Underfloor Heating: Suitable for Homes in Ireland?

Pile of bank notes underneath a home

Are you tired of stepping out of bed onto chilly floors during the cold winter months? If so, then read on to learn everything you need to know regarding underfloor heating in Ireland and how it brings ambient warmth to even the most chilly homes. Whether you are considering having it retrofitted to an existing house or installed in a new build, we cover all the pros, cons, costs, and much more.


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What Is Underfloor Heating?

house with arrows

Underfloor heating is when a heating system is based underneath the flooring of a house. It is different from traditional central heating systems in that no radiators are necessary as the entire floor acts as a radiator.

It is extremely effective and efficient when working in conjunction with renewable energy products like a heat pump system.

The floor gets heated via a series of pipes or wires, as heat naturally rises, the heat from the floor gently warms the entire room. Not only does this increase comfort levels but is also less demanding on your boiler.

Did you know? Underfloor heating existed as early as Roman times. Back then there were no heating coils, hot air from fires simply circulated underneath raised flooring.

How Does Underfloor Heating Work?

question mark

A series of winding pipes or electrical wires are placed underneath your floor finishing. These pipes are heated and in turn, heat your floor. The warmth is then gradually released into the room.

The result is a more even distribution of the heat in the entire room. As such, it eliminates cold spots and, depending on your floor’s material, does not require as much energy as a traditional heating system.

What Underfloor Heating System Types Are There?

There are two common types of underfloor heating systems:

  1. A Dry System
    A dry system runs electrical wires rather than pipes to heat the floor. Although cheaper to install, given the current cost of electricity, they quickly can be as *three times more expensive than a wet system.
  2. A Wet System
    A wet system features pipes running in the underfloor filled with warm water. These are the most efficient type and tend to work with heat pumps or a gas boiler.

We examine in further detail the pros and cons of each of these types of systems.

radiator

What Is a Dry Underfloor Heating System?

Dry underfloor heating systems tend to include electric wiring heating systems that wind under the flooring. Electrical underfloor heating systems come with the following advantages:

  • Easy to install.
  • Can even be a DIY job, cost-saving there.
  • Can be used with or without a screed finish.
  • More economical installation cost than wet underfloor heating systems

Despite all of these positives, a dry system will consume about three times more electricity than other types of underfloor heating systems. As long as the cost of electricity continues to be about three times the price of gas, this will continue to be the dry underfloor systems’ Achilles heel.

What is screed? Screed is a type of mortar or flat board, which is used to smooth over other foundation materials such as concrete.

Dry underfloor heating systems are therefore ideal in the following situations:

  • To use in small, unfrequented rooms (en suite bathroom, spare room, utility room, etc.)
  • In rooms where it would be too difficult to install a wet underfloor heating system (bathroom)
  • Rooms where you can control when they are heated and for how long. Avoiding hefty energy bills of both the cost of installation and the cost of heating these spaces.

Be sure to compare the best electricity offers on the market regardless of whether you plan to opt for a dry underfloor heating system or not.

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What Is a Wet Underfloor Heating System?

water drop

Wet underfloor heating systems are so-called because they consist of laying down pipework for warm water to course through. It does need to work in conjunction with a heat pump or gas and electric boiler.

Its main advantages are as follows:

  • Highly energy-efficient heating system. Great for the environment.
  • Subtle. Since it is part of the flooring, one cannot even see the system in place.

There are plenty of disadvantages to a wet underfloor heating system, these are:

  • High installation cost
  • Complicated pipework requires the use of a licensed professional
  • They take longer to heat, therefore, you need to plan ahead to heat a room adequately.

All of this makes wet underfloor heating systems perfect in the following situations:

  1. When to install a wet underfloor heating system
  2. For a new-build construction
  3. An extension to an existing home
  4. Homes which already have a minimum of insulation.

Although wet underfloor heating systems have a high initial installation cost and take longer to heat up, overall they are much more efficient than dry systems.

The use of a heat pump or boiler to circulate the warm water through the floor pipes consumes much less than a dry system, making it ideal in the long run.

What Type of Underfloor Heating is Best?

woman thinking

As we touched on before, this will depend on your project. Common questions to answer and determine the best type of underfloor heating system in Ireland are:

  1. Am I looking for a new central heating system or just to improve certain rooms?
  2. If only some rooms, how frequent are they in use? Low usage like an ensuite bathroom or high usage like the living area?
  3. Is this for a new construction or an extension to an existing home?
  4. How long do I plan to live at the property? Is this a temporary or very long term arrangement?

As a rule of thumb, a dry system can be favoured for projects which are for a few or small rooms, an existing home unless the retrofit cost can be reasonable, or any temporary dwelling.

A wet underfloor heating system is favourable in new-build construction or new-build extensions, homes you plan to retire in (spend a lot of time inside), to replace an out-of-date central heating system.

What is retrofit underfloor heating? The term is used for installing heated floors into an existing home. Since the installation of such a system affects the thickness of the floor, there is potentially a domino effect on the walls skirting, the height of doors, etc. See our retrofit underfloor heating section below for further details.

Which type of flooring is best for underfloor heating?

While most floors are suitable for underfloor heating in Ireland, the best floors to pair it with tend to be the ones that are the most thermally conductive. The more conductive the material, the better it will store the heat and radiate it upwards into the room, instead of heat-reflecting underneath the flooring.

