How to choose flooring for under-floor heating

December 22, 2014

Here are some of the best options for flooring to pair with your heating.

How to choose flooring for under-floor heating

Most under-floor heating systems today involve laying an electric heating mat on the subfloor then covering over it.

Growing popularity of electric radiant heating

This kind of electric heating has been available for over 60 years, notably in Scandinavia, and is becoming more popular in Canada due to its increasing efficiency and decreasing costs.

  • Unlike other heating systems, electric radiant heating operates without moving parts or exposed heating elements.
  • It's invisible and inaudible.
  • Some floor systems are guaranteed up to 30 years.

Materials you can use with under-floor heating

You can put a low-temperature under-floor heat system beneath many kinds of material. Here are a few:

  • Solid hardwood or soft wood, although special care must be taken when specifying board width and thickness.
  • Engineered hardwood, which is made of layers of wood bonded together with adhesives under intense heat and pressure. It doesn't expand and shrink with the seasons like solid wood does.
  • Laminate or vinyl flooring can perform well. These products heat up and cool down quickly in comparison to stone or wood.
  • Carpet and underlay with a combined Tog (thermal resistance) value of up to 2.5 can be used with under-floor heating. Thicker carpets insulate and prevent heat reaching the room.

Tile and concrete

While the above products can be used with under-floor heating, the best option, according to manufacturers, is stone and ceramic tile, as they transfer heat most effectively. Plain concrete can also be used.

Using tile may also have health benefits.

  • Tile has very low VOC emissions (volatile organic compounds) in comparison to other flooring and can have a positive effect on indoor air quality.
  • Also, masonry surfaces can help reduce moisture and create conditions less favourable to supporting mould, bacteria, viruses, and dust mites.
  • There is generally recognition in the medical community that tile-floor heating systems can help reduce allergens.

Working with a professional

With any material you choose, check the manufacturer's recommended maximum floor surface temperature to ensure the product is suitable for use with under-floor heating.

  • Have a professional install your system.
  • Ontario’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) warns that "improperly installed electric floor heating systems may pose a fire or electric shock hazard. Several residential fires reported by the office of the Ontario Fire Marshal are associated with floor heating cables/pads that are not installed as per the manufacturer, or that have been damaged during installation."
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