Often known as radiant heating, underfloor heating systems make a luxurious addition to any home. Not only do they eliminate the need to clutter your walls with unsightly radiators, but they also bring whole new levels of comfort to every room, evenly distributing the heat across the surface of your floor so that every step feels like a dream and your whole home remains suitably cozy all day long.
That’s all well and good, but isn’t all that added luxury expensive? How much does underfloor heating cost? More importantly, why should you even bother paying for a whole new heating system when the one you currently have seems to be working just fine?
In today’s guide, we’ll answer all of those questions and more, breaking down the key costs involved so that you can start to work out your budget. We’ll also weigh up the pros and cons of switching to a whole new way of keeping your home warm and, of course, explain the best way to save money on underfloor heating.
Underfloor heating systems can cost several thousand dollars to install but often prove to be the most energy-efficient way to heat large rooms like this one.
What is Underfloor Heating?
Underfloor heating uses a series of interconnected tubes to heat the underside of your flooring
Though it may seem like a frivolous extra, underfloor heating does much more than make your feet feel nice and warm in the middle of winter. It actually proves to be one of the most efficient ways to heat a house, relying on far less electricity or fossil fuels than a standard home heating system.
With traditional home heating systems, hot air moves from the perimeter of the room inwards, resulting in an uneven distribution of heat.
In extreme cases, this can mean that larger rooms are freezing cold in the center but overbearingly hot close to the walls, making for an overall uncomfortable experience. It also means that your heating system has to work twice as hard to heat the entire room.
Underfloor heating simply offers a better solution.
Tubing or cables are placed on the underside of your subfloor. Heat is then passed through them even in the form of hot water or electric heating which then rises up, through your floor and into your room, meaning that all floors and furnishings receive the same amount of heat, creating a much more comfortable experience.
That’s not the only benefit, either.
Traditional heating systems have a habit of blowing all manner of dust and allergens around the room, creating an unhealthy environment for you and your loved ones and necessitating the use of expensive air purifiers.
With underfloor heating, there’s no such problem; the air in your home remains clean, the temperature remains suitable, and your energy bills remain at an all-time low.
How Much Does Underfloor Heating Cost?
Underfloor heating makes any floor warm enough to walk around barefoot.
To install underfloor across an entire 2,000 square foot home costs between $9,000 and $50,000 depending on the materials used and the type of system you have installed.
These figures include all parts and labor and should give you a good idea of how much you’ll need to set aside to build underfloor heating into a new build property.
If you’re only planning to use an underfloor system for a single room, you’d be advised to set aside somewhere in the region of $1,900 to $5,000, with the biggest determining factors here being the size of your room and the type of system used.
However, if you’re retro-fitting a new heating system (installing into an existing home), then there’ll be extra costs involved in taking up the old flooring and installing a new floor afterward. This could add anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 to the overall cost of your project.
You’ll also want to consider the costs of additional equipment that can help you get the most of your new radiant heating.
A good quality smart thermostat, like the best-selling Google Nest, for example, will help you manage your system, control the temperature, and generally use your underfloor heating in the most efficient manner possible.
So far, so good, but let’s be honest:
There’s a world of difference between $9,000 and $50,000. So how did we come up with those figures?
Below, we’ll look at the different types of radiant heating systems for residential homes and their associated costs so that you can get a more accurate picture of how much you’re likely to spend.
Hydronic Underfloor Heating System Costs: $20,000 – $45,000
Though they typically cost more than an electric system, hydronic heating systems consistently prove popular in modern new build homes thanks to their low operating costs.
Often used as a whole-home solution rather than in a single room, hydronic systems rely on a boiler that heats water up to 120°F and pumps it through a series of interconnected pipes underneath your floors. Since hot water can retain heat much more effectively than electrical wiring, your home will require much less energy to become fully heated and thus you’ll find yourself spending less on your energy bills.
While that’s no doubt a positive, it does mean that you’ll need to spend more on the initial installation. If your current central heating system works off a boiler, you may be able to use that for your new hydronic heating system. Otherwise, you’ll need to install a new one along with an adequate pump.
