underground furnace) at full tilt to show you meant business. These were expensive systems to maintain, requiring round-the-clock attention, probably by a small team of attendants and vast amounts of fuel to drive the furnace. But what about underfloor heating today? Two thousand years later, we’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s stone cold.

What is underfloor heating?

Let’s start with the basics. Underfloor heating is a method of temperature control,  incorporating a system of underfloor pipes or wires to heat the air above the floor. The pipes or wires are heated to a temperature higher than the air temperature inside the room. This heat then transfers away from the pipes or wires into the air, leaving the room warmer.

What are the benefits of underfloor heating?

There are several benefits to underfloor heating that differ from forced air furnaces and other heating methods

• Immediate efficiency At its root, a system of underfloor heating is much like a radiator — a radiator the size of your floor. With a larger surface area, these systems require less energy because they don’t need to be as hot. Suppose you had ten radiators in the room you’re reading this from — to heat the room, they could each be set to a much lower temperature than a single radiator with the same responsibility.

How much more efficient, you ask? It depends on the type of underfloor heating system (UFH) and what you use to heat it. A UFH with a boiler produces about a 25% efficiency increase (compared to radiators), while a UFH with a heat pump creates about a 40% increase. Underfloor heating may require water heated to a temperature between 30 and 40°C. Radiators, by comparison, may require water heated to 70°C and above.

• Long-term efficiency Underfloor heating is typically rated for 30 to 40 years of efficient operation; radiators, by comparison, are rated for eight to 12 years of efficient operation. An inefficient radiator may require greater amounts of energy to heat your home, and thus be more expensive than a more efficient system. An investment in underfloor heating could help reduce costs for years to come.

• Reduction in cold spots Underfloor heating can help maintain an even temperature throughout the room. Other heating systems — with heat provided from single positions — may leave parts of the room at lower temperatures (cold spots). The difference in temperature across the room may be insignificant within modern installations, but in a room heated by older radiators, the temperature could vary by up to 4°C, requiring auxiliary radiators, further increasing domestic energy consumption.

What are the disadvantages of underfloor heating?

There are a few disadvantages to underfloor heating that important to consider.

 • More expensive to install Although generally less expensive to run, underfloor heating can be more expensive to install than a system of radiators. How much more expensive depends on whether the home is a new build (i.e. the underfloor heating can be installed as the house is built) or whether the underfloor heating needs to be retrofitted (that is, installed after the home is built). Pipes or wires for underfloor heating must be installed, as the name suggests, under the floor, and this is much easier to do before the floor has been laid. Retrofitting underfloor heating can be a difficult process. Pulling up your entire floor may be impractical and may result in damage to any existing underfloor installations. Labour for a professional installation can also be costly. .

• More expensive to repair Once installed, access to underfloor heating is limited. If there’s a malfunction, particularly with electric underfloor heating, it may be difficult to locate. Electric underfloor heating is cheaper than water-based, or ‘wet’, underfloor heating to install, but much more expensive to run and uses electric wires to heat the home. Unfortunately, if there is a deficiency at one point in the circuit, it may be difficult to locate under the floor.

Something else to keep in mind when it comes to underfloor heating is while it can reduce cold spots, it’s typically more difficult to control the actual level of heat. It can also take longer for the room to heat up if it’s a large space, and in turn take longer to cool down as well. This is why underfloor heating, while great for certain rooms or spaces in your home, like a bathroom, nursery or studio, isn’t ideal for your entire home. Yes, it’s a good source of supplementary heat, but as a whole-home option, it’s generally not efficient or cost effective.

Is it time for you to embrace Roman style and switch to underfloor heating? It’s clear there are strongs pros to this type of system, but it’s also important for you to consider your individual needs and whether the costs are worth it to you. If you’re still unsure, contacting a professional is always the way to go.