What types of flooring are suitable for underfloor heating?

25th Jun 2021 6 minute read

Ambient and even heat, is what is required in open plan spaces, and that’s exactly what underfloor heating provides. Once installed, it can be a very efficient way of heating a large space – providing between 25 and 40 per cent more efficiency than radiators, with the required running temperatures being much lower. Additionally, it feels very nice underfoot. A major consideration of installing such a system is the type of flooring that can be used with it. The temperature fluctuations the flooring will endure is a significant factor. So we spoke with Paul Hambidge of Factory Direct Flooring Ltd to provide some key advice on flooring options for those considering underfloor heating in their home.

In the last decade, there has been a growing trend for open plan living – where kitchens, dining and living areas meet – as well as ‘broken plan’ living, where ‘zones’ are created within a largely open plan space, which may be divided with screens, pocket door walls, or double-sided feature walls. This style of living has become popular with families who want to be able to execute multiple tasks – such as cooking while supervising children playing or doing homework – within one space. Similarly, the pandemic-induced rise of working from home becoming a firm feature of the ‘new norm’ means people are using their living space as an office too.

Laminate Flooring and Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVT) are great DIY flooring choices compatible with underfloor heating

All this means that wall space is at a premium, with every inch being a valuable commodity. Heating large open spaces requires some appropriately sized radiators, which swallow up the coveted wall space that needs to be better used to make the area functional and fit-for-purpose. The result of this is that underfloor heating has become a popular choice among homeowners, who are looking for a hidden solution to their heating needs in an open space, without having to give up wall space to radiators or other heating units. In fact, it is reported that the underfloor heating market has grown significantly in the last five years, accounting for almost eight per cent of the UK’s heating systems, with the market set to grow between four and six per cent in the next four years. This is certainly something we’ve seen through discussions with customers, so we feel it’s a rising trend that’s here to stay.

Busting the myth that underfloor heating cannot be installed with real wood flooring or carpet

It’s a popular myth that underfloor heating can’t be used with real wood or carpeted floors. Some people just love the aesthetic of real wood, and while underfloor heating can be installed beneath it, it isn’t really advised as it is difficult for the heat to travel through it;  it’s usually thicker than alternatives such as Laminate and Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT). Adding to this is the fact that temperature of the water running through the pipes needs to be restricted to around 27 degrees Celsius with an expansion gap – so not only is the heat harder to transmit through timber, but when running at a lower temperature it will result in a room that may not be heated to requirements. But is it a complete no-no? Not if you really can’t drop the dream of a real timber floor.

Similarly, the luxury underfoot feel of carpet can be compatible with underfloor heating, despite people thinking it is to the contrary, but the thermal resistance of the carpet should be no higher than 2.5 tog rating.

Laminate remains a firm favourite for underfloor heating

Laminate flooring has been around for decades and despite the rise in popularity and installation of alternatives such as LVT, it remains a firm favourite for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a product that has been around for a long time and which UK DIYers have become very familiar with, it’s a great option for homeowners wanting to self-install to keep costs low. The options when it comes to style, plank size and width and colour have grown exponentially, furthering the popularity of this flooring option. But does it work with underfloor heating? Absolutely. It’s robust composition means it won’t expand and contract like real wood – the high density fibreboard core gives rigidity and strength. The heat will transmit more effectively than in the case of real wood and the water can run at higher temperatures – so it’s one of the top options in our opinion, when it comes to underfloor heating flooring choices.

Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) is the ideal conductor for heat from underfloor heating

LVT has been a star player in the flooring world for some time now. It has transformed its image from new-kid-on-the-block – that came with fewer design choices and a heftier overall price tag because of the glue-down application that required  professional installation – to a popular option thanks to the huge array of emerging styles, colours and DIY plank options.

LVT Click Flooring
LVT Flooring is becoming increasingly popular due to its waterproof properties and good conductor of heat for underfloor heating

One of the key benefits of LVT that homeowners love is the waterproof element – it’s great for high moisture rooms like kitchens and bathrooms, and offers a great option for areas like en-suites – providing a seamless look when used as continuous bedroom and en-suite flooring. It also offers low-acoustics, so is suitable for use upstairs and downstairs. It is highly durable for high traffic areas and longevity of use, and it will come as no surprise that this great all-rounder performs brilliantly with underfloor heating. The temperature of the pipes needs to be restricted to 27 degrees Celsius, but as the thickness of LVT tends to range between just 2 and 5 millimetres, the heat radiates perfectly through the material. With styles ranging from wide, narrow, short, long and herringbone plank, through to tile designs – the looks that can be achieved with LVT flooring really are endless.

And for DIY options of this flooring, flooring brands like Aqua Plank offer a click system which negates the use of adhesive. Another great reason to consider LVT with underfloor heating is the fact that due to its minimal thickness, it can be used in retrofit scenarios, adding very little height to the existing floor.

So while there are few floor coverings that are completely off the table, to ensure that underfloor heating efficiency and benefits are maximised, it’s wise to consider all options to ensure you get the maximum comfort, heat and enjoyment from your flooring choice and your underfloor heating system.

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