Facing crawling out of bed and getting ready for work on these dark and cold January mornings is enough of a shock to the system, without stepping onto an icy-cold floor the moment you get up. Thankfully, there is a solution to the latter assault on the senses – underfloor heating.
Underfloor heating can certainly add a luxurious feel to your home, and potentially make it more attractive if you decide to sell the property. But it is generally more expensive to fit than conventional heating systems, sometimes costing upwards of £5,000. So, not only can it be a costly mistake if you get it wrong, but the installation itself can result in a lot of upheaval.
That’s why we have spoken to hundreds of homeowners and dozens of experts to get the inside track on underfloor heating.
Check out our in-depth underfloor heating guide for the full pros and cons. Or read on for three ways to ensure you get the best system for your home and budget.
1. Choose the right underfloor heating system for your house
There are two types of underfloor heating: water and electric. When we asked underfloor heating owners about the type they have in their home, 65% said they have electric underfloor heating and 35% have water*.
Electric underfloor heating is cheaper to buy and simple to install – you can even do it yourself. But it can be more costly to run and less powerful than a water system. Because of this, they’re generally better suited to smaller rooms, such as bathrooms, while water systems are good for large spaces.
We asked people which room or rooms they had their underfloor heating installed in. The graph below shows the difference between water and electric underfloor heating.
You’ll also need to think about the power of the system you’ll get. Electric systems vary in wattage from around 100W to 200W per square metre. Water systems come in different sizes, with bigger systems requiring more pipes.
Use the following to help you determine the system and power you choose:
- Think about the size and shape of the room. Smaller, more awkward rooms tend to suit electric underfloor heating better.
- Ask yourself how energy efficient the room is. The less efficient it is, the more powerful a system you’ll need.
- Check what the flooring below the heating is like. A less well-insulated floor will require a more powerful system. Most floors can be insulated in some way though.
- Consider what type of flooring you’ll have on top. You’ll need to match the power of the system to the flooring you want – you can read more on this below.
2. Use the best flooring on top of your underfloor heating
Technically, underfloor heating can go underneath any type of flooring. However, some types will allow heat through more readily and retain the heat better than others.
Stone is a particularly good conductor of heat, as are some tiles. Laminate and vinyl are also good.
If you have or want real wood floors, it’s worth checking with the manufacturer what the highest temperature the wood can take (typically 27°C) so that it doesn’t shrink or warp.
Engineered wooden, or laminate, floors are a much better choice if you don’t want to run the risk of problems in the future. However, it shouldn’t exceed a maximum thickness of 18mm.
Carpet isn’t the most efficient floor covering for underfloor heating, as it will take time for the heat to get through. But it can be used, as long as you keep the combined tog value of the underlay and carpet below 2.5.
If your heart is set on a particular type of flooring, your installer should be able to adjust the underfloor heating system output, screed and installation below to suit the floor type – read more about this below.
If you’re looking to get advice from an independent and trusted installer, you can use Which? Trusted Traders. All our traders go through rigorous background checks by ex-Trading Standards assessors, so they know how to root out a rogue.
3. Make sure the floor is properly prepared and insulated
It’s important that the floor the heating is being laid on has been properly prepared so that it’s level. This helps to avoid any issues with the system being damaged. The floor below will also need to be well-insulated so that the heat doesn’t get lost downwards.
To do this, underfloor heating is usually placed on top of a layer screed (made of sand and cement) or suspended timber (floorboards on joists). Insulation boards will then be laid on top of that.
For water underfloor heating, there needs to be enough space to accommodate this and the piping, so you might have to elevate the floor level. Because of this, it’s easier to install water underfloor heating in a new build, as these adjustments can be taken into consideration from the start.
If you’re retrospectively adding underfloor heating, the floor construction of your home will determine how much work will need to be done to ensure it’s suitable. This will, of course, affect to the cost.
Visit our page on underfloor heating costs and installation to find out more. You can also find out the average costs of underfloor heating, and exactly what can hike the price.
In addition, it includes tips from underfloor heating owners on what they wish they had known before getting it installed, and what they would have done differently, so you’ll know exactly what to expect and can avoid annoying or costly mistakes
(*In November 2017 we asked 104 Which? members with underfloor heating about their experiences with it in the past five years.)