Underfloor Heating

Choosing Underfloor Heating

It is hard imaging how societies centuries ago heated up their homes. Cavemen discovered fire which was timely as it their only means of getting warm aside from the draping the skin of their latest kill. It must have been quite a task chopping wood as feed for fireplaces and other forms of heating conveniences. The centuries of wood chopping for the fireplace cost   generations X, Y and Z a lot in terms of  green living and carbon emissions. Today, thanks to technology, the demand for wood as fuel is greatly lessened because there are new ways to keep warm and snug.

The use of boilers and furnaces for centralized heating is now slowly but surely being replaced by underfloor heating. The quest for a more environmental friendly method of heating up homes is the cause of  the shift.

Boilers and furnaces are used to heat up air or water (which turns to steam) which are then blown into the interior of a house upon reaching the preset temperature. Another method in use is the steam where water is heated up by a radiator. The heat generated by the generator is localized and not centralized like the boiler system.  These two methods have long been used in heating homes. However, these methods have become obsolete in terms of cost and energy efficiency.

The underfloor heating or radiant heating system is not a new concept.  The Romans have used the same principle in their homes and public buildings. The hypocaust system had ducts running under the floor that are on raised bricks.  Heated air is transported to the ducts that heated the floor above.

What could have been the ancestor of radiant heating system is the Koreans'  "ondol". The system work on the principle of  a stove placed below the floor level of  a house where it heats up water that releases hot steam that are then transported into different parts of the house by a network of flues.

Radiant heating has evolved in more ways than one. Multi-layer pipes under the flooring system are now heated by means of electricity or by boilers. There are radiant heating systems that can be modified so as to use solar energy. Underfloor heating is now more common in new constructions.

Underfloor Heating System: Two Typical Types

Regular convection heating has the tendency to warm the upper part of the body and leave the lower part cold. This is so because hot air rises. Since most force-air system heater ducts and vents are located above head level, the tendency of the hot air is to be blown straight out the vent into the interior where it slowly rises up to the ceiling. If the house is not air tight, heat loss could be massive and cold spots evident. Undefloor heating gives out even heat that starts at the feet  then  rises up over the head.

There are two types of underfloor heating used in today's homes.

Electric Underfloor Heating System - Cables in mats are laid out under the flooring system. This system works well in small areas like residential units. You can even have your bathroom and kitchen specifically installed with these cable mats for a warm and toasty feeling as you do your chores. Most companies have their own specifications for each type of flooring as the diameter of the cables in the mat has to be adjusted accordingly. The requirement for a wooden flooring will not be the same as for a stone flooring. This system can be easily installed by a DIY-er as you basically just have to lay out the mats, set up the controls and plug it in. Manufacturers have detailed instructions for laying their cable mats for DIY-ers.

Hot Water Underfloor Heating - This system calls for a series of pipes that are laid out and then embedded in the floor. Multi-layered pipes with a diameter of either 15 mm to 16 mm are used. Warm water that has been heated by a boiler is circulated through the pipes. This system can work on conventional heat pumps or solar powered heaters. Note that you should take into account the placement of furniture and appliances before installation. You would not want a heated pipe running under the freezer or the refrigerator or an air conditioner unit.

Confer with the installer about the flooring material as there are different requirements for each type of flooring. Ceramic and stone flooring would need larger pipes or a closer layout of pipes. 

Is Underfloor Heating Advisable?

Cable mats underfloor heating is easy to install.  A regular DIY-er can do this. The hot water system might be a little difficult to do but the cost of installation will be all worth it in the end. 

Underfloor heating is invisible as it is embedded in the floor. The heat that will radiate from below will be even. You can walk barefoot, or put your baby down on the heated floor without feeling cold.  The system is maintenance free and not obstructive. There's no more worry on the placement of furniture or the space-consuming radiators.

Traditional convection heating will leave your head hot and your feet cold. Underfloor heating gives out consistent even heating. Studies show that an ideal indoor temperature is 19° to 29° Celsius at the floor level and about 20° to 24° Celsius, which is just about in the range of underfloor heating system.

This system has the potential to be "green" technology because it can be converted to use solar energy. There are actually homes that are using "sun" power for their underfloor heating systems now.

However, underfloor heating has its disadvantages too. For one, the system is slow to warm up. Stone or ceramic tile flooring could take one to several hours to heat up while a wooden floor or laminates require 30 minutes to heat up. The speed of the heating process also depends on the depth of the embedded pipes. On the other hand, underfloor heating retains its heat longer and more efficiently.