According to the Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine, some of the best flooring choices for underfloor heating in Ireland are as follows:

  1. Ceramic and porcelain tiles
  2. Luxury vinyl tiles
  3. Stone flooring (limestone, slate, granite, sandstone, or marble)
  4. Thin engineered wood (12 or 15mm thickness)

Some of the materials to be more careful with would be as follows:

  1. Solid timber as it tends to damage or warp with the constant changes in temperature.
  2. Carpet. You will need to choose the right material and thickness for it to be effective with underfloor heating.

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How Does Underfloor Heating Compare to Other Systems?

As listed in our home heating guide, there is a wide array of heating systems available in Ireland. From storage heaters to immersion heaters, heat pumps to smart thermostats, and from biomass boilers to gas or oil boilers. The choices can be overwhelming, so let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of an underfloor heating system from a broader perspective.

Disadvantages of Underfloor Heating Systems
Disadvantage Description
Cost While electric underfloor heating in Ireland is relatively painless to install, it is also more expensive to run than a water-based system. Conversely, water-based systems are very expensive to install.
Radiator Conflict If your home has radiators, you will need to be able to control them separately, which can be a bit of a hassle to set up.
Existing Issues Like any other heating system, if your home is plagued by rogue draughts of air, single-pane windows, or is a bit thin on insulation, an underfloor heating system will still be very costly to operate. If this is your situation, you should look at replacing your windows or improving your home insulation first. No system will function well in such a home.
Tog Value While you may dream of stepping out of bed into a deep pile carpet, you’ll need to make sure the tog value of the underlay and carpet together is no higher than 2.5 or such carpet thickness will prevent heat from radiating into the room.
Unresponsive Unlike radiators, underfloor heating takes longer to heat up and longer to cool down. This makes them a little slow to respond to sudden temperature changes.

Before installing underfloor heating, we would recommend upgrading your insulation and windows, as well as making sure your home is airtight. Depending on the age of your house, the SEAI can offer several grants to help you out in this regard.

What Is Retrofit Underfloor Heating?

man holding clipboard

Many people wonder if underfloor heating is only available in new homes or whether it can be installed in existing homes as well?

In short, yes, underfloor heating can be installed in an existing dwelling, this is referred to as retrofit underfloor heating.

However, there are other factors to consider when installing such a system in an existing home versus a new-build construction. These are:

  1. Cost
    Whether it is a wet or dry system, there are usually plenty of additional costs that an existing home will incur that a new build does not face. How much more cost will depend on the house in question.
  2. Replaced flooring
    The process of pulling up the flooring to install the underfloor heating system will no doubt damage the existing flooring. You may also want to replace it with a type of flooring that works efficiently with your new heating system.
  3. Compatibility
    You may require a new control system for your heating if it is not compatible with your existing one.

Does Retrofitting Underfloor Heating Raise Floor Levels?

house

Generally, yes. However, if electric underfloor heating is retrofitted, no perceptible increase in floor level is observed, due to how thin electric heating elements can be.

On the other hand, a water-based system which pushes hot water through piping much like radiators will result in a visible increase in floor levels.

This comes at various inconveniences as it may mean having to adjust your doors, the joints, and your skirting boards, for them to work properly with the new raised floor.

You also want to keep in mind that your subfloor insulation may need an upgrade to prevent heat from seeping into the ground below.

If you have suspended flooring and a newer build, with some careful product choices you may be able to get away with a minimum of changes.

How Much Does Underfloor Heating Cost?

On average, installing underfloor heating for new-build construction costs around €24 to €48 per square metre. The difference in the range depends mainly on adding screed or not to a water-based underfloor heating system.

For a retrofit underfloor heating system, the cost can range from €48 to €72 per square metre.

Have a limited budget? Know that underfloor heating does not have to be installed house-wide, and can just be limited to certain rooms.To stay within your budget, you can have underfloor heating installed only in common areas such as the living room and kitchen, and keep radiators in the bedrooms (as an example).

How Can You Control Underfloor Heating?

Underfloor heating can be controlled with any thermostat and is also compatible with smart thermostats. Wet underfloor systems tend to take longer to heat up than dry systems so plan your heating schedule accordingly.

What Temperature Should I Set for My Heated Floor?

wifi thermostat

One of the advantages of an underfloor heating system is that it can run at a lower temperature than a traditional radiator to obtain the same result.

Setting your heating system temperature at 24 degrees will have you sitting comfortably on the sofa at 20 degrees. A radiator system will have to operate at 43 degrees celsius to have the same result.

If we compound this difference with the results of the tests run by the Energy Saving Trust which indicate that a one-degree reduction in temperature reduces your heating bill by 10%. We can easily see why underfloor heating solutions are so favoured as an energy-efficient method.

Verdict: Is It Worth Getting Underfloor Heating?

scales pros and cons

If you have a newer, well-insulated house which is largely occupied, installing underfloor heating is easy and cost-effective. If you have an older, draughty house with sporadic occupancy, quick-reacting radiators may be more up your street.

Due to the time lag in heating and cooling, it could be more efficient and less costly to only retrofit underfloor heating in common areas in your house, and restrict bedroom heating to radiators.

Regardless of your choice, always be sure to have a good energy provider which offers good service at a fair price to keep you warm on those cold winter nights.

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