Boiler installation alone could cost you as much as $6,0000 – $9,000, after which you’ll be looking at between $5 and $15 per square foot to lay down specialist tubing designed for hydronic floor heating.
You should be able to keep your costs on the lower end of the scale by doing most of the work yourself, but unless you’re a plumbing pro it may be worth bringing in expert help.
Once the job is done, your hydronic system can be overlayed with hardwood flooring, carpeting, or vinyl.
Electric Radiant Floor Heating Costs: $9,000 – $22,500
Electric heating systems are often better for single rooms such as bathrooms
Since electricity can be pretty expensive, you’ll rarely find a home that uses electric underfloor heating in every single room. Rather, they’re more commonly built in newly designed bathrooms to create a nice warm, cozy feeling when stepping out of the shower, or to add a touch of luxury to master bedrooms and similar living spaces.
The good news is that they tend to be much more affordable, not only because they’re applied over less space, but also because they require far fewer expensive parts.
With this type of system, electric cables come attached to specially designed heat mats which can easily be installed on top of your subfloor using a thin-set mortar to hold them in place. The mats themselves can cost as little as between $5 – $10 per square foot, making it a much more affordable option in terms of initial installation costs.
These days, you can even buy full electric radiant floor heating kits such as this 100 square foot set from Heatwave.
If you know what you’re doing, you could even install one of these kits yourself, saving you even more money on labor fees. Otherwise, you may want to bring in outside help, especially if you need electrical rewiring to ensure your system is installed safely and up to code.
Once installed, electric underfloor heating is typically overlayed with either ceramic or stone tiles, though it is possible to buy some heating mats which are suitable for laminate and vinyl flooring.
Alternatively, if you didn’t want to rip up your existing floor, you could always shop around for floor heating pads which can be built into the joist bays beneath your subfloor providing you have access to them from your crawl space or basement.
Geothermal Under Floor Heating Costs: $25,000 – $50,000
Geothermal heating systems are often touted as an efficient way to keep your home warm without spending a fortune on energy bills, but, much as with hydronic systems, they can cost a small fortune to install.
Geothermal heating is based on the principle of using the earth’s own heat energy and transferring it into your home. Somewhere between four and six feet below the surface, the earth’s temperature remains at a constant level of between 40°F – 45°F. A geothermal system relies on this steady temperature to balance out the ever-shifting temperatures in your home and provide what could be considered ‘free’ heating.
The system uses a series of connected pipes (known as an ‘earth loop’) which is buried below the ground and a pump to draw heat energy from underground and distribute it into your home via an indoor handling unit.
Instead, the heat escaping back out of your home through doors, windows, and other gaps, the majority of it is drawn back into the system and returned to the ground for future use.
On the plus side, there’s a lot to like about this kind of system.
For one thing, it’s definitely one of the most environmentally-friendly methods of heating your home. It can also reduce the amount that you spend on home energy by as much as 50%, requiring just enough electricity to power the indoor unit and pump.
Some systems can even be designed for cooling too, helping you to lower the temperature of a room without traditional air conditioning systems.
However, they are remarkably expensive, with the pump alone costing several thousand dollars. They’re not the easiest things to install either, so you’ll likely find that you spend thousands more on hiring a professional service to install one for you.
While these costs generally rule them out as an option for most residential property owners, geothermal heating has become an increasingly popular choice for eco-minded businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their overall energy costs.
Solar Radiant Heating System Costs: $10,000 – $25,000
Solar energy can be used to power either an electric or hydronic underfloor heating system. Though they come with some of the highest installation costs, they’re one of the cheapest systems to operate
If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly way to use underfloor heating but find the excess cost of geothermal heating is way out of your price range, using a solar radiant heating system might be worth considering.
Sure, it’s still relatively expensive, but it’s also thousands of dollars cheaper than a geothermal system and you may even be able to get a solar panel grant to help out with the costs. This is especially true if you’re planning to use solar energy to power an electric underfloor heating system.
In this case, standard solar PV panels can be installed on your property which converts solar energy into electricity. Not only can this electricity be used to power your heating system, but it can also be supplied to your household appliances and lighting too, making for an all-round affordable, eco-efficient system.
