We’ve recently experienced one of the wettest and coldest winters in British history. Many homeowners have struggled to keep their houses warm, and almost all of us have seen a rise in our heating bills. In this article we’ll present a home-heating technology that will guarantee you a warm home, energy efficiency, and many other benefits. It’s a technology that goes right back to Roman times but has been ultra-modernised in recent years. Its starting point is the elimination of a chilly issue that for centuries has harassed home dwellers – namely, cold floors.
Why Floors are Cold
At the risk of stating the very obvious, hot air rises and thus cold air sinks. This means that the coldest air in your home is the air lingering over your flooring. Typically if a room heated by radiators, stoves or fire has attained a comfortable ambient temperature of 22°C, the actual temperature at the ceiling is likely to be approaching a sultry 30°C, whereas the floor temperature could be as low as a nippy 15°C. In effect, there is a temperature gradient within the room with the coldest part at the floor and hottest at ceiling level.
A further reason for cold flooring relates to the type of foundation the floor rests on. For example, concrete slab foundations sit directly on top of cool earth and can draw heat away through the floor.
Modern Technology with Ancient Pedigree
Modern home designers and owners want an evenly heated living space where they can kick off their outdoor shoes and cosy up in their stockings without that chill seeping into their feet. Consequently more and more are turning to underfloor heating (UFH) systems. Although many people think UFH is an innovative development, this technology has been in use for millennia. At the height of the Roman Empire, villas were heated by wood fires underneath elevated stone floors. Modern day UFH systems have dispensed with the fires and slaves, but the thermal principle remains the same.
Photo: Roman underfloor heating system exposed in Normandie, France
Types of Underfloor Heating Systems
There are two main categories of modern UFH – hot water based (‘wet’) systems and electric (‘dry’) systems. Electric systems are cheaper and less hassle to install than wet systems, and they heat up the space quicker. But whereas water systems are more costly and bothersome to install, they are far more energy efficient, thus saving money in the long-run. As the wet system employs continuous water pipes with no joints, the chances of under-floor pipe leakages are practically zero. Such leakages are usually only ever triggered by a shoddy installation.
Benefits of Underfloor Heating
It’s hardly surprising that the illustrious engineers of the Roman Empire designed underfloor heating systems for homes – the benefits are numerous:
The luxury of a warm floor and evenly heated living space
There is possibly no better feeling than stepping out of your bed on a cold morning onto a warm floor, or kicking off your shoes after a hard day’s work and feeling instant warmth underfoot. The warm floor provides supreme comfort by ensuring a gentle and even distribution of heat throughout the room, eliminating cold spots and temperature variances.
Underfloor heating is extremely energy efficient for a number of reasons. Heat from radiators and fires invariably moves upwards rather than outwards – essentially air in the room is heated from the ceiling down and it therefore takes a considerable amount of energy consumption before you feel the air around you warm up. The heat from UFH, on the other hand, begins to rise up through your body as soon as the floor heats up. As ‘wet’ UFH systems run water at a lower temperature than radiators, they are up to 30% more efficient. And although it takes longer to warm up your living space than radiators, UFH keeps the room heated for considerably longer – even after the heating is turned off. This is especially the case if the floor is made of tile or stone which retain heat exceptionally well. Thus UFH systems will make a sizeable dent in the annual heating bill of any home. Of course, make sure that insulation is installed beneath the system – otherwise the heat generated will also be absorbed into the cold earth below.
Maximises interior space
An often overlooked advantage of UFH is that you no longer have unsightly radiators or obtrusive chimneys and stoves taking up valuable wall and floor space. Rooms appear brighter and airier, and the possibilities for engaging the extra space in your home are endless.
Healthy and hygienic
The exclusion of radiators, fires and stoves from the living space ensures a considerably healthier home environment. The soot and smoke from fires are the cause of pulmonary problems, and radiator spaces are notorious for gathering dust and grime that cannot be accessed for cleaning. Furthermore, the very gentle circulation of air produced by UFH means there is far less passage of dust through the air which is wonderful news for those who suffer from dust allergies.
The ancient technology of underfloor heating has been revolutionised in recent years to reward homes with evenly heated living spaces with zero cold spots, energy efficiency, a healthier and more hygienic living environment, more cubic metres of living space – and of course, the luxury of warm floors. And, as we shall see in our next article, there’s no better material to complement UFH than tile. Underfloor heating is a wonderful option to beat the damp and cold of the British weather. If it worked for the Romans, it will work for you!