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The Best Type of Flooring to Install over a Radiant Heating System

For those that live in temperate climes, the implementation of a radiant heating system in the home may be a relative rarity. In fact, most people probably never even consider it as an option. But anyone who lives a fair distance from the equator and has to deal with harsh winter weather is no doubt familiar with the concept of radiant heat in the floors, and if they don’t have it already, they’re probably keen to install it. Many high-end homes in northern cities come equipped with hydronic (water heating) systems already built into the structure of the home. But you can always add it later on (albeit at great expense). Or if you want to add radiant heating only in certain rooms, say the bedrooms and bathrooms where family members go barefoot, or near entryways that tend to get chilly, you could simply install electric heating as a more affordable alternative. But you may have some questions concerning the types of materials that can cover such a system. And there are a few things you’ll want to consider.

Safety is obviously your first priority, and any time you’re using heat you want to make sure that there is no fire hazard. For this reason you may worry about adding carpeting on top of your radiant floor heating. However, you should know that there is no additional risk of fire with carpet as opposed to other flooring materials. Unfortunately, carpets are not the best conductor of heat when it comes to flooring options, especially when you consider that there is also a layer of padding between the heat and your feet. In order to get the benefit of heated flooring with carpet, you will probably have to increase temperature and make sure to select padding with a low R-value (which determines the amount of heat transfer) and carpeting that is not very thick. In short, if you want thick, cushy flooring, don’t put it over radiant heating. You won’t get the heat or the energy efficiency you seek from your system.

There are far better heat conductors on the market, as it turns out, and both wood and tile options may fit the bill. Any type of tile, either stone or ceramic, is bound to be your best bet. As you probably know, wood is not the best heat conductor, but it won’t likely impede the heat to the same degree as carpeting. Still, tile will conduct heat the best and it tends to retain heat for a while, meaning you can probably conserve energy and still get maximum warmth. Concrete is another great option. But if style is also a consideration, you might want to stick to your gorgeous hardwood flooring. This is a perfectly acceptable option, and you’ll certainly be glad you went with radiant floor heating, regardless of the flooring you choose to put over it, when you wake up on a chilly morning to find heat rising from below, keeping your home toasty from the bottom up.

Just keep in mind that you may have to access your radiant floor heating for maintenance or repairs at some point, just as you have to contend with air filters and AC efficiency where your HVAC system is concerned. So you might want to build in access panels or otherwise consider how much trouble it will be to tear up the flooring if there’s an issue. This, too, could impact your decision when it comes to selecting flooring materials.

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