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What is Radiant Floor Heating?

Radiant floor heating is rapidly becoming a popular option in new home construction in the United States due to its cost-effective efficiency. There are three different types of radiant heating systems: hydronic, electric, and air-heated. Electric and hydronic radiant heating systems are more efficient, and consequently more popular, than air-heated systems. Heat from a radiant system does not rise like heated air from a traditional heating unit; it spreads in all directions. This characteristic makes it possible to heat a large area using a lower temperature.

Radiant heating systems are a great way to create a cozier living space.

Electric Radiant Heating

Electric radiant heating systems are the most versatile when it comes to installation. Rolled cables are attached in a looping pattern via braces to mats, mesh, or film constructed of resilient, heat-conductive materials. The mats can be embedded in the concrete slab during construction, installed under the subfloor, or even placed directly under the flooring, depending on type. Due to the versatility of installation options, electric systems are frequently the best choice for after-construction additions.

Electric radiant floor heating is controlled by independent zone thermostats that can be set to heat just the floor for barefoot comfort on chilly days, to raise the temperature of a single room, or to heat an entire house. No moving parts means no maintenance. This convenient method of heating is also gaining popularity as a method to de-ice driveways and sidewalks as an environmentally friendly alternative to chemicals or salt and a people-friendly alternative to backbreaking shoveling.

Hydronic Radiant Heating

Hydronic radiant heating systems circulate heated water through tubing embedded in the concrete slab. Due to the nature of the installation, it is usually done during construction. The advantage to a hydronic system is choice of power supply. The water can be heated with electric, solar, geothermal, natural gas, oil, wood-fired boilers, or any combination of these. Although most commonly hydronic systems are used for whole-house heating, they can be installed with zone control using a series of pumps.

Problems with this type of heating in the past were due to inferior tubing, sometimes requiring that the floor be ripped up for repair. Today’s materials are stronger, more leak-resistant, and should not become brittle with age, so the system is far less likely to require attention.


Hot air heating is simply not very efficient in comparison with electric and hydronic. For this system, air is heated and pumped through a system of pipes embedded in the floor. Because air cannot retain a great deal of heat, this method warms the floor itself, but cannot be counted on to warm an entire house, requiring that a secondary method of heating must be employed.

Flooring Options Compatible with Radiant Heating

Before you consider types of flooring for your radiant heating system, check with a professional. If you’re installing radiant heat in a new home, flooring choice should be carefully considered, and measures should be taken by the builder to insure dry installation. After a hydronic heating system is installed, most experts agree that the heat should be turned on and run for at least 3-6 days before the flooring is installed to leach any moisture from the concrete. If the slab itself is less than 60 days old, extend the drying time to 30-60 days, especially if you are using any kind of wood or laminate flooring. Always consult the flooring manufacturer’s instructions for exact drying time instructions.

Porcelain, Ceramic, and Stone Tile

Tile and stone are ideal types of flooring to use with a radiant floor heating system. All are excellent heat conductors, do not expand and contract with heat and are highly resistant to warping or cracking, making porcelain, ceramic, or stone tiles your best choice for floor covering over radiant heating.


Carpet is not a bad choice of floor covering for a radiant heat system, but is not a good conductor for heat. As a result, your toes may be toasty but it will be more difficult to heat the entire room. The best carpeting option for radiant heat is a thin carpet with a low pile, Berber for example, and a thick pad.


Laminates can be used with caution. Careful consideration must be given to the installation to insure the underlying floor structure and concrete is dry in order to minimize changes dues to heat and moisture and avoid warps and cracks. Adhesives are also important to consider. Follow manufacturer recommendations for best results.


Vinyl flooring has come a long way since the old linoleum floors of the sixties. While it is not an ideal choice for heat conduction, some vinyl floors can be installed over radiant heat with a temperature limit set by the manufacturer. Poor quality vinyl flooring may discolor or emit a foul odor when heated.


Wood has a natural tendency to react to both temperature and moisture, so installation over radiant heating has to be very carefully engineered and will be far more successful in a dry climate.

Wood is not a static material. It swells and contracts with changes in temperature and moisture in the air, which can be problematic when it comes to floors, especially in areas of high humidity. For best result, look for a kiln-dried wood that is quarter-sawn as opposed to plain-sawn. Quarter-sawn wood has a tendency to expand in thickness and not width, so it’s less likely to warp or crack. Many experts recommend that you run the radiant heating for at least 72 hours before taking delivery of the wood flooring, then store the wood in the room where it will be installed with the radiant heating turned on to help the wood acclimatize to the moisture content in the air. The drier the concrete, the more successful the installation will be.


Installing hardwood over a radiant floor heating system is tricky, but can have warm and beautiful results. Always raise the heat gradually, allowing the wood to adjust. Sudden temperature changes can cause damage to the structure of the floor.

