Nothing quite beats the feeling of waking up on a gloomy winter’s morning and stepping on to lovely heated flooring.
Perhaps you experienced this at a family or friend’s house and now you’re wondering whether your own hardwood floors can receive the same treatment.
The simple answer to your cozy query is yes, hardwood floors can be heated, but wood can have starkly different properties from one species to the next.
Some are naturally suited to handling the rigors of underfloor heating, while others with poor heat conductive aren’t suitable at all.
Whether your hardwood floor can be heated also depends on structural elements too, for example, how wide and thick the boards are.
If the timber is upward of 18mm, the heat won’t be able to sufficiently pass through in any beneficial way.
Thin boards are preferable to wide boards as they don’t quite move as much as temperatures rise and fall. The perfect thickness to width timber ratio for heated wood flooring is 7:11.
The best possible approach is to have your hardwood floor fitted at the same time as the heating element. This way, the wood can properly acclimate to the environment, and the craftsman can tailor the wood to suit the heating system and vice versa.
PS. Check out our top 3 highly recommended hardwood floor stain removers here as well as the most suited mop & vacuum combo for your floors here.
How Expensive is Heated Flooring?
The overall cost of installing heated flooring can be affected by many variables. The cheapest method would be an electrical heating mat system, which tends to cost roughly between $70 and $110 per meter squared.
Of course, this is just a ballpark figure. Different companies and electricians will quote rates unique to them.
It’s also important to note that electric heating mats aren’t all made equal. Some are made to a higher standard than others and are priced accordingly. The level of insulation required to ensure the underfloor heating will work efficiently and safety may also hike the price up a bit.
More complex underfloor heating with articulate controls is almost always more expensive, and the last thing that can affect costs is the difficulty of the job. If it’s a more time-consuming task for the electrician, labor costs will rise.
Wet underfloor heating complicates matters somewhat. You can expect a piping system to cost you into the thousands. Depending on the size of the area you want heating, you could be looking at $3000 plus.
As the piping has to run from wherever you’re boiler is all the way to beneath the flooring in question, the cost of materials can run high, and it’s a much more time-consuming job.
Are Heated Floors Worth It?
There are definitely more pros than cons of heated flooring, but how they weigh against one another depends on your living and your financial situation.
Let’s discuss the pros first…
As radiators are a highly localized heat source, they have to reach between 60 and 75°C in order to heat an entire room.
Underfloor heating only needs to hit 29°C, saving you roughly 15% on your energy bills.
More Room Space
Imagine a world without radiators. Granted, they don’t take up too much room, but some of them are awkwardly placed, interrupting the flow of the room.
With underfloor heating, you can say goodbye to those unsightly metal panels and use the space for whatever you see fit.
Safety and Practicality
Radiators pose an ever-present burn-risk. They also require a lot more maintenance than heated floors.
You’ll never have to dust them, paint them, or bleed them again.
Now let’s think about the cons…
Installation Time and Costs
Heated floors can cost a significant amount to install, and the process is rarely less than a couple of day’s work, especially if it's a water-based system.
After the correct insulation and equipment is in place, your flooring may be as much as half an inch higher than it was.
This doesn’t seem all that significant, but if it prevents doors from opening and closing smoothly, you may have more of a job on your hands than you first imagined.
Does Radiant Heat Ruin Hardwood Floors?
If the heating elements aren’t properly installed, or the wood type or design isn’t suitable for radiant heating, it can indeed damage your hardwood flooring.
Believe it or not, it’s not actually the wood itself that’s mostly at risk, but the means by which the timber is held in place. If they’re nailed down, the constant expansion and contraction of the metal can loosen the boards.
Glue is even worse. Over long periods, it may melt and deteriorate, unsettling the timber, making future repairs a complicated matter.
Even if your hardwood flooring isn’t overtly damaged by radiant heating, what is inevitable is that it will be changed on some level. This is because wood is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from its environment, causing it to expand and contract.
As long as the flooring is well fitted, the dancing of wood shouldn’t be too much of an issue. A quality craftsman will account for the possibility of this movement anyway as hardwood flooring has to be able to roll with the punches of seasonal change.
Radiant heating is a little more intensive and frequent than seasonal shift, but it’s the same structural integrity that helps your hardwood flooring survive both.
What Wood Flooring is Suitable for Underfloor Heating?
It’s commonly thought that engineered wood is the best material for the job. Bearing a striking resemblance to normal hardwood, engineered wood is actually composed of a number of compacted layers of ply encased in a selected wood veneer.
This construction doesn’t just give it extra tensile strength but imbues it with moisture-resistant qualities. It will still shift as the ambient temperature rises and falls, but not quite as much as hardwood.
That’s not to say you should scrap your dreams of a nice warm hardwood floor, as there are many ways in which hardwoods can be optimized for underfloor heating, one of which is to ensure the timber is quarter-sawn.
To officially be classed as quarter-sawn wood, the annular rings are cut into between a 60 and 90° angle. The benefit of this is that when quarter-sawn wood absorbs moisture - which it will be doing a lot over a heating element - there’s far less chance of it bending or warping as it absorbs and vents moisture equally throughout.
You could also look into hardwoods that are naturally moisture-resistant. Cedar is a prime example. Cedar is so resilient in the face of moisture that it’s often used to panel the floor and walls in saunas. Other fantastic options include teak and white oak.