18 Nov 2019

Hot foot it

Aside from creating a luxurious finish in the home, underfloor heating has many practical advantages too, yet installation is not always plain sailing. John Gittens, Maincor’s Business Development Director, looks at the benefits of underfloor heating and the solutions available for fitting.

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The benefits of underfloor heating are obvious for the end-user, making this a heating option that is fast gaining in popularity. Maximising warmth and comfort while delivering heat to a building in an energy-efficient and cost-effective way, underfloor heating also has environmental benefits. For example, much lower water temperatures are required than conventional radiator heating systems as the large surface area of the floor is enough to warm the room efficiently as the heat rises.

An underfloor heating system will generally run at around 45ºC as opposed to a more common temperature of circa 80ºC used in radiator systems, resulting in energy savings and a higher degree of user comfort; especially when used in conjunction with renewable heat sources such as heat pumps. In turn, this means lower CO2 emissions, which is good news for the eco-conscious homeowner too.

Regardless of the style of property, or what look the homeowner may be opting for, underfloor heating delivers; out of sight but certainly not out of mind, keeping the property cosy and warm regardless of how much outside air temperatures may plummet. This is even more important with the trend towards wood and laminate flooring as a practical and stylish option, particularly in family homes, which quite simply is not as warm underfoot as walking on carpet.

Underfloor heating helps with the aesthetics of a property too and creates complete freedom of interior design with no radiators to worry about, which means that every square inch of space can be used for room layouts and makes it particularly ideal for open-plan spaces where wall space for radiators is limited. With underfloor heating, the homeowner has complete control of the temperature too, as rooms are heated on an individual basis, so the living room can be kept at a higher temperature than the bedrooms, for example.

All these advantages mean that the underfloor heating market in the UK has grown considerably in the last decade or so, to over £150m per year, with underfloor heating now the heating method of choice for many of the nation’s self-builders.

But what about installation? As with most things in life, there can be drawbacks to underfloor heating versus conventional central heating systems, particularly in terms of cost versus speed when installing retrospectively. While fitting underfloor heating is relatively straightforward on new builds and in empty buildings, retrofitting can necessitate removing floor and skirting boards and other disruption that slows a project down.

Fortunately, new advancements in technology mean that underfloor heating can be installed quite simply regardless of floor construction, location within the building it is required or the stage of the project. Although such systems can be more expensive than traditional methods in terms of initial outlay, without the cost of laying screed and the need to wait for a huge slab to dry, installation is far quicker, particularly when fitting is due to take place during the winter months when the weather is colder.

For solid floors, underfloor heating pipes can be laid on to an insulation board placed over a solid concrete base with screed then poured over the top of the pipes. This construction is typically used on ground floors or block and beam floors, with mainfoil or heat emission plates being suitable for suspended floors.

A mainfoil system uses a bubble aluminium foil which laps up and over the joists to create a sealed air void. The aluminium foil reflects the radiant heat up to the underside of the floor, which, in turn, heats the room; while heat emission plates, supported by the joists, are grooved so that the underfloor heating pipework can be fitted into them. The plates diffuse the heat for an even heat distribution across the floor.

The trick to maximising efficiency when retrofitting underfloor heating is to opt for a system that has been specifically designed with ease of installation and planning in mind. If the boards don’t need to be laid in a brick pattern and are specifically designed to reduce the amount of cutting and routing required of the end panels and around pipes etc., then so much the better – as this will all save time, wastage, dust and breakages.

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