Shower Floor Heating - How Does It Work and Is It for You?

Shower Floor Heating - How Does It Work and Is It for You?

Bathroom Remodeling
Flooring
By Contractors.com Team May 04, 2021

It would be hard to imagine living without heating during the winter. We’ve long grown used to the luxury of having hot air pumped into our homes to counter winter’s chill. But as much as we love our central heating, these systems often aren’t as perfect as we’d like. In older homes, especially ones with high ceilings, HVAC heating systems can often be rather inefficient. On top of the energy waste, this means that some rooms may still be quite chilly during the cold winter months. 

Showers are a great example of this; exposed tiles and ceramics remain quite cold even when the heating is switched on — and sometimes even in the summer. This can be pretty unpleasant, especially if you’re used to stepping into your shower early in the mornings. We may all be unique individuals with our own bespoke tastes and preferences, but we all hate stepping on icy cold tiles with bare feet.

But fear not, for technology has yielded a solution to our frigid shower floor woes: radiant floor heating. Also called an “in-floor heating system”, radiant heat is a luxurious solution to a universal problem. Radiant heating has become a pretty popular feature in the real estate market, so you could stand to increase your home’s value by installing it. After all, who doesn’t like the sound of heated bathroom floors, or even a heated shower bench? 

But while the idea of radiant heating may sound pretty, the question remains: is radiant shower floor heating right for you? To answer this question, let’s start with how radiant floor heating works.     

How Radiant Underfloor Heating Works

How Radiant Underfloor Heating Works

How Radiant Underfloor Heating Works

As you may remember from your soporific high school physics classes, hot air rises. Radiant heating tries to use physics against physics. A conventional heating system blows hot air into the rooms of your house through vents in your ceiling or your floor. But because hot air rises, it soon accumulates up around your ceiling, where it cools and falls back to the floor. This is why floors can often be cold during the winter even when the heat is on. If your home has poor thermal insulation, hot air will quickly find its way out of your home as soon as it exits your heating vents. The result is that some rooms in your house will feel drafty and cold, and your heating system will waste energy. Of course, insulation will help alleviate this problem, but radiant heat goes one step further. 

This system can either work through electric underfloor heating or water tubing underfloor heating (also called a hydronic radiant floor heating system). Electric underfloor heating systems are made up of many plastic panels which have high resistance wire in them. This high resistance wire is what generates heat, and the panel is sealed to keep water out. Hydronic radiant floor heating systems are made up of a network of small tubes. Water is heated by a boiler before being pumped through these tubes to create underfloor heating. Both systems are designed to gradually radiate heat from your floors. This heat still rises to the ceiling, but it does so much more slowly than a traditional HVAC system. This leads to better heat distribution and a more efficient heating system. Because the heat is right at your feet, you’ll also feel warmer sooner.  

How Heated Floors Work In the Bathroom

How Heated Floors Work In the Bathroom

What Can You Heat?

Underfloor heating is an increasingly sought-after feature in new home developments. It is possible to retrofit an existing house with radiant heating, but you might not want to retrofit your entire home with an electric radiant heating system. This is because the system tends to work best in tiled rooms that don’t have carpeting, hence why they’re most popular in bathrooms. Carpeted rooms insulate the heat making radiant heating less effective. On top of this, retrofitting electric underfloor heating throughout an existing house isn’t very affordable. You’ll have to tear up the flooring to complete the installation, so it’s best to wait until your next home renovation project. Outfitting an average-sized bathroom (40 sq. ft.) with electric underfloor heating can cost between $500 and $700. 

You can set up your system for maximum comfort with a heated shower floor, or even a heated shower bench. The bedroom is another great place for radiant heating, especially if you have a cold hardwood floor. For added practicality and convenience, you can also use electric radiant heating in a driveway or sidewalk, where it can keep ice and snow from forming. 

Where You Can Install Heated Flooring

Where You Can Install Heated Flooring

If you want radiant heating throughout your entire house, a water-heated tubing system will be a more affordable option. The cost of hydronic heated floor installation is around $7,000. That’s significantly more than a standard furnace, but it's important to note that a water-heated tubing system can last twice as long (up to forty years) as a furnace. If you choose to go with water tubing radiant heating, you’ll have several options when it comes to what will fuel your boiler. Most boilers are either oil-fired or gas-fired, but you could even get a solar-powered system if you want to go in a more sustainable direction. If you’d like help navigating the many radiant heating options available, consulting an RFH (radiant floor heating) contractor is the best way to get more information. 

Solar Powered Heated Flooring

Solar Powered Heated Flooring

Benefits of Radiant Floor Heating

The best benefit of course is the great feeling of always having toasty warm feet even in the grey of winter. The lower energy bills that radiant floor heating allow aren’t bad either. Radiant heating systems don’t suffer from the same drawbacks as conventional heating systems. They don’t lose heat energy as air flows from a furnace to vents, and they are much more efficient in heating a space. You could stand to save up to 50% in heating costs with a radiant heating system since it will be much more efficient than a furnace. Radiant heating systems also eliminate almost 80% of all allergens since there’s no way for them to blow these into the house.

When it comes to electric radiant floor heating, ease of maintenance is another plus. Since installing an electric heating system is similar to laying tile, this can even be a DIY home improvement project. 

Tile Flooring and Electrical Heating In the Bathroom

Tile Flooring and Electrical Heating In the Bathroom

Many electric underfloor heating systems such as the Schluter DITRA-HEAT range are specifically designed with ease of installation in mind. However, it’s a good idea to get the help of an electrician when it’s time to connect the system to your main electricity supply. Once installed, electric underfloor heating panels are maintenance-free. They’re pretty unlikely to malfunction, and if they do, troubleshooting and repairs are usually simple DIY jobs. 

Electric radiant heating works fast, too, as it can reach your desired heat in just 30 minutes. That means you could set your thermostat to turn on 30 minutes before you need it, and your bathroom tiles will be nice and warm on a frosty winter morning.

The Benefits of Heated Flooring

The Benefits of Heated Flooring

Hydronic radiant heating systems aren’t without advantages either. Like their electric counterparts, hydronic systems don’t need much maintenance. An annual boiler checkup from your local plumber is usually all that is needed to keep your underfloor heating system ticking. However, if something does go wrong, repairs tend to be more complicated and costly with a hydronic system, since you’ll need a professional to work on the boiler. Fortunately, boilers are pretty reliable, so the chances of a major malfunction are low. Hydronic radiant heating also tends to be more efficient than electric radiant heating.  

Extra Questions (and Answers)

Will I Get Shocked?

We’ll admit, it sounds kinda sketchy to put electric heating elements directly under many water sources. But the reality is that electric radiant heating systems are quite safe. Not only are heating wires well sealed in a durable waterproof coating, but they’re also hooked up with a Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GFCI). So, even if water was to somehow get into your electric heating tiles there’s a failsafe.

Will an Electric Radiant Heat System Run Up My Utilities Bill? 

Yes and no. If you were to put in a system throughout your house, it would be pretty pricey. But most people only need radiant heat for a room or two, and that application is a lot more affordable. Assuming you only turn on the heat when you need it, an electric radiant heating system can be run for just cents a day and will lower your HVAC bills since it’s more efficient.  

How Do I Know Where to Put the Tiles?

If you want to make installing your electric heating tiles a DIY project, it’s a good idea to get a free floor plan. You can try finding a free floor plan online that best fits your bathroom’s configuration, or you can get a floor plan from your local hardware store. This will give you a better idea of how everything will come together as well as how much it will cost. To ensure the success of your project, consider getting a professional tiler whose expertise can help you put together a foolproof plan.

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team