What’s under your feet (or however you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Mornings always find a way to come too quickly, with familiar, jarring rituals. An alarm clock jangles you awake, and an elaborate yawn-and-stretch combo reveals that, somehow, you’ve wrenched your elbow (or neck, or back) while sleeping. Already, a slew of text messages and work emails light up your cell phone, blinking in need of attention. Then—after all this!—we’re forced to tip-toe onto the cold tile of a bathroom floor in order to get ready for the day. For most, it’s a lot to take in before 8 a.m.
But, if you are considering a flooring renovation, you can easily eliminate one of these obstacles: Enter radiant floor heating.
“No one thinks they want heat in the floor until they get heat in the floor,” says general contractor Joe Truini. “They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! I should have done the whole house!’”
The Home Depot has several different types of heating systems and voltage levels to choose from, so wherever you plan to integrate under floor heating you can get it right.
Radiant heat is best for tile and stone
While any flooring type can technically be heated, it takes a bit of research to determine whether or not it’s the right fit for the material you’d like to use. Tile and stone are the best conduits for underfloor heating because they easily transfer heat to the floor surface and, once there, retain it. Hardwood is a far bigger challenge due to the risk of buckling, while heating carpet depends on the thickness and density of the weave. (For laminate and vinyl, check with the manufacturer.)
Tile and stone are the best conduits for underfloor heating because they easily transfer heat to the floor surface and, once there, retain it.
Fortunately, for those of us with cold-bathroom dread in the morning, tile and stone are some of the most common flooring materials found everywhere from powder rooms to en suite baths, making them the ideal place to test out a small oasis of heated floor bliss.
Budget-friendly vs. whole-home heating
Floors can generally be heated in two ways: using hydraulic energy or electricity.
- Hydraulic energy (above) is typically used for bigger jobs or whole-home heating, and while it is eventually quite budget-friendly, the process for installation is often fairly involved and likely not the right choice for someone’s first attempt at installing heated flooring.
- Electric radiant heating (below), on the other hand, is fairly straightforward, and if a flooring overhaul is already in the works, adding a warming component to the mix is as simple as installing either low-voltage electric mats or higher-voltage wiring.
Low-voltage electric mats are likely the only true DIY option of the bunch (unless you have a keenly skilled electrician handy). They can be custom cut to work within your space—whether it’s a kitchen, laundry room, or bath—and then installed atop the subflooring, provided there’s enough insulation.
Or, in the case of some above-the-floor heat mats, with extra mortaring for protection. Some heat mats arrive with a thermostat system already built in to more easily regulate how quickly the flooring heats up, and if you’ve decided to heat a larger space (or several small spaces), expect to see a reduction in your heating bill since your HVAC won’t be as taxed.
Electric mats come in standard sizes, and they’re cut to fit, says Truini. He adds that the mats even come in custom sizes to fit around essentials like vanities and toilets. Installation includes laying down a suitable tile backer, spreading mortar, and then placing electric mats in the mortar, with more added on top. Then, tile is installed over the mat. “That means that the heat can come straight through!”
High-voltage wiring works somewhat differently, but is also more customizable within the space. Truini recommends checking out Ditra Heat by the German company Schluter if you’re interested in going this route. Wires snap into the system’s honeycomb-like pattern to add heat where you want. For example, Truini explains, you can place them close together in front of a vanity where you might often stand. But, if there’s a corner that isn’t used often, you don’t have to add any there.
“I’ve actually seen them installed in a shower, where they put them on the bench seat and on the walls,” Truini says.
Safety first, then satisfaction
Of course, make safety your first priority. Don’t be a hero when it comes to attempting any electrical work that feels uncomfortable—there are experts for that. And before you begin any floor heating project, make sure to consult with an electrician who can double-check that your current circuits can withstand the additional, uh, heat: 8 and 12 watts per square of heated floor is the standard usage estimate.
You deserve a little bit of extravagance in your day-to-day life, and there’s a case to be made that heated floors are the perfect level of extravagance. When it’s snowing, Truini says, it’s a particular treat to step into his heated bathroom in the morning. “It’s just luxurious,” he says. And who doesn’t deserve luxury?