Underfloor heating systems are available for all types of wood floors. A suspended wood floor lends itself to water pipe underfloor heating, whereas a concrete base floor is suited to an electric heat mat. ‘Flexible’ engineered wood floors with a thickness of around 15mm-18mm deliver the best results.
Underfloor Heating Installation – Initial Considerations
When considering underfloor heating options, major consideration should be given to newly laid concrete foundations. New foundations are typically laid with a thickness of around 75mm. On average, this thickness of concrete requires a settling period of 2-3 months. Any concentrated heat that is applied to the concrete foundation prior to this time could create inconsistencies in surface moisture levels, which could lead to cracking and catastrophic structural failure. Always ensure that your concrete base has been given sufficient time to dry out before installing any home heating solutions.
Choosing Underfloor Heating
Once you are ready to install underfloor heating, the decision over which type of heating system would be most suited to your home is largely determined by the which type of floor has been installed. The options are suspended wood flooring or a concrete base:
- Suspended Wood Taite Floor – This style of flooring consists of a wooden lattice work that sits atop the concrete foundation, simultaneously raising the floor by several several inches whilst providing a space deep enough to house pipework. This pipework should be installed at a safe distance of around 60mm-70mm from the underside of the wood floor – this will help to prevent heating the wood too quickly and therefore prevents warping (protecting the natural the lifespan of the wood).
- Concrete Base – This style of flooring consists of a concrete foundation onto which layers of insulation and a choice of flooring are laid directly. Unlike suspended wood flooring, placing the underlay and flooring directly onto the concrete base means that there is no room for pipe work. Instead, an electric heat mat is laid. Layers of specialised insulation are added both beneath and on top of the heat mat, so as to assist in diffusing the heat as efficiently as possible upwards.
Engineered Wood Floors vs Solid Wood Floors
Underfloor heating is most efficient when paired with engineered wood floors – this is as opposed to installing any type of underfloor heating beneath a solid wood floor. The reason behind the preference an engineered wood floor lies in its construction.
Solid Wood Floors – A solid wood floor consists of boards that are typically cut to a thickness of around an inch – a thickness sufficient to withstand up to ten rounds of sanding and refinishing (giving a lifespan of over 100 years). Solid wood floors are not necessarily incompatible with underfloor heating, but the thickness brings two issues. First, the floor will take a long time to heat up. Second, the thick wood will hold the heat, resulting in a continued and uncontrolled release of rising warm air throughout the home over a period that far surpasses the point at which the heating was turned off.
Engineered Wood Floors – In contrast to solid wood floors, engineered wood floors are constructed from multiple sheets of thin wood glued together (topped with a finishing layer known as a lamella). This arrangement results in characteristic ‘supple’ properties, where a greater degree of bending and stretching may take place before the integrity of the wood is compromised and splitting occurs.
In summation, a thick hardwood floor may develop flaws due to the temperature difference between the underfloor heating below and the cold air above. Conversely, the thin layers of engineered wood flooring allow for a certain amount of responsive expansion at different levels within the wood.
Further Installation Considerations
In order to help ensure a seamless transition from the start of installation work through to the operational completion of a professionally installed underfloor heating system in your home, there are several industry tips to bear in mind. Following these guidelines could help you to avoid any potential inconveniences further down the line.
Step 1 Introduce the packets containing the boards of wood flooring to the room in which the boards will be fitted. Lie the packets on suitable platforms that will allow airflow underneath the wood (layers of cardboard strips stacked to a height exceeding two inches will work if you do not have any strips of wood, bricks, or other suitably sturdy materials available).
Step 2 Next, open the packets and switch on the heating system, ensuring to select a temperature that represents the upper end of the temperature range likely to be chosen to heat the room in the future (commonly, this is around 20-25 degrees Celsius). Ideally, the boards should be left to absorb and release this heat over several days. The wood will acclimatise to the slight expansion that will occur at this temperature.
Fitting the boards at this temperature ensures that the wood is laid at its maximum width and length. If the boards are not fitted in this condition, you may experience bowing and arching when the boards are heated and have little room to expand. You can further help to reduce this potential future issue by leaving a gap of 30mm between the edge of the wood floor and the wall. This breathing room will be covered by the skirting board.
Aftercare – Your Underfloor Heating System
Try to maintain a ‘Goldilocks’ range of temperatures in your home. This means never switching your heating system completely off and never turning your heating system up beyond an upper limit of around 25-27 degrees. Doing so could shock and deform the wood. Furthermore, where you have installed an engineered wood floor, the different layers may begin to show signs of separation, ultimately manifesting in a loose top layer.
If your underfloor heating is switched off for some time, you may wish to avoid the negative issues associated with exposing your wood floors to too much heat too quickly by gradually increasing the heat over several days (where possible) to allow the wood to expand at a natural rate – listen for the tell tale signs of excessive creaking and adjust your heating accordingly.
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