How to Install Radiant Floor Heating

man installing subfloor heating

Heated floors are an energy-efficient feature that will reduce your overall energy costs and end up saving you money in the long run. But when it comes to installing heated floors, how hard is it to do this project as a DIY task?

Heated floors are one of those features that changes everything about the property where it’s installed. A heated floor immediately makes any space feel more high-end, it's a huge selling point, and it's definitely something that's fun to show off to others.

What's the Point of a Heated Floor?

Sure it's fancy, and it's got epic bragging rights associated with it, but there's actually a practical reason why heated floors are a great idea. This isn’t one of those features that people only get to impress their friends. In the end, radiant floor heat will end up saving you money.

Heated floors distribute heat very evenly across the floor. Since heat rises, this actually heats up the entire room and does it very efficiently.

This heating system doesn't take any maintenance to keep working, it doesn't make any noise, and it doesn't stir the air around. It's non-allergenic because it isn't shooting dust motes all over the place or circulating air that could contain viruses, among other dangers.

Types of Heated Floors

There are actually several ways to have heated floors. Weigh your options to decide which method will work best for your floors, your DIY skills, and your budget.

Electric Heating Cables

Some companies make simple fiberglass rolls or mats that you roll out across the floor, right on top of the subfloor. The fiberglass already has heating cables running through it.

This is a "dry" heated floor system because it doesn't use water to heat the floors. Rolls, mats, and even loose wiring systems with heated cables can be used to create heated floors.

For laminate flooring, you will need a foil mat. Foil mats used in heated floor systems were specially designed to be used with laminate floors.

Hire an electrician to ensure the flooring system is connected properly to your property's electrical system. Always use care when you're working on a DIY project that involves electricity, especially if you're working in an area with water pipes in it, like the bathroom or kitchen.

Wet Systems

man installing heated floor tubes

A "wet" heated floor system uses water to heat the floors. This system requires a boiler or water heater to function because it takes a lot of hot water to work.

To make this system work, pipes are installed on top of subflooring. Plastic pipes are used because this way, the system won't leak.

Flooring systems that use water to heat up floors create uniform, consistent heat. These systems are highly effective and efficient.

Properly, wet systems are known as hydronic systems. This is an extremely reliable and effective way to heat floors, and it's cost-effective, too.

Geothermal

A much newer option in heated flooring systems is geothermal. Through a geothermal pump, heat is taken directly from the Earth.

Geothermal power is available literally everywhere in the U.S. Professional companies know how to install geothermal pumps that connect to your home’s existing power grid.

Solar

Solar energy can be used to power heated floors. Solar energy systems connect to standard electrical grids inside the home to deliver power using energy harnessed through solar panels.

Solar energy can be used to power your home, heat your water, and keep your heated floor system hot.

Propane

Use gas heating to warm floors with a propane heated flooring system. Propane gas runs through a piping system, the same way hot water goes through piping in hydroponic heated floor systems.

How to Install Heated Floors

person installing heated floor tubing

To understand what it takes to install heated floors, you need to know exactly what it takes. How much of this can you do yourself, and how much work will you have to do it yourself?

Installing heated floors does take work, but it's nothing that even a casual DIYer can't tackle. With time and materials, this upgrade is very possible.

Step 1 - Get to the Subfloor

If you're doing this project during a full remodel or new construction, it's a bit easier. Just stop once the subfloor is in place so you can install your heated floor system, then allow the floor to be finished.

If you're in a home with a floor that is already finished, you have to consider two options for installing your heated flooring system.

First, you can install a subfloor right on top of the existing floor. Alternately, you can demolish the existing floor to reveal the subfloor, place your heated floor system and continue from there.

Step 2 - Prepare the Subfloor

Cover the subfloor with a half-inch cement backer board. Secure it to the subfloor with mortar and cement board screws.

This process takes time and care. You want to be sure that no screws or nailheads are sticking out above the cement board so you have a smooth surface everywhere.

Use tape and mortar to fill in cracks and holes in the cement board to create a very smooth surface. You don’t want anything that could damage the cables.

Step 3 - Bring the Heat, Electrical Version

There are multiple ways to install heated floors because there are multiple options for getting the heat you need. Depending on the choice you’ve made, your project could take a few different paths from here.

If you're placing electric heating cables using a mat, fiberglass rolls or placing the cables yourself, lay this out now. Keep the cables at least four inches away from all walls and fixtures and make sure cables are placed at least two inches away from each other.

Never overlap cables.

