An inexpensive design touch that's not seen, but certainly felt, radiant floor warming can be a wonderful upgrade for colder spaces like kitchens and bathrooms, and it's a surprisingly energy efficient way to heat your home.
Ceramic, slate or marble tiles are attractive and durable alternatives to wood, carpet or vinyl flooring, but while our eyes appreciate their beauty, our feet can take some issues with the cold.
Most people feel comfortable with air temperatures of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, and tend to feel uncomfortable if there's more than a 5 degree difference in the surface temperature (80-85 F) between the head and that of the feet. A bare foot gives an immediate indication as to the comfort level of a given floor. For this reason alone, tile can be an issue for those who eschew footwear at home.
With just a tiny amount of heat drawn from a foot, carpet fibers warm almost instantaneously to "foot" temperature. A ceramic tile can't compete in this foot race—its mass needs more body heat for a longer amount of time. It'd take approximately half an hour for each step taken on a 68 F marble floor to warm the 15 degrees between it and an uncomfortable 83 F bare foot!
This concern is eliminated with a radiant floor warming system.
The two most common radiant floor warming systems are hydronic, usually a whole house heating solution used not just for floors, and electric. Electric systems are inexpensive enough for single room applications when compared to hydronic floor warming systems that use pricey boilers and tubes to generate radiant heat.
Suitable for new construction or remodeling applications, electric floor warming systems include a network of cables, occasionally mounted to rectangular mats, installed in the mortar just below the tiles. These cables gently warm the tiles, operating on ordinary house current. While using a professional electrician is advised for those not comfortable working on electrical installations, these systems are generally easy to install. The use of a system will not compromise the integrity of the tile installation.
Designing a floor warming installation first requires a determination of the area to be warmed. Calculating the total square footage will require collecting information from the blueprints of the room or actually measuring the area itself. It should be noted that areas under vanities or cabinets, under plumbing fixtures or inaccessible areas should not be included.
When making the calculations, design a layout that considers traffic patterns in the area to be warmed, and take care to calculate the square footage precisely.
Heating mat manufacturers can take several weeks to create custom-made mats, but you can also pick up generic panels to install yourself.
A complete system often can be installed using an electric drill and other ordinary hand tools. The installation process can be completed in three phases that will likely correspond with the construction phases of your home or building.
Phase One - Prep the Space
During the electrical rough-in, the components of the installation kit will be installed. The outlet box should be located in the wall directly above the area to be warmed. Consideration should be given to the location of other electrical devices when installing the box. The appropriate power feed should be brought to the box in this phase.
Phase Two - Install the Wires
After finishing the drywall and immediately preceding the tile installation, the cables should be installed. To simplify this procedure, a special template is provided with each cable to ensure correct spacing. Each cable also includes an appropriate amount of clips and screws to properly affix the cables to the floor.
Phase Three - Power Up
The last phase calls for the installation of the control and connection to the power source. Complete wiring instructions are provided with each thermostat. Once completed, the circuit can be energized.
Several options exist for controlling a floor warming system. A system can be wired with an appropriately rated switch for manual on/off control, though the use of a thermostat for maximum comfort control and energy conservation is recommended. Thermostats usually have built in on/off switches to allow the system to be turned off during vacations or at other times when the floor warming system is not needed. Today, a homeowner can find floor warming thermostats, such as Easy Heat's FTS-1, with sophisticated programming features as well.
Using a thermostat, a typical floor warming system may be inexpensive to operate. Homeowner can visit the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration's Web page at www.eia.doe.gov to determine typical electrical usage. Using Easy Heat's Warm Tiles square foot operating cost for 40 square feet, results in a price of $0.008 -- less than a cent per square foot per day, or 32 cents a day for the 40 square foot floor.