Which flooring material is best for radiant heat?
When you're building your dream home, flooring is one of the features that will set it apart from every other house on the block. A polished hardwood or granite floor can tie an entire room together in a way no wallpaper or paint color can, you're right to agonize over what flooring to choose with multiple trips to and from the home improvement store.
But more than just looks should determine which flooring material you go with, especially if you plan on installing a radiant floor heating system to go with it. While some floors look great, their ability to conduct heat is subpar at best. While you may have an incredibly efficient and inexpensive underfloor heating setup, you'll have to pump so much energy into it just to break through the impenetrable barrier that are some materials. Radiant floor heating is meant to save you money, so learn which mediums you should put over it to get the most bang for your buck.
Look for thermal mass
You may have already made a good choice with radiant floor heating, but you still need to go the extra mile to get the most out of your modern heating system. In fact, the type of flooring you place over the electric- or water-fed heating elements dramatically affects how efficiently your house is heated through a process called thermal mass.
Autodesk's Sustainability Workshop explained that thermal mass refers to the ability of certain materials to absorb, store and radiant heat after being removed from the source. Low thermal mass means that objects heat and cool rapidly, dissipating all that energy in the process. On the other hand, substances with high thermal mass transfer heat extremely well and over a long period of time. This property plays a a large part in solar electricity and solar panels, as the heat from sunlight is transferred to energy-collecting diodes over the course of an entire day.
What flooring has the highest thermal mass?
If you've had your sights set on that beautiful polished hardwood to cover your entire house, you might be sorely disappointed. BuildDirect.com explained that wood is one of the least efficient heat conductors on the market. This means that you're limiting the rooms you're paying to heat to the space in between your floor and the ceiling of the room beneath you.
Also, wood makes a particularly poor choice for radiant floor heating because of its natural tendency to expand and contract based on temperature. If you live in a humid area, you might notice that your doors are slightly harder to open in the summer due to the heat. Now imagine if that happened to your floors every time you turned the heat on, except because floors have no leeway to expand or contract, serious damage might occur instead.
You should also avoid plastics-based materials like vinyl and laminate. These have fairly low melting points and could cause problems if you like to crank the heat during the winter.
So what materials should you use for your radiant floor heating system? Remodelista recommended thermally conductive media like concrete, ceramic and stone floors. Not only do these materials do a tremendous job of transferring heat from the system to the entire house, but you can heat a thick enough slab of concrete to turn off your heater and warm your home for an entire day.
Don't rush into a radiant floor heating project – check with a professional before ripping up your floors or throwing a system in yourself. Otherwise, you might get stuck shivering the winter away with a hardwood floor.