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What Are the Best Tips for Making DIY Underfloor Heating?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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Do-It-Yourself (DIY) underfloor heating has become a popular replacement for the ducted or baseboard types of home heating. Improperly installed, DIY underfloor heating can be expensive to maintain and very expensive to repair. The best and most efficient DIY underfloor heating system uses long-lasting materials impervious to corrosion and is designed into zoned areas to control heat flow and energy use. DIY underfloor heating is best installed with a floor covering that retains heat for longer periods of time and slowly releases it into the room.

Before planning an underfloor heating do-it-yourself project, the homeowner should first understand how the system transfers heat. Also called radiant heating, DIY underfloor heating takes advantage of the natural properties of radiation and convection. Unlike a typical forced-air and water baseboard heating systems, radiant heating heats the floor instead of the air. As the floor is heated, heat waves radiate to other objects throughout the room, eliminating drafts and efficiently warming occupants of the room.

Early DIY underfloor heating systems used copper piping embedded in concrete slabs. These systems failed miserably because the corrosive chemicals in the cement caused the copper pipes to deteriorate. The development of cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipes gave new life to radiant heating. Unlike copper, PEX pipes do not contract and expand, and are impervious to the corrosive effects of concrete.

While PEX is widely used for new construction, PEX is also an excellent choice for retrofitting an existing floor. The tubes are attached to metal tracks installed on the underside of existing floors. PEX uses a hydronic heating system, where a boiler heats water and pumps the hot water through the pipes. This type of system is very affordable, as PEX piping is less expensive than copper and needs only a few DIY tools for installation. If the PEX pipes are installed in an unheated room, such as a basement ceiling to heat the first floor, the joist cavities should be insulated with fiberglass batting.

Electrical resistance wiring is another common material for the DIY project. Easily installed, electrical wiring can be expensive to run as electricity costs are usually more expensive than natural gas or oil. This type of underfloor heating requires no special tools or intricate do-it-yourself plans. The wiring is embedded in rolled mats. The homeowner simply unrolls and secures the mat on top of the subflooring and installs the finished flooring over the mat.

A zoned heating system, each with its own thermostat, provides customized heating zones that can be turned on or off independent of each other. This saves money and energy, as rooms that are used frequently can receive more heat, while rooms used infrequently can be unheated or receive less heat. An underfloor heating system works best with a solid floor that retains and slowly conducts heat. Tile floors are the best choice, followed by laminate wood flooring. Thick carpeting, hardwood flooring, and linoleum are less efficient, as these floors absorb heat but do not radiate it very efficiently; hardwood may also shrink or crack from the heat.

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Discussion Comments
By anon994110 — On Jan 15, 2016

Good tips! Thanks! I hope they will help me while making warm floor. Recently I have found a site where they propose underfloor heating systems. Have you ever heard about Danfoss brand? I was thinking to order it but firstly want to be sure that it is qualitative enough.

By Drentel — On Aug 15, 2014

@Animandel - One of the most important things you want to consider is the type of floor covering you are working with. As the article says in the first section, you want a covering that holds heat so you get the full benefits of your heating system.

Hardwoods and tiles are two good coverings to have with an underfloor heating system. They hold the heat. There are others, but these are two that I know about.

By the way, not all wood floors are good heat conductors, so to be safe, stick with the hardwoods and stay away from the softer words.

By Animandel — On Aug 14, 2014

This sounds really complicated. I don't feel comfortable starting a do-it-yourself project like this. First, I would be afraid I wouldn't be able to get it hooked up and working. Second, I'd be afraid if I did somehow get it working the heating system would eventually malfunction because I did something wrong and then the system would cause serious damage.

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