Engineered Hardwood

One wood flooring option generally more suited to use with radiant heat is engineered hardwood flooring. Engineered hardwood flooring is made up of several layers of solid wood or fiberboard, much like plywood or particle board. The multiple layer construction makes engineered flooring much more dimensionally stable and less likely to expand or contract with changes in temperature. In addition, most engineered flooring can be “floated” making it ideal for installation over concrete. The suitability of an engineered hardwood floor will depend on its construction, and the wood species and adhesives used to in its manufacture.

Always consult the manufacturer or retailer to determine whether a particular type of flooring is suitable for installation over radiant heat and whether use with radiant heat will affect the product warranty.

are you ready to make a solid choice?

(64) Comments

  1. We have an electric infloor heating sysytem installed in the concrete when the house was built. We have no heat coming from it this year and had an electrician out to check it. Said the in floor is no good. What do you do then? He said we would have to rip up the slab. Is this true or what else could be done?

  2. We have an existing sloping garage floor with
    Hydronic heating and we are turning it into a kitchen
    We need to add three inches of concrete at the one end and graduating
    Down from there In order to make the floor level. Will the heat still come through
    This much extra concrete? Hope someone can answer this. Thank you!

  3. We have hardwood floors and we are going to put in infloor heat. Will we have to do something to our hardwood floors?

  4. I’m a builder and just finished framing and will be putting hydronic in the floor. Hoping to pour only 1 1/2″ of medium over 1/2″ pex. . What to use? I don’t want to sub it out and james gypcrete is way too expensive. Alternatives? a strong wood subfloor 24oo sq ft. How about concrete w/ fiberglass or ?

    Thanks Charlie

  5. We live in CT and are turning a screened in porch into a 3 season room. There is a hot-tub in the room but it will not have heat or AC but I am considering radiant floor heating just enough so that the flooring will not see extreme cold temperatures (concrete currently). We would like the look of a stone tile floor but are wondering what our best options are. The “deck tiles” that have a plastic frame underneath would provide a “thermal break” that I assume would help and may mean radiant heat is not required which could save some money. There will be decent insulation in the walls, windows, and ceiling. I don’t know if the deck tiles could withstand the weight of a hot-tub or if it might just make sense to custom fit the tiles around the hot-tub. If we move the hot-tub, I assume we could just rearrange the tiles. The concrete will need some leveling but I assume would need to be less precise with an inter-locking tile system like the deck-tiles. Any feedback would be appreciated.

  6. I purchased 2000 sq.ft of strand bamboo to install over radiant heat which suppliers recommended as the best option. Now installers are telling me it is not a good choice. Also each installer suggests a different method of installion (glue, nail-down, combination of both). I need to purchase 2000 sq.ft. more but now they are saying engineered wood or quarter-sawn oak; and is it better to float it so if there is a problem it can be easily accessed? Help!!!!! Dont know what to do!

  7. We have hot water heat in the concrete slab throughout the entire house. Our boiler is electric and electric bills are high. We have carpet in bedrooms, ceramic tile in baths and hardwood flooring in kitchen and dining and hallways. Some vinyl in utility and office area. Should we replace all the carpet with hardwood or bamboo and also replace all the vinyl? Has anyone else had this experience. The flooring companies we ask don’t seem to have any answers for this time of heating system and best type of flooring to use?

  8. I am remodeling a home and it has radiant heat with tile. We want wood flloos, can you put wood over the tile instead of ripping up the tile to lay wood?

  9. We have radiant heat in our kitchen and laundry room covered with vinyl, we are going to either replace the flooring with laminent or a high grand vinyl. Do we need to remove the current vinyl or can we install the new floor over the top ? The current radiant is layed in cement with vinyl over top. Thanks for your help. Tom

  10. We have WARMBOARD installed (as of today) for hydronic radiant heat on all floors in a new extension to the house. PEX tubing goes in tomorrow. What is the best flooring product to use over this? Hardwood? Laminate? Pre-loc system, floating system? There are so many choices and we are confused. We like the 3- 7/16 inch or 4 inch width planks. Is 1/2 inch depth, 5/8 or 3/4 inch depth best? So many questions. Please HELP!

  11. We purchased a home with infloor radiant heating with the water flow. We can not gain any pressure. It was a foreclosure and the owner removed the boiler system and everything that went with it. We had a new one installed and the plumber says we have leaks; is that possible?. The house sat through the winter with anti-freeze in it but pex should expand and withstand the winter. Is there anything else possible that it could be?? It just doesnt make sense???

  12. I have infloor heating in my garage and I want the garage to have its own thermostat. The only way the garage is heated is through the thermostat in the familyroom of the main house. Is there anyway that the garage can have its own thermostat? If I open up the closet in the garage I can see the pipes where the water comes and there is a turn off and on valve.