If, on the other hand, you decide to use a solar-powered hydronic system, you’ll also need to invest in a solar thermal cylinder that works in connection with your solar panels to heat the water which will then be diverted into your underfloor system. As you can imagine, this costs significantly more to install but generally proves worth it in terms of long-term energy savings.
Propane Underfloor Heating Costs: $5,000 – $10,000
Though propane-based radiant heating systems aren’t exactly common, they do exist, and can often prove to be an effective way to get underfloor heating on a small budget.
For the most part, these types of systems are just a variation of your standard hydronic set-up. You’ll still need the hydronic tubing running underneath your flooring and you’ll still need a pump to distribute the hot water. The only major difference is that you’ll be using a propane water heater to get the water hot enough to keep your home warm.
The good news is that this is a very low-cost alternative to the more popular radiant heating systems. The bad news is that a propane water heater generally takes longer to get your water to a suitable temperature, not to mention the fact that while propane is fairly safe, it’s still combustible, and could, therefore, present the kind of high-level fire risk that most families won’t want to take.
Retro Fitting Underfloor Heating vs. Installing in a New Build Home: How Do the Costs Differ?
It always costs less to install radiant heating during the construction of a new home than it does to retrofit one into an existing property
Whichever way you look at it installing radiant floor heating is always going to be more affordable in a new build development. This is because it can be easily integrated into the design plans and built-in as part of the flooring.
That’s not to say that you can’t have underfloor heating if you’re already living in an existing property, it’s just a little trickier -and therefore more expensive- to install.
To install a system on the first floor, the heating tubes can be placed on the underside of the subfloor providing you can get to it from your basement or crawl space. Where this is not possible, you’ll generally have to take up the entire floor in any room where you want to install heating. This generally shouldn’t cost much more if you’re doing the work yourself, though since it does take longer to do, you may find your labor costs increase if you’re hiring a contractor.
On second floors, your options are to either take out the flooring or remove the ceiling in the rooms below so that you can attach tubing underneath the subfloor. Both options will add to the total cost of your project, though given the complexity of the project, removing a ceiling will usually cost more than removing and replacing a floor.
If you’re looking to put a budget together, we recommend allocating $500 to have a professional take out your floor and anywhere from $500 to $700 for a ceiling to be removed.
You could then pay between $900 and $2,000 to install a new ceiling. To install a new floor, most homeowners pay an average of $5,000, though prices could vary from as little as $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the size and materials used.
Underfloor Heating vs. Traditional Heating: How Much Do They Cost to Operate
Managing your home energy usage is easier with radiant flooring as they cost as much as four times less to operate than traditional heating
Here’s where the really good news comes in:
Underfloor heating systems cost upto four times less to operate than your standard home heating system.
American homeowners typically spend average of $25 to heat a 200,000 square home for 24 hours. Meanwhile, an electric underfloor heating system costs just $10 while a hydronic system can cost as little as $3 – $5.
If you opt for solar or geothermal heating, you may find that you pay even less.
How Much Do Radiant Walls and Ceilings Cost?
Though radiant flooring is generally the most popular method for heating a home, some homeowners do prefer to install similar systems into their walls and ceilings, either instead of, or in addition to, a floor-based system.
Rather than using hidden tubing, radiant walls and ceilings tend to use individual panels. As a general rule, expect to pay between $150 – $300 for a single radiant heating panel, plus an additional $200 – $500 for a professional installation. For most homes, one or two panels per room should be enough.
As you can see, this makes them a much more affordable option in terms of installation, though you don’t get quite the same level of even heat distribution as you do with underfloor heating.
Frequently Asked Questions About Underfloor Heating
Underfloor heating can take several hours to work, so it’s always best to use a programmable thermostat to control when they turn on
How Long Does Underfloor Heating Take to Install?
Installing underfloor heating across an entire 2,000 square foot home should take a professional contractor between two and four days, though this depends on how much preparation work they have to do first.
If your contractor has to first take up your existing floor before they can install a new one, then this could take an extra day or two. To speed up the process (and reduce costs in the process), you’ll benefit from taking up the floor yourself before your contractors arrive.
