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All About Heated Floors: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They're Energy Efficient

Written by Carol J Alexander

Published on February 2, 2023


All About Heated Floors: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They're Energy Efficient

Learn what radiant floor heating is, how it works, and why it’s an energy-efficient option for your home.

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Heated floors are nothing new. They’ve been around for thousands of years in one form or another. From the fireplace flues that channeled hot smoke under a stone floor in 11th century B.C. Korea, to the energy-efficient hydronic systems today, homeowners have enjoyed the cozy warmth of radiant floor heating. No matter which century they’ve lived in, humans have always appreciated a warm floor when temperatures begin to drop – and you can, too.

Keep reading to learn what radiant floor heating is, how it works, and the different types you might consider for your home.

Get a radiant floor installation quote today

How much do radiant floors cost?

Installing radiant floor heating costs thousands of dollars. In addition to the heating coils, the system can include other elements that add up, like the boiler for a hydronic system. The total cost depends on the type of system and whether you’re retrofitting an older home or installing it in new construction.

What is radiant floor heating?

Radiant floor heating is heat generated by either hot water or electricity under the floor of your home. Some styles of heated floor lie under the subfloor while others lie on the subfloor but under the floor covering. The generated heat radiates into the space and warms it from the bottom up. 

Types of radiant floor heating

The heat from most floor heating systems comes from electric coils or water pipes. A hot water system is referred to as hydronic. Let’s look at both systems, how they work, and which would be the best option for your home.


Electric heated floor systems include installing electric heating coils directly on top of the subfloor or below it. 


As with a traditional radiator system, a hydronic system requires a hot water supply. The hot water runs through tubing on or underneath the floor to radiate heat.

How is radiant floor heating installed?

Each method of heating floors requires a different installation process. Let’s look at each one.


Electric floor heating systems come in a couple of different styles. But no matter which type you choose, the installation process is similar. To install on top of the floor surface, the HVAC professional will first lay backer board, the same that is used under ceramic tile, to provide a non-flammable, insulating substrate. Then, once the heating cables are in place, they’re covered with a layer or two of thin-set mortar or self-leveling compound.

From the crawl space or basement, you can install the electric heating system under the subfloor, between the floor joists. In this scenario, the heating elements are covered with a thick layer of insulation to ensure the heat travels upward.

The two styles of electric floor heating include:

  • Loose cable: This system requires the installer to strategically place the wire in the correct configuration on the subfloor.
  • Mats: Made of either a plastic netting or solid material, a heating mat system has an electric cable woven into it. This system makes positioning the cable and installation go quicker.

Once the cables or mats are installed and tested, the floor covering is replaced, and everything is connected to a thermostat and floor sensor. The sensor alerts you to disconnect the circuit if anything inadvertently happens to the wiring.


Installing a hydronic floor heating system is more complicated than an electric system and is not a task for the average DIYer. First, you must install a boiler or water heater to heat the water. Next, a pump moves the hot water through tubing that runs above or below the subfloor. When installed below the subfloor, a thick layer of insulation covers the tubing. Installers embed water tubes in the concrete foundations for new construction of garages or homes built on a concrete slab.

Can I have heated floors under any type of floor covering?

Absolutely! Innovations in radiant technology make it possible for a homeowner to install radiant floor heating under vinyl flooring, tile and laminate flooring, wood floors, and even carpet. However, ceramic or natural stone tiles add thermal mass to the floor, which holds heat longer than other flooring materials.

Pros and cons of floor heating

There are always two sides to every story. So, let’s look at the pros and cons of radiant floor heating.

  • + Electric radiant floor heating is an easy retrofit to an older home.
  • + If you’re not in the market for new flooring throughout the home, you can install electric mats one room at a time.
  • + You can easily control the temperature by zones.
  • + Radiant heat provides better air quality by not stirring up dust and allergens.
  • + Heated floors work with any floor covering.
  • + Once installed, electric heating is virtually maintenance-free. Hydronic systems only require a yearly check-up for the boiler.
  • + Both systems are silent.
  • + Both types of heating are energy efficient.
  • - Installation of a hydronic system is costly.
  • - Installing heating systems on top of the subfloor can raise the floor levels.
  • - Electric radiant heat costs more to operate in some areas of the country.
  • - Cannot install on top of the subfloor without replacing the floor covering.
  • - A leak in the tubing of a hydronic system can cause costly damage.

Can I DIY heated floors?

Technically, yes. DIY installation of electric radiant floor heating systems is straightforward. But, once the system is installed, you will need a professional electrician to connect the system to your electric panel and connect the thermostats. However, the skill level required to install a hydronic underfloor heating system is above the average DIYer. Typically, a plumber needs to connect the pipes and tubing necessary in a hydronic system, and an electrician will need to connect the thermostats.

Hire a local electrician to install radiant floors in your home

Are heated floors energy efficient?

Several aspects of heated flooring make it a more energy-efficient option for most homes. Those things include:

  • There is no heat loss as with a ducted system. 
  • The warmth starts at floor level and radiates upward. Because heat rises, when you have a forced air system with ductwork blowing hot air from the ceiling, you have to run it at higher temperatures to feel the warmth. 
  • Because you can control the temperature in the home by zones, you can save money on your energy bill by lowering the thermostat in areas you use infrequently. 
  • Using a WiFi-enabled programmable thermostat, you’ll save even more money.

Keep your family comfortable with heated floors

Warm floor temperatures make your home cozier and more inviting. When you have children or pets who play on the floor, they stay warmer and healthier than with a forced-air heating system. Find a professional experienced in radiant floor heating in your area to see if it’s the right decision for your home.

Written by

Carol J Alexander Content Specialist and Subject Matter Expert

Carol J Alexander is a home remodeling industry expert for Fixr.com. For more than 15 years as a journalist and content marketer, her in-depth research, interviewing skills, and technical insight have ensured she provides the most accurate and current information on a given topic. Before joining the Fixr team, her personal clients included leaders in the building materials market like Behr Paint Company, CertainTeed, and Chicago Faucet, and national publications like This Old House and Real Homes.