Underfloor Heating – The Basics

Renovating a property provides a golden opportunity to become more energy efficient. After all, who doesn’t want to cut their gas and electricity bills. Today, there are heaps of new technologies available to help you save energy, without compromising on home comforts, or indeed by making life more comfortable.

One such technology is underfloor heating (UFH). Although aware of it, we had not considered it for ourselves until we started talking to providers at Grand Designs Live. Our initial reaction was skeptical; we had doubts about its reliability and effectiveness. However, after many long conversations at exhibition stands and some careful research, we have decided to replace radiators with underfloor heating.

On the ground floor, we are installing a wet system that relies on heated water from the boiler. In the bathrooms on the first floor and loft room, we are installing a dry system – an electric mat.

These are the five reasons we changed our minds about underfloor heating:

1. Energy efficiency was the main reason for making the switch. A normal radiator system needs a water temperature of around 60 – 80 degrees C. The hot water fills a radiator causing it to heat up and radiate the heat out into the room.

By contrast, an underfloor heating system runs at around 40 – 60 degrees C. The heated water fills pipes laid across the floor and the heat radiates up through the flooring. By spreading the heat over a larger area, UFH is more efficient at heating a room.

In fact, many people run the system constantly at a low temperature. For peak times, the temperature is boosted by a few degrees before falling to a low steady state. The variation between these extremes is far less than with a radiator system, resulting in energy efficiency and thereby savings.

On the left is a conventional radiator system: the heat rises, drawing cold air across the room and setting up a cycle that will, in time, heat a room. On the right, an underfloor heating system heats the whole room evenly. The heat just rises. Images from ProWarm.

2. Control was the second reason. With a radiator system either the whole house is on, or it is off. By adding individual radiator controls and room thermostats, it is possible to have a little more control, but they pale in comparison to UFH.

Our whole ground floor area will be split into zones: the hall, the front room and the open plan area – split into two zones: the kitchen zone and the living zone. Each area has its own thermostat. In the morning, the hall and open plan area will become warmer as we get ready for work. Similarly, in the evening, the open plan area will be warm while we cook and have our dinner – the kitchen zone running at a lower temperature than the living zone. Once we are done and want to move to the front room, the open plan area will drop in temperature,while the front room will warm up at the time we need it.

The flexibility offered is fantastic. Only the rooms that are needed are heated, and only for as long as necessary. While it might seem more expensive to keep a system on all the time, it is in fact cheaper because the temperature at which the system is running is lower than a conventional radiator.

A range of thermostat controls are available depending upon your budget and needs. This is the new generation of smart controls by industry leader, Polypipe. Most providers now offer Smart Thermostats that allow the heating to be controlled by a phone app.  No need to come back from holiday to a cold home. Just switch on the heating from the airport!

3. The combination of low heating temperature and high level of control means we will only heat the rooms we use, as we use them. No need to heat up the whole house. Since running a boiler makes up the vast majority of household gas bills, we expect to see a significant fall in our gas bills.

We can also be extremely content knowing we are doing our bit for the environment and only using the energy we absolutely need.

4. Aesthetics was the final reason. How wonderful to be free of ugly radiators, to arrange furniture wherever we want, and to decorate as we choose. No more having to work around a radiator.

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are best suited to UFH. They heat up quickly and lose the heat quickly. With so many amazing tiles available, it is easy to achieve whatever look you desire, from slate to the new wood effect porcelain.

5. Health benefits – just a final point, for allergy and asthma suffers UFH can help because it doesn’t rely on air circulation like radiators. There are therefore fewer air borne particles floating around a space, and there is no build up of dust in open vent radiators. For everyone, the usual dryness associated with central heating systems is alleviated.

Of course nothing is perfect. Underfloor heating has an impact on the type of flooring you can use. Ceramic or porcelain tiles are best for UFH because of their thermal qualities. By contrast, timber and carpet are natural insulators so less suited for these systems. However, manufacturers are making progress on these materials and engineered wood, specifically designed for UFH, is now widely available. In addition, carpet manufacturer Brintons has carried out research on the best carpets for UFH.

There is also the concern that a pipe might burst causing leaks and damage to flooring. But this is a risk we run anyway with a normal system and many manufacturers provide long warranties on the pipes. After all it is in their interests to ensure the pipes are durable.

Over the long run, UFH is likely to become the norm. Over 80% of homes in Sweden rely on this system and as the demand for ever more energy savings grows, UFH will become an important consideration for commercial and domestic properties alike.

Take a look at our Pinterest board for images of underfloor heating installations: tenderfootdzine/underfloor-heating

Useful Links

For more information about underfloor heating systems check out these market leaders:

Polypipe Underfloor Heating, ProWarm,

The Underfloor Heating Store,

Vario Pro, Nu-Heat, Brintons

 

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