  13. Renee,
    We have infloor hydronic heating on all floors in our house. Look into gypsum based products. They’re lighter, thinner. We’ve been I our home for 16 yrs, no problems and love the warm floors

  14. We would like to install bamboo over hydronic floor heating and would like some feedback from somone that has already got the same setup

    • It is possible to install bamboo flooring over radiant heat, keep in mind not all will be able to. Your best bet would be any bamboo that would be a floating installation. We offer 3 different lines, we have the 9mm strand, gluesless and the Click lock strand, all three are strand woven as well.

      feel free to email me at filmonhaile@BuildDirect.com, if you have any questions.

  15. Scott & Jan Kiester

    We would like to put ceramic tile in our bathroom with heated floor underneath. Our master bath is directly above our non heated garage. Sometimes the water from the facet coming from the bathtub has frozen on two occasions. I think I can stick with a new carpet in the bedroom. Ours needs replacing. I need more information please. jankiester@yahoo.com

  16. We are planning to build a new home. I’d like to install concrete floors with hydronic in floor heat. Can you tell me the specifications for the concrete? Would the floor need to be structurally reinforced? What is the best flooring material (s) to use when installing in floor heating systems? (“best” meaning least problematic when installing and maintenance-wise?). From apersonal perspective, what would you use?

  17. I recently bought a house with radiant floor heating. I ordered carpet after being told that the flooring underneath the old carpet was concrete. I purchased berber carpet to replace the old carpet that was in the house, but when the carpet installers removed the old capet, to my surprise, there was parquet wood flooring. My dilemma is that I invested $5,000 dollars for the new carpet, so the question is…can I put this new capet over the parquet flooring and still benefit from the effectiveness of the radiant floors? Otherwise, I am out a lot of money. Thanks for your advice. Lisa

  18. We are thinking of having radient heat installed in our hallway and kitchen which will have a porceline tile above it. Is it a problem if the radient heat is installed above the wood floor and then porceline tile above?

    • Hello Sarah,

      Porcelain tile can definately be installed over radiant heat. However, the concern is whether radiant heat can be installed over a wood floor. If by wood floor, you are referring to a plywood subfloor then you shouldn’t have a problem installing some types of radiant heat. However, if you mean a hardwood, enginereed, or laminate wood floor then I would definately not recommend installing radiant heat over that and then porcelain tile above.

      Hope that helps!

  19. Jeannine Pendleton

    We have a 10 year old home with tile and limestone over wood subfloor can we still have heated floor?

  20. I have laminate radiant heating floor system throughout my house. What is the best bamboo to use? Strand – floating engineered , or natural carbonize. Next what does the installation process consist of?


    • 9mm strand woven bamboo is going to be your best option for a bamboo floor that will not only be warranteed on radiant heat flooring but will allow for heat transfer better than a thicker board alternative.

  21. I have infloor heating in my garage, I want to have epoxy flooring done from a plain concrete floor that I have now, would it effect the in floor heating system. Epoxy coating with chips in them is going to be about one eighth of an inch. I am worried that heat may not transfer properly if I add another layer to my existing concrete garage flooring.

    Thank you.


  22. Hello,
    We built our home with radiant heat in the basement and main floor (hydroponic). At the time, we put carpet in the basement bedrooms and sheet vinyl in the main basement area. I am in the process of removing the carpet from the basement bedrooms. Would epoxy paint or concrete stain work well on the concrete floor in the bedrooms? I don’t want to use carpet or vinyl again.


  23. We put a radiant heating in our new house and put berber over most of the floors. Is it possible to shamphoo the carpet or will it get the system too wet and cause mold? Please help us cause I need to clean a high traffic area and affaid to ruin the system.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Belinda

      There should be absolutely nothing wrong with using a carpet shampoo machine. While the machine does use a fair bit of water it does also suck it all back up. There will be some dampness but it should evaporate. I mean if your home already has moisture issues it might be good to have a dehumidifier. What I mean by this is if the air in your home is humid due to the area you live in then a dehumidifier would be good to have. The radiant heat should not be the factor that would cause any mold.

      Whether the shampoo machine will damage your heating system or not is another thing to think about. I can’t understand how it would but you should double check with the company who makes your heating system. Most heating systems are protected enough that this shouldn’t harm it but there are many in the market so its a good idea to speak with them.

      As long as the company who makes your heating system has no problem with using a shampoo machine on the carpet then have at it.

      I hope this helps you.


  24. Hi
    We are in the middle of building a new home. Lower floor (garage) and upper floor both have hydronic radiant floor heating. We have 13 zones. My question is that the kitchen and dining room are beside each other and are the same zone. We had intended to use the same tile on those rooms. We are now thinking of using tile in the kitchen and engineered hardwood in the dining room. Will the different materials cause an issue with temperatures in that same zone? I would assume that the hardwood would need a bit more heat under it to feel the same as the tile. If that is true then one of the rooms would either feel warmer or cooler then the other.
    Thank you in advance.

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