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Infloor Heating 101

When it comes to home comfort, many Canadians have high expectations these days. This certainly extends to floor temperature, too. Although chilly floors and cold toes were expected parts of a Canadian winter for years, an increasing number of people are looking to infloor heating because they hear friends and neighbours talk about how great it is. Even homeowners who are okay with cold floors in some parts of the house usually aren’t pleased when high traffic areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms give their feet the chills. As a contractor, knowing the options for infloor heating can improve your bottom line by increasing the service you provide to clients. Here are the basics of infloor heating to share when people ask.

Electric or hydronic infloor heating?

This is the first decision you need to help clients make. Although both types can be installed during construction or as part of renovations, different situations mean one type or the other makes the most sense.

Hydronic infloor heating

The word “hydronic” means hot water. As a resut, pipes and valves are involved. Both infloor heating and hot water radiators can be called “hydronic” heating systems. Hydronic infloor heating makes the most sense when you’re aiming to heat an entire building or a large part of a building. Traditionally, hydronic heating systems are fired by a natural gas, propane or even electric boiler, and while these options work well, boilers are not the only way to go.

Tank-style domestic water heaters can be used to supply hot water to any hydronic infloor heating system. The tank option makes the most sense for heating smaller buildings or parts of a building because tank-style heaters cost less than an equivalent size of boiler. As you’re deciding on heat sources to recommend, understand that many tank-style heaters are perfectly capable of handling space heating situations. In fact, some models are actually built for this.

Electric Floor Heat

Got a client looking at infloor heating for a bathroom, bedroom or small floor area in front of a basement couch? Electric infloor heating is a wise alternative to hydronics in situations like these because it’s more economical to install. It’s just as much trouble and expense to install pumps, pipes, valves and a heat source for a tiny hydronic system as it is a large one, and this is where the scalability of electric infloor heating can help.
Easy Heat
Mat-style electric infloor heating systems have been around for years. I’ve installed several different ones, and have yet to be impressed. Mats need to be custom-made for a specific space, and in my experience they’re surprisingly unreliable. When electric infloor heating mats stop working because of a break in wiring somewhere (as has happened on some of my jobs), that’s a big headache because all the flooring needs to come up to repair the bad mats.

When shopping for an electric floor warming system, reliability is key. Look for a lifetime warranty that covers full replacement of the hardware including removal and replacement of the flooring. But be sure to install the product according to specifications in order to keep the warranty valid.

Some systems include a dimpled plastic underlay that’s made for heating cables to snap in only where needed. You can anchor the underlay to the floor with thinset mortar, pop the cable in place from a spool, working around cabinets, appliances and other areas that need no heat, then cap the whole thing off with more thinset followed by ceramic or porcelain tiles. These installations are easily customizable for different spaces, and thermostatic controls allow homeowners to pay only for the heat they need. Independent control of floor temperature lets them dial in just the right amount of floor heat relative to room temperature. Electric infloor heating systems aren’t usually powerful enough to heat spaces entirely on their own, but they’ll make homeowners’ feet a whole lot happier.