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Underfloor heating - keeping your toes toastie warm

There are two types and they are either water-based or electric. Both systems are highly space efficient. They do away with the need for conventional, wall-hung radiators and replace them with a system that is hidden below the floor.

At this time of year, those kitchen and bathroom tiles feel so cold, especially if it’s a shoes-off house. It means we often dream about underfloor heating – that fabulous warmth beneath our feet. But what does it entail? It seems to be everywhere at the moment, so, at the very least, it must be suitably modern and efficient.

Actually, underfloor heating has been around since Roman times. There are two types and they are either water-based or electric. Both systems are highly space efficient. They do away with the need for conventional, wall-hung radiators and replace them with a system that is hidden below the floor. And because they are not trying to send out heat from just one or two radiators, their heat is far more evenly spread around the room, which means that they can run at lower temperatures than a conventional system.

They work best under floor tiles, but can be used under wood or carpet, provided neither is too thick to allow the heat to pass through. It is recommended that underlay should be no thicker than 1.5 tog and timber or engineered flooring should be less than 22mm thick. Both systems claim to reduce humidity, which, in turn, reduces the presence of house mites. However, there is considerable disruption involved, as you need to rip out any existing flooring.

So which system is best for you and how much will it cost?

The water-based system is the most efficient of the two and can provide energy savings of around 10-15%. And because, whilst installing it, you need to insert insulation between the floors, it can also improve the energy efficiency of the rest of the house. The water-based version works fine when combined with a conventional boiler system, although it does need separate controls, as it takes longer to heat up and cool down than standard radiators. One disadvantage is that the component parts take up more space than the electric version and so they are not suitable for every type of installation. As long as they are pre-planned, you can fit them in new build work, whether that is a new house or an extension. You can also retrofit the system in between the joists with a typical suspended wooden floor.

However, if you have an existing concrete floor, you will need to raise the floor levels to accommodate the pipes. This can cause problems with things like door and cupboard heights, and this is when most installers recommend that you use the slimmer electrical version.

Even though gas prices have been rising considerably faster than electrical prices, the electric system is unlikely to save you money on your heating bill. It is, on the other hand, more cost-effective when used in smaller areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms and conservatories. No piping is required as the heating elements are integrated into a thin matt, which is simply rolled out on the floor and then covered by either tiles or a wooden floor. It is comparatively quick and easy to install and can be done by a competent DIYer and then connected by a qualified electrician.

Below are some indicative installation costs according to www.myjobquote.co.uk
 
Bathroom Floor (electric system)                                               1.5 days           £800

Kitchen concrete floor with
wood laminate flooring (electric system)                                    2 days             £800

Kitchen concrete floor with
wood laminate flooring (water system)                                       3 days             £1,200

Typical three-bed semi-detached house
wet underfloor heating supply throughout                                  2 weeks           £7,700