Radiant heat is quickly becoming a popular option across the Front Range. On a cold winter morning, nothing feels better than hopping out of bed and hitting a warm floor.
However, not all flooring choices work well with radiant heating. To get your desired result, choose your flooring wisely. The right flooring choice will give you the warmth you’re looking for, without jeopardizing your safety in the process.
What is radiant flooring?
Before we get into floor selection, it’s important to understand what radiant flooring is.
There are three separate types of radiant heating: hydronic, electric, and air-heated. Of the three, hydronic and electric offer the most efficiency, making them the most popular choices.
Radiant heating doesn’t work like a gas-forced air heating system. Heat doesn’t rise, which makes it possible to cover a larger area with lower temperatures.
Hydronic systems use circulated water through tubing embedded in the concrete slab. This is usually done during construction. Hydronic systems can be powered with a wide variety of power supplies, including electric, solar, geothermal, natural gas, and oil, or any combination of them.
Electric systems use rolled cables in a looping pattern braced with mats, mesh, or film. It’s embedded in a concrete slab, installed underneath the subfloor or flooring, depending on the installation method used. This is often the best choice if adding radiant heating after construction.
While air-heated is an option, it doesn’t compare to the other two, and isn’t used as frequently. Air is pumped through a series of pipes embedded in the flooring. Because air can’t reach and maintain temperatures as well as other power sources, this is thought to be a secondary heating source instead of the primary one.
Design tips for flooring over radiant heating
Because you’ll be laying flooring over the radiant heating system, it’s important to consider your options carefully to achieve the best results possible. Why spend the time and money installing radiant flooring if it doesn’t heat your home well? Depending on what flooring you choose, you’ll experience different results.
What pushes individual flooring choices into the “good” or “bad” for use with radiant heating centers on the thickness of the flooring, and the conducive nature of the flooring materials. Thicker choices are harder to heat, and dissipate the heat quickly after heating. Mineral-based flooring are excellent thermal conductors. Some flooring materials expand and contract based on inside conditions, while others maintain their shape in all kinds of situations.
While virtually all flooring materials can be used with heated floors, there are special considerations to keep in mind depending on your final selection. Flooring options have different R-values, which impact how much heat you’ll receive by using them in conjunction with radiant heating.
The worst at meeting all of these needs is carpet. While it can be used with radiant heating, you won’t be as happy with the results compared to other flooring materials.
Porcelain or ceramic tile
Choosing a flooring that already has thermal-conducting properties, such as stone, marble and ceramic tile, will hold more heat than other choices, making them preferred flooring choices over radiant heat. Ceramic tile consistently tops the list for bathroom choices because it stores heat well. If you’ve dreaded cold mornings in the master bath before, filling your room with plush rugs, radiant heating can change the way you look at tile, and make your bathroom warm whenever you desire.
Porcelain and ceramic tile are ideal for use with radiant heating because it conducts heat well. Its thin structure means it’s easy to lay over the heating system, and will continue to hold heat without a lot of work. Tile will heat up rapidly, and retain the heat longer once the system is turned off. Tile is also the perfect choice to use when moisture can be an issue, as it will not rot when used with hydronic systems.
Like porcelain and ceramic tile, natural stone is also a good choice for use with radiant heating systems. Like tile, it will warm quicker and retain heat longer after shut-off. Natural stone is thicker than tile, and will take longer to warm to the touch. Yet it has a lot of other qualities of tile in that it won’t be impacted by moisture, and won’t degrade over time.
If you want the look of hardwood, many homeowners lean towards laminate because of the additional benefits it offers. If moisture may be an issue, laminate will hold up better than traditional hardwood. However, laminate is still wood. Water will impact the structure quickly to the point of no return.
If you want hardwood in your home, and love the thought of heated floors too, laminate is the way to go. Its thinness makes it a good choice when installing over radiant flooring. However, you will have to take added precautions depending on the type of radiant heating you use. If a hydronic system allows moisture to escape, your laminate would be permanently damaged.
Most laminates also have a maximum temperature point; check with your manufacturer before combining with radiant heating. Still, laminate naturally feels warmer to the touch than other flooring choices. When combined with a radiant flooring system, it may be the perfect choice for keeping your home warm.
Vinyl plank and floating floors
Vinyl plank flooring is growing in popularity for a variety of reasons:
- It’s affordable
- It’s easy to install
- It comes in a wide array of colors and patterns
- It’s beautiful
- It’s waterproof
- It’s a DIYer’s dream
Vinyl planks come in click and lock technology, which floats above the subfloor without the need for adhesives or nails.
All of that and more makes vinyl plank a great option to install over radiant heating. It adds waterproof features that make it handle well in bathrooms, laundry rooms, and even the basement.
Just be sure you follow manufacturer’s guidelines when heating. Many manufacturers recommend staying under 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you exceed the limits recommended, you can compromise the integrity of the flooring.
What flooring should you install over radiant heating?
With so many choices, you’ll have the ability to select the right flooring for your needs, and get the latest technology to keep your home warm at the same time.
Stop by today and see our full line of flooring products. We’ll help you find the perfect choice to suit your needs.