Step 3 - Bring the Heat, Piping Version

Before installing piping for a water-heated floor, lay down a moisture barrier. Next, you will use to lay out plastic piping, like Pex, across the floor.

This pipe can be bent so that it moves back and forth across the floor but it does not need to be cut and you do not need fittings. This is what keeps the piping from leaking.

Use plastic straps and elbows and nail or screw these in place to secure the piping and make bends in the system so that the pipes can deliver heat across the entire floor.

subfloor heating during installation

Step 4 - Secure the cables, Electrical Version

Use double-sided tape to secure the mat and cables to the floor. A hot glue gun can also be used to secure the mat and cables in place.

Be careful not to rip or tear cables when you’re working, as this will create a potential hazard and cause the system to fail.

Step 5 - Secure the pipes, Piping Version

Before covering your piping with flooring and before you try to connect it to your water heater or boiler system, consult with a professional plumber. The plumber will make sure your piping is secure and will properly connect the pipes to a hot water supply.

A plumber is also needed to install a boiler or water heating system, which is a dangerous task that requires a special permit and a license because it is so complicated.

If you're using propane gas to heat your system, this installation is very similar. You will still use plastic piping to serve as the gas line and connect the piping to the gas.

Piping is also used for geothermal heating systems, so the installation for this heating system is the same. Once the pipes are in place, they are connected to the geothermal-heated water supply to create the heated floor.

Step 6 - Get the Professionals

You will need to connect wiring to electrically heated floor systems. This involves installing conduit connectors and connecting writing to the main circuit breaker panel, which is a pretty big job.

This is complicated and dangerous work, so unless you're a certified electrician, you should hire a professional to complete this step. Working with electrical wiring and conduits is hazardous, and if everything is not done properly, this could lead to a risk of fire.

If you're using solar energy to heat your floor, electrical cables can be connected to the solar system. You can also connect a water heating system to solar energy to heat up water pipes used for a heated floor system.

Installing Heated Floors - How Hard Is it?

hands installing heated floor tubing

How hard is it to install heated floors? The project takes time and a lot of materials, but it is not terribly difficult, though it does take some specialized skill that you may need to hire a professional to complete.

Most of the installation is something that a DIYer can do on their own to put a heated floor system in place. However, there are some finishing steps that only a professional can complete, no matter which type of flooring system you choose.

As long as you get the professionals to connect the system and handle the complicated parts of this installation, you can install your own heated floor system without too much difficulty.

Do not overestimate your own skill level. When you face a DIY project that is beyond your skill, get a professional to complete those steps because improper installation can become dangerous.

If you get help when you need it and work carefully, just about anyone can install a heated floor system and start enjoying this luxurious and energy-efficient feature.

Floor Heating FAQ

How Much Does a Heated Floor System Cost?

Now for the real question: how much does all this cost? Heated floors will cost you, on average, $10 to $12 per square foot of floor. The price can be lower or higher, of course, depending on the materials you use and how much of your own sweat you put into the project.

The price of the floor always varies based on the heating flooring system you choose. If you’re installing a geothermal heat pump or a brand-new water heater or boiler system, for example, this will drive the price up.

How Long Will a Heated Floor System Last?

Sure it's luxurious and energy efficient, and it's all that stuff. But when will you have to replace your heated floor system or make major repairs to it?

How long will such a system last? This is a concern many people have when it comes to installing heated floors because to make repairs or replacements to the system, you have to replace your floor.

Heated floor systems will last about 50 years before they need replacing or major repair work, which is a very long time compared to other heating systems. A standard radiator, by comparison, will need to be replaced after about 12 years.

What Types of Floors Can Be Heated Floors?

Many, many different types of floors can be heated floors when installed the right way. Marble, wood, tile, concrete, laminate, carpeting, you can use almost any flooring type with any heated floor system you choose.

You have plenty of flooring options when you want to have heated floors, so you won’t be limited in your overall design plans if you choose to add this feature to your property.

Do Heated Floors Take a Long Time to Heat Up?

It's a common belief and an often-repeated warning about heating floors that they take a long time to heat up. This actually is not true.

How long does it take for your shower to warm up and for the water to be hot enough for you to step inside? How long does it take for a toaster to heat up?

Heated floor systems are heated through hot water or electricity that powers heating cables. It takes only minutes for these floors to start putting out heat because it doesn't take a lot of time for heating cables or water to get hot.

Further Reading

3 Basement Floor Heating Options

The Advantages of Radiant Floor Heating Systems

How to Install PEX

PEX Tubing Installation: Do's and Don'ts

Pros and Cons of In-Floor Radiant Heat