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Feb 10

Fabulous Floor Heat!

Posted by C. Mason Hearn in water heater, tile, renovation, plumbing, maintenance, HVAC, floors


We just purchased a 45 year old home that has had renos but I'd like to put a heated ceramic floor for the family room in the basement. ( 24x16) It now has laminate over concrete!!! Nasty! What is the safest and best way to do this knowing that there might be basement water damage every 100 years :) The house is in a river community.




Dear Liz:

Heated floors are wonderful.  If you buy-into the magazine ads run buy floor heating companies, your naked baby and the rest of the family (in bathrobes) will spend much time luxuriating on your warm tiled basement floor.

But seriously, we have installed quite a few of these and while there is certainly a cost of installation and ongoing operation, I have never had a client tell me they regretted that investment.  Floor heat is radiant-type heat, warming objects in the room in much the same way that do rays from the sun.

There are two basic types of floor heating systems:  electric and hydronic.  Electric in-floor heating is comprised of wires or mats of wires which warm by resistance heat – consuming roughly 8 watts of power per SF of heated floor.  This can be installed in a “mud” base or in the thinset under your tile.  Those wires, along with a thermostat and power source, pretty much would be your entire system.  Pros:  Low install cost, simple installation, fairly foolproof.  Cons:  Higher operating cost, potential for damage if flooding means “complete extended immersion”.

Hydronic systems include a network of tubing runs between your slab and tile.  These tubes circulate warm water from a furnace or water heater, pump - all controlled by a thermostat.  As you can imagine, the peripheral heating and circulating equipment can become a big investment before even the first stick of tubing goes in your floor.  If you don’t already have a water-heating furnace with additional capacity in your home, I usually estimate all of that to add almost $10K on top of the electric option installation cost.  Your return comes in operating cost which, particularly with a room of this size (400 SF), should be much lower.  As well, the tubing typically used in these installations should not be affected by periodic water immersion.

I could write pages of other caveats and things you should consider before installing either system.  I would advise to engage either a mechanical engineer, or a mechanical contractor with radiant heating experience to review the particulars of your situation to help you determine whether there are other considerations you might take into account.

Best wishes for a successful project!


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