Underfloor heating could hardly be described as a new concept when the original concept can be traced back to the Neolithic period.
The inhabitants dug trenches under their floors and used the smoke to heat the floor stones, a method that is unlikely to get past today’s building regulations.
This original idea however has evolved into the two main systems used in present times, which use fluid filled pipes or electrical cables and mats.
Considering the current desire to achieve environmentally friendly solutions that use the concept of self-sufficiency and do not rely heavily on using up our precious resources such as oil and gas, a very modern solution has actually been around since ancient times.
The Greeks and the Romans are famed for their ingenuity in their wide scale use of what were known as hypocausts
In 1600 the French were using underfloor heating to heat their greenhouses and in the early 1900’s Liverpool Cathedral heated their building using a system based on the early hypocaust principles.
For some strange reason the technology was lost in the European region despite continuing to evolve in Asia.
Types of Underfloor Heating
Modern systems offer two main choices which use either water or electrical heating. Wet Underfloor Heating uses water or sometimes a mixture of water and anti-freeze and works on recirculating the fluid through pipes in a closed loop between the floor and the boiler. The wet system can be powered by gas, oil, heat pump or a combination which might include bio-fuels, solar and even wood.
The wet system has more components, but can be installed by a competent DIY-er, Electric systems are laid directly under floor finishes and various flexible heating elements can be used such as cable or cable/mesh mats. They are generally easier to install than wet systems and the power consumption is based on wattage output rather than voltage output that is produced by the heating element.
It is advised that a suitably qualified installer connects any electrical or gas connection for the boiler/thermostats etc.
The Argument For and Against
The benefits of a nice warm floor to step on to are obvious to all of us who like a comfortable environment to live in and a heated bathroom floor is an obvious example of where you would benefit from having a system installed.
But what are the pros and cons to consider before going ahead with having underfloor heating in your home?
If you consider the basic principle that heat rises then it makes sense to install a heat source at the lowest point in the room. Underfloor heating can be as much as 40% more efficient than an equivalent radiator based system and the benefits will be a reduced impact on the environment with greater efficiency and also lower running costs.
It should be noted that installation costs will be probably be more expensive than conventional radiators and therefore your up-front financial outlay is probably going to be greater. However, the lower running costs will recover this in time.
A big advantage with underfloor heating is especially relevant in newer houses where space is often at a premium. It frees up valuable wall space that would have been otherwise occupied by a radiator but can now be used for shelving or cupboards, or even left blank for those looking to achieve a minimalist look.
Underfloor heating scores highly on maintenance issues as it should not require any attention after being installed and pressure tested. You would be very unfortunate to suffer a burst pipe as this is very unlikely to happen, although it would of course mean tearing up the flooring to get to the problem, but as this is such a rarity, it should not be an issue that would deter you from choosing this type of heating system.
Installation Costs and Advice
A simple electric mat system can be installed as a DIY project if you are reasonably competent and confident in your own ability. Remember the final electrical connections should be done by a qualified electrician. If you are considering the DIY option for your electric heating, it is still strongly advised that you seek a professional opinion from a flooring expert as to which flooring material is the most suitable and also the most compatible.
The water based system can also be installed as a DIY project but again the final boiler / electrical connections must be done by a qualified person.
As a very general guide based on an average sized 3 bedroom property, you could buy either a DIY electric or wet underfloor heating kit for around £2000.
The wet underfloor heating kit would be slightly more expensive to install, however the running costs are much cheaper than that of the electric kit and over time becomes more cost effective.
Finally, remember to consider that the floor beneath the heating system needs to be adequately insulated in order to prevent and minimise heat loss.
Environmental and ECO Benefits
Underfloor heating systems are extremely cost effective and when installed. You could experience savings on your heating bills of anywhere up to 40% compared against a radiator system.
The environmental benefits are also a plus factor as CO2 emissions are greatly reduced using underfloor heating and when combined with ground source heat pumps and solar thermal panels this serves to increase even further the ECO Credits and increase the reduction in running costs.
Another aspect which is often not considered, is that underfloor heating reduces the moisture content in your property and this actually reduces the levels of dust mites and other parasites in the home which is an obvious benefit for anyone suffering from asthma or related breathing difficulties.
Underfloor heating systems operate on reduced energy requirements compared to traditional wall fitted radiator systems. As a direct comparison, a boiler running a radiator system will be set to run at around 80C whereas an underfloor system will normally be set at around 45-60C
which in turn generates a floor temperature in the region of 27C so the greater efficiency achieved translates to cost savings to the consumer and has positive environmental and ECO benefits. A heat pump can be run as low as 35-45C and still achieve your room temperature!
It is little wonder that underfloor heating or radiant systems as they are sometimes known as are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and who would have thought that an idea heavily used by the Romans would play a major part in our modern battle to achieve fuel and energy efficiency.