Underfloor heating

As winter sets in, underfloor heating can often become more than a simple luxury – it can feel like a necessity. While having underfloor heating installed may seem like a costly and tiresome task, it’s one that can certainly pay off down the line, when you’re able to indulge in the bliss of a home that keeps you warm from top to toe.

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Last updated: 25 February 2021

In this guide:

  • How does underfloor heating work? 

  • Which type of underfloor heating is best? Electric or water?

  • What kind of flooring do I need for underfloor heating?

  • Where should I place underfloor heating in my home?

  • Underfloor heating pros and cons

  • How much does underfloor heating cost?

  • How to install underfloor heating systems 

  • How to make the most of your underfloor heating system

How does underfloor heating work? 

Underfloor heating exploits the simple fact that heat rises by placing the heating elements underneath the floor of your home. Underfloor heating systems come in two forms: piped-in water (wet) or electric coils (dry). The heating process is the same for both systems: heat radiates from the system into the floor. When they’re installed, both pipe and coil-based systems should be placed on top of a layer of insulation, to ensure that the heat is directed upwards. These systems are connected to your electricity mains or boiler, with temperatures regulated by your thermostat. 

Which is best - electric or water underfloor heating?

As mentioned, there are two main types of underfloor heating systems:

Updated 25 February 2021
Type How it worksCosts
Electric (dry) A network of wires is installed underneath your flooring, or sometimes alongside heating mats in larger rooms. Beneath this is a layer of insulation to force the heat upwards. Cheaper to install than wet systems, but more expensive to run due to tariff costs
Water (wet) A network of pipes is installed beneath your flooring, connected to your hot water boiler. Hot water then circulates through these pipes to warm your home. More complex and messier, so requires a plumber making them more expensive to install. Running costs are – however – typically 30% cheaper than a dry system.

You’re basically deciding whether to go for a system that’s cheaper and easier to install (dry), or one that will claw back those initial costs through cheaper heating costs. Other factors need to be considered too, such as your home and its suitability for either system. Make sure you consult a professional to determine the best option for your home before making a final decision.

What kind of flooring do I need for underfloor heating?

Underfloor heating will work with most floor types, but the system’s effectiveness will be affected by the type you have:

  • Hardwood flooring

Generally, underfloor heating can’t be installed beneath solid hardwood flooring. That’s because the floor’s thick layers of wood are prone to warp when faced with changes in humidity or temperature.

  • Engineered wood

On the other hand, engineered wooden boards are a great match for underfloor heating. 

  • Stones and tiles

Installation may be a tad more complex with thick natural materials like terracotta or slate, which have become increasingly popular in new homes. And despite the fact these materials are usually the coldest materials for flooring, underfloor heating may not be the most efficient solution here – for example, thick flagstone flooring will require the heating be switched on for longer to warm the room.

  • Carpet

To install underfloor heating in a carpeted room, the carpet and underlay’s thermal resistance will need to be below a 1.5 tog rating. Those with thick carpeting are unlikely to notice the full warmth of your underfloor heating system compared to other materials such as wood laminate.

Where should I place underfloor heating in my home?

While you may want underfloor heating to warm your entire home, many opt to only have it installed in certain rooms. This may be due to the cost or chaos of installation, or simply due to the compatibility of the house itself. Many households choose to restrict underfloor heating to the ground floor, or just to bathrooms and kitchens, for instance, while maintaining radiators in other areas. 

The best – and by far the easiest – time to install underfloor heating is when you’re already installing new flooring, which is why many people choose underfloor heating when either renovating or extending their home.

Underfloor heating pros and cons

Underfloor heating can be an efficient way to keep your home warm during the colder months, but it’s not for everyone. Before deciding to invest, make sure to weigh up all the pros and cons of underfloor heating. 

Pros of underfloor heating

  • Warmth

The most obvious benefit of underfloor heating is the warmth and comfort it brings to your home, particularly early in the morning when you drag yourself out of bed and feel the indulgent warmth of the floor beneath your feet.

  • Value

Underfloor heating is a popular commodity, so much so that having a system installed in your home can increase its value by an estimated 9%. Should you decide to sell your home down the line, underfloor heating could be an extremely attractive perk for potential buyers.

  • Efficiency

Underfloor heating is a far more efficient option than relying on radiators to keep your entire house warm, as underfloor heating distributes warmth evenly throughout the room. Furthermore, underfloor heating systems retain warmth much longer than radiators can, so you can stay warmer for longer without using excessive energy. 

