A lot of people choose an in-floor heating system for energy efficiency, but you may also want an easy installation process, a system that is more aesthetically pleasing, or maybe you have a higher budget and want to know what the top-of-the-line luxury options are. How and what you choose will depend on what you need from in-floor heating.
Before you start shopping, it’s advantageous to understand the pros and cons of each radiant heating system, as well as the flooring and thermostats you’ll need to install. Finding the right combination of a heating system, flooring, and thermostat will give you the most satisfaction and value for your money.
Types of Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
The two most widely used in-floor heating systems are electrical and hydronic. There are some less common in-floor heating systems — like air-based and solar-powered — that might meet your needs as well.
Electrical Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
This is a system where thin electric cables are installed under surface flooring, most commonly under stone or tile. Electrical radiant in-floor heating can be installed during new construction and renovations, or it can even be retrofitted. One thing to note is that retrofitting may be more expensive up front if homeowners have to rip up the old flooring.
Cost of Electrical Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
According to Forbes, electric heated floors are the easiest of the three systems to install, so they cost less. Homeowners should budget for around $8 to $15 per square foot. The cost to run an electric in-floor heating system can range from $1 to $5 per day.
You may also need a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) added to an electrical outlet for your electric heating system. A GFCI will detect a problem and stop power from flowing to that specific outlet within 20-30 milliseconds to protect you and your family from electric shock. A GFCI can cost between $130 and $300.
High-rated Brands for Electric Radiant In-Floor Heating
Hydronic Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
A hydronic — or water-based — system uses pipes and pumps to move warm water underneath the flooring, so the heat radiates through it. You can have a hydronic radiant in-floor heating system installed during renovations or new construction. It can also be retrofitted in a basement or other area where slab concrete is laid down.
Cost of Hydronic Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
To operate, a hydronic in-floor heating system requires upfront costs for a boiler, a pump, and gas lines. Homeowners should budget between $6 and $20 per square foot for a hydronic radiant in-floor heating system. The estimated costs per day to run the system is between $1 and $5.
High-rated Brands for Hydronic Radiant In-Floor Heating
Other Less Common Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
Two other types of radiant in-floor heating systems are solar-powered and air-based systems. These two systems are primarily used off grid or in warmer climates because they don’t provide as much heat on their own as electrical and hydronic systems.
Air-based Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
Air-based radiant flooring isn’t as cost effective in homes because air cannot hold large amounts of heat, so these are not commonly used domestically. The system has to work harder than other types to keep the home and rooms warm.
Solar Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
With a solar-based radiant in-floor heating system, liquid is heated by solar power and gets distributed through pipes installed in a thin concrete slab floor and then radiates heat into the home or rooms. Most systems also require a separate heat storage tank for temperature control.
In cases where these two systems are used, they’re often used in conjunction with each other, especially in homes that are off the grid, where homes use multiple natural energy sources.
Best Types of Flooring for Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
The best types of flooring for in-floor heating are not too thick, not prone to contract or expand, not going to block heat, and are tolerant to heat and moisture.
Tile and stone are widely used with in-floor heating because of their durability with both heat and moisture. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles conduct heat very well, and they can handle moisture from hydronic heating systems without warping.
The average cost for tile flooring is $10-15 per square foot. Ceramic tile is less expensive and typically costs anywhere between $7 and $14 per square foot. Marble tile is at the highest end and typically costs between $15 and $24 per square foot.
Laminate flooring is often used in place of hardwood flooring as a more cost-friendly option. Laminate is a good option for electric in-floor heating because, unlike hardwood flooring, it won’t expand or contract due to repeated temperature changes.
Laminate is thinner than other types of flooring, which means it can heat up quicker, but this means it will also cool down quicker.
It’s also important to note that laminate is more susceptible to water damage and, therefore, is not the best option for hydronic radiant in-floor heating because repairs for a leak could mean replacing the entire heating system and the flooring.
Laminate flooring has an average cost of $6 to $14 per square foot.