If you’re only installing underfloor heating in a single room, then this may only take up to a full working day, while more complex projects could take an experienced contractor up to a full week.
Can I Install Underfloor Heating Myself?
If you’re fully confident in your own DIY abilities, then there’s no reason why you couldn’t successfully install a standard radiant heating system yourself.
Doing so could knock as much as $5 – $10 per square foot off the overall cost of installing your system, so it’s certainly a useful way to save money. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that you may end up paying extra to buy the necessary tools and equipment if you don’t already have them, and even then the whole job could take you longer to finish than it would for an experienced contractor.
Having said that, you’ll still need to pay a qualified electrician to connect your new heating system to your electricity supply as not only is it dangerous to do this kind of thing solo, but it may also be against your state’s building regulations.
How Long Does Underfloor Heating Take to Warm Up?
While there are still some outdated systems that can take as much as 24 hours to adequately heat a home (especially in the middle of winter), most modern options work much faster.
As a general rule, expect it to take between two and three hours for your underfloor heating to warm up, making the use of a decent programmable thermostat essential.
That said, you may start feeling the benefits much sooner depending on the type of flooring you have. Wooden floors, for example, are decent conductors of heat, so you should start noticing a difference as soon as an hour after turning on your heating system.
Should I Really Leave My Underfloor Heating on All Day?
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, leaving your underfloor heating on all day may prove useful in the winter months.
As we’ve already discussed, most heating systems take up to three hours to warm up. That’s simply no good if you’re returning to a stone-cold home after a hard day’s work and then have to wait several hours before you can feel warm.
It’s for this reason that scores of experts recommend leaving your heating turned on, at least at a low level. This way, when you do return home, you’ll start feeling the benefit of your underfloor heating much faster.
But wait, isn’t leaving the heating on when nobody’s home a waste of money?
The truth is that it takes much more energy for your home to go from freezing cold to fully heated than it does to go from a low temperature to a high one. In other words, although it will cost you some money to keep the heating on all day, it may still end up costing less than turning your entire system on and off every single day.
What is the Best Kind of Flooring for Underfloor Heating?
The best kind of finished flooring for underfloor heating is any kind that is good at transferring heat from the hidden tubing into the room.
Ceramic and stone tiles often prove to be the most popular options as they offer the best thermal conductivity. This is the reason a lot of people opt to place underfloor heating in kitchens and bathrooms.
Hardwood flooring can also work, but some can warp if they get too hot. So, if you do want a wood finish, it’s often best to opt for engineered wood that can handle the heat.
Carpet can also be suitable, though since it tends to be less effective at transferring heat, it’s advised that you keep the combined tog of your carpet and underlay below 2.5
Final Thought: What’s the Best Way to Save Money When Installing Underfloor Heating?
Having explored the costs involved in installing the various types of underfloor heating, one thing becomes immediately obvious:
Even the cheapest systems could set you back several thousand dollars.
Yet before you let that high price tag put you off the whole idea altogether, it’s worth looking at a few ways that you can save money on this type of heating, enjoying all of the comfort, luxury, and energy-efficiency for less.
First things first, the quickest and simplest way to save money on underfloor heating is to do most of the work yourself. Depending on the size of the project, labor costs generally account for between 10% and 20% of the overall budget for a project like this. So, by forgoing the usual contractor fees, you could save hundreds, perhaps even thousands of dollars.
The only exception to this rule is if you’re not altogether confident in your DIY skills. A small mishap or a badly-fitted heating system could cause all kinds of problems that require costly repairs or even an entire replacement floor. In this scenario, what started out as a way to cut costs could end up costing you more in the long run, so you may find that it’s in your best interest to hire a professional.
Beyond that, saving money is all a matter of priorities.
If you’re more concerned with spending as little as possible on the actual installation, then an electric heating system is the way to go. While this will initially cost less, you’ll end up spending more on energy usage.
On the other hand, installing a hydronic underfloor heating system requires a much larger initial investment but comes with significantly lower operating costs. In other words, though you won’t save money in the short-term, in the long run, the added luxury of hydronic underfloor heating will eventually pay for itself.