Believe it or not, under-floor radiant heating actually dates back to prehistoric times. Recently, archeologists digging in the Aleutian Islands have come up with solid evidence validating that thousands of years ago inhabitants channeled smoke from fires through stone-covered trenches dug under the floors of their dwellings. This hot smoke heated up the floor stones, which then radiated into the living spaces. The principal behind this process was -- and still remains -- quite simple, the floor radiates heat to a person’s feet, warming that specific person all over.

From this ancient technique, fast forward to today and discover that two modern floor-warming systems have evolved. One is hydronic heating, which uses tubing to run hot water beneath the floor, along baseboard heaters or through radiators to heat the building where it has been installed. The other is electric radiant floor heating, which has become very affordable and quite easy to install, and incorporates an electric heating element to warm up the surface above it.

Even though this second method has become widely popular in the last decade, there still are many end-users who construe this particular heating process as something difficult to install. Quite frankly, electronic radiant floor heating is not a product that should overwhelm anyone. In fact, it is not difficult at all to install. If distributors, retailers and contractors know more about this system, they all will be able to enjoy selling it -- and recognize more profits in doing so. There are research statistics available documenting that virtually all homeowners who have under-floor electric radiant heating systems absolutely love having them.

Here are some basics, to begin with: heat energy, emitted from an electrically heated floor, warms people and other objects in the room rather than directly heating the air within that space. Because of this, the temperature of the internal air within radiant-heated buildings is generally lower than buildings heated via conventional methods. Yet, the same degree of body comfort is achieved, so the temperature perceived by those in the room is actually the same. As a result, the amount of electricity used to heat a room equipped with radiant floor heating is much less than one would expect -- making the system very energy efficient. Another major advantage of under-floor radiant heating is that it decreases the circulation of air inside the room. By doing so, the spread of airborne dust and other particles such as allergens is minimized greatly. It also should be noted that, unlike with many traditional heating systems, heated floors do not lose energy through ducts.

Understanding electric floor heat

There is good reason to consider electric floor heat over its alternative. Note that the hydronic process, which generally speaking, has hot water running through flexible tubing, is a total home heating system. It requires a boiler to heat that water, and is typically used only in new construction because of its specific plumbing configurations. On the other hand, UL-approved electric floor heating is designed to be installed directly under a tile or stone flooring for both new construction or remodeling projects. Installers may simply thin-set this material down to the substrate, while adding virtually no height to the floor (roughly 1/8 of an inch). This cannot be done with hydronic heating.

Certainly, a strong selling point is that the installation of an electric in-floor warming system does not require any special tile installation procedures. The subfloor should be prepared as for any conventional tile installation according to applicable standards. Very importantly, it should be clean of any debris or sharp objects that could damage the heating element. Loose boards should be repaired, and any gaps or fissures should be filled so that the heating mat will be installed over a smooth and even surface. Concrete, mortar beds, exterior glue plywood, existing ceramic tile and stone, cement terrazzo and cement backer board provide ideal substrates for radiant floor heat installations.

For the most part, electric floor-warming components consist of a heating mat with cables, (not unlike those found in electric blankets) which is installed right beneath the tile and stone surface, and a wall-mounted thermostat. Today’s simple-to-use, digital and programmable thermostats generally have been designed for installation in conjunction with the same company’s floor warming cable mats. It makes sense to use a heating element from “Company A” as well as a thermostat from the same firm. That way, users have the confidence of purchasing a product with components covered by a single source.

Installing radiant heating

Surprisingly to many, the entire installation process is easier than you might think. To begin, one should make a scale drawing of the floor plan, mapping out the “walking area” where the heating mat will be positioned. It should not be placed under or closely adjacent to cabinets, tubs and showers. Additionally, it should be at least 6 inches away from wax toilet seals. If needed, technical assistance is quickly available from key manufacturers, whose support staff generally can determine the optimal layout and quantity of the heating mat. There are software layout tools available, as well.

Once the heating mat is put in place and all electrical work is complete, what comes next is the tile installation. While most all electric floor warming systems on the market today are compatible with any tile products, there are certain thin-sets that work better than others.

It is important to the end-user to select an electric floor warming system with a Lifetime Residential Warranty. Clearly, they don’t want to invest in a floor-warming system that does not perform for a longstanding period
of time.

Electric floor heating is a cost-effective heating solution when properly used. For those of you in the tile and stone sectors, it represents a wonderful product that makes a great-looking installation become a very comfortable installation. Keeping your customers warm and contented results in positive feedback, great referrals and ultimately, repeat business.