Vinyl flooring is not quite as efficient as tile at conducting heat. But because vinyl has thin layers, they are quicker to warm up and cool down. Vinyl flooring is also waterproof, making it a good option for hydronic radiant in-floor heating systems.
DIY-ers often use vinyl flooring because a lot of vinyl flooring is click-lock and doesn’t require adhesives or staples, making it easier to install.
Vinyl floor planks are slightly more susceptible to warping under extreme heat, so the temperature should be kept under 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the vinyl planks should not be thicker than 5 millimeters in order to transfer heat efficiently.
The cost of vinyl flooring is much less expensive than other flooring materials. The average cost for vinyl flooring is between $2 and $10 per square foot, depending on whether or not it’s luxury vinyl planks, which are slightly more expensive. Luxury vinyl planks are a bit thicker, feel softer underfoot, and have better noise-blocking properties than non-luxury vinyl planks.
Vinyl sheet flooring — as opposed to plank flooring — can be as inexpensive as $0.50 per square foot.
Linoleum is another thin flooring option that allows floors to heat up relatively quickly. It’s a good option for rooms that get especially cold — the wood content in the laminate base combined with foam underlayment makes it feel warm and comfortable underfoot.
However, it’s best to consider another option if you’re going with a hydronic radiant in-floor heating system. If a leak occurred in the heating system, it would most likely damage the linoleum.
The average price of linoleum flooring is between $5 and $7 per square foot for sheets and $3 to $5 per square foot for tiles.
Best Thermostats for Radiant In-Floor Heating Systems
Both smart and programmable thermostats have their benefits, depending on your lifestyle. However, a smart thermostat offers the most flexibility and control.
A smart in-floor thermostat is Wi-Fi enabled and can be controlled remotely from an app on your phone or tablet. Many smart thermostats also have geofencing capabilities, giving you the ability to have the heat automatically turn on when you get near home and turn off when you leave.
Smart thermostats are designed to learn patterns and behaviors that can help facilitate temperature alterations. For example, if you’re consistently keeping the temperature below 70, a smart thermostat can automatically adjust to that temperature if it gets colder or warmer than that. A smart thermostat also makes it easier to track use and energy efficiency using the data you get from it.
Mysa is a high-quality smart thermostat that is easy to install. Mysa’s smart thermostat is compatible with most high-voltage electric in-floor heating systems and flooring types. It also:
Includes a 10 kOhm Floor Sensor (16 feet / 5 m length)
Works with any existing floor sensor between 5 kOhm to 40 kOhm
Can control your GFCI for electric radiant in-floor heating
Costs just $199
You can also check your compatibility with Mysa’s thermostats.
A programmable thermostat lets you set the temperature hours, days, or weeks ahead of time. You can schedule the temperature in your home for each day of the week based on preference or lifestyle. For example, if you’re not home from 9-5 on weekdays, you can set your temperature to be lower than when you are home.
The biggest difference between these two primary types of thermostats is that you can’t change a programmable thermostat remotely like you can with a smart one. For example, it won’t automatically change the heating settings when the temperature falls or rises. It also doesn’t detect when you arrive home as a smart thermostat does.
Honeywell is a well-known brand of programmable thermostats with several different styles depending on your preference. Some Honeywell programmable thermostats need to be installed by a professional, and some can be installed yourself. Honeywell thermostats range in price from around $70 to over $250.
Design Your Radiant In-Floor Heating System To Be Efficient for Your Home
Every home is different, and each home has different needs. Make your in-floor heating decisions based on how your home and family operate. Start with the type of radiant in-floor heating that suits your house, and then pick the best combination of flooring and thermostat for that type of heating system.
Each flooring and thermostat option has its own benefits. Make your considerations based on your lifestyle, preferences, the existing layout of your home, and your budget.
For example, if you’re on the go a lot and want to be able to control your home’s temperature, Mysa’s smart thermostat could be more beneficial because you can alter the temperature from a mobile device and through geofencing.
Whatever combination you choose, you’re sure to find an in-floor heating solution that works for your home and budget.