  • Space-saving

Doing away with radiators gives a room more space – and options. Radiators can often feel obtrusive, and it’s amazing how much more flexible you can be arranging the space in a room without having to fit things around a radiator.

Cons of underfloor heating

  • Installation costs

Underfloor heating may save you money on your energy bills in the long run, but the installation cost of installing it can be quite hefty. Some electric underfloor heating systems can be installed relatively easily, but any water-based system will require professional work that comes with a large upfront cost. 

  • Mess

Depending on your home, its age and construction, the process of installing underfloor heating can become quite messy and disruptive, particularly in older homes. Your floors will need to be removed to make way for the coils or pipes, so be prepared to lose some space during the installation, remembering you’ll be gaining space after the flooring has been replaced. 

  • Heating times

While underfloor heating is favoured for its heat distribution, one downside of it is that these systems take a little longer to warm up an entire room. Fortunately, underfloor heating systems usually come with a timer, so you can ensure the floors are always warm exactly when you need them to be.

How much does underfloor heating cost?

Costs will naturally vary according to the type of system you wish to install, how many rooms or how much floor space you’d like it to cover, the general size of your home, and any additional construction that will need to be undertaken for the installation of your system. 

Expect to pay around £20-30 per square metre for a wet system’s parts, then add in the extensive costs of installation – this can end up costing around £5,000 for a wet underfloor heating system throughout a new build property. 

Electric systems start at around £100 per square metre for individual wiring, or you can pay less for heating mats (DIY stores sell 5m2 mats for under £100 for example). You’ll need to add the cost of insulation materials and controllers to this, as well as professional installation costs if you’re not doing it yourself, but it should still work out significantly cheaper (and less disruptive) than a wet system.

How to install underfloor heating systems 

Electric underfloor systems can be installed by yourself if you feel up to the task. You’ll need to choose between using heating mats or a wired network. Heating mats are more suitable for smaller spaces like bathrooms or study rooms, and they’re easier to install than wired systems. To install a heating mat, you just need to lay it along a smooth floor, with insulation materials placed above and below it. Wire systems are better suited for larger spaces due to their flexibility. When installing one of these systems, make sure you space the wires out evenly to ensure that the heat is distributed across the whole room. 

As mentioned above, wet systems will require the work of a professional plumber, as they may need to raise or even remove your flooring. A qualified plumber will safely install the pipe network under your floor and connect it to your boiler. 

It’s always a good idea to get a professional to help, even with an electric system, as a qualified electrician will know the best and safest way to get the job done. 

How to make the most of your underfloor heating system

  • Use timers

While underfloor systems produce more warmth than radiators when the room has heated up, they take a lot longer to heat up that space, which is why placing them on a timer is crucial so they can start working that bit earlier in the day. And while they may take longer to warm up, underfloor heating will keep your room warmer for longer. If you set a timer to activate heating for a couple of hours in the morning, a well-insulated room should remain warm for the whole day. 

  • Create your control centre

It’s best if you’re able to control your system from a central location. Each room that’s connected to your underfloor heating system will have its own valve, but these valves can be placed together in a convenient, central location in your household for easy access. Many newer underfloor heating models can be connected to apps too, so you can control everything from your smartphone.

  • Pair it with insulation

Underfloor heating works best when it’s partnered with decent insulation. This ensures all the heat being generated by your system is going exactly where it needs to go.

  • Don’t completely write off radiators

While doing away with radiators can create a more open, versatile space, it’s not always the best option. Older homes with single-glazing may not be able to lock in the heat of underfloor heating well enough – if you’re not upgrading your insulation, you may need to pair the system with radiators to enjoy true warmth.

While it’s an efficient means of keeping your home warm during the winter months, underfloor heating is a costly investment, whichever system you choose. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a water underfloor heating system will save you just £20 over a one-year period, which isn’t the major money-saver it’s sometimes made out to be. Therefore underfloor heating is best installed as part of heating in a new-build home or an extension where you’re not having to pay extra to remove existing flooring.

However, if you’re willing and able to meet the upfront cost, then underfloor heating is a welcome addition to your home. It ensures heat is distributed evenly throughout rooms so no need to huddle around radiator hotspots. The warmth lingers longer than with radiators, even when windows are opened. Your home will feel more spacious, less cluttered, and likely to appeal more to future buyers. 

And if all that isn’t enough, underfloor heating delivers comfort like no other system, simply through the warmth felt beneath your feet. There’s no better way to make your home cosier and more welcoming.