There are many reasons why people would want to use underfloor heating, with so many benefits and qualities such as luxury comfort, a cleaner environment, the ability to design with freedom and more space as well as it being eco-friendly. The term Underfloor heating refers to a method of heating a building, while this method of heating has many benefits it can be implemented in several different ways, each with it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
What is water underfloor heating?
Traditionally water-based systems were used in large commercial areas. This solution offered a low-cost way to keep the space at a constant temperature. These systems were installed by embedding pipe into screed, low temperature warm water would run through the pipe would warm the screed which would become the thermal mass, holding the heat. A thermostat would call for heat and the system would keep ticking over.
Due to the fact that the pipe is embedded in screed, the systems would be difficult to control beyond keeping a constant temperature. Using the screed as a thermal mass is brilliant for keeping a space at a constant temperature but means it is very slow to respond when a quick change is needed. Cooling takes a long time, as does raising the temperature.
UK housing stock is predominantly quite old, built with a temperate climate in mind and relatively poor insulation in comparison to houses in colder climates. We experience quick changes in temperature, so people need a solution that can respond quickly and conveniently to these external conditions, as well as a solution that can be installed without the hassle of digging up floors and embedding in screed. With that in mind, this traditional style of water-based system is not practical for most of the UK’s housing stock.
However, this problem has been solved now with modern water-based systems like Wunda’s modern Rapid Response underfloor heating system. Which comprise of panels and pipes laid directly on top of an existing floor when renovating or on a subfloor, then the floor finish is laid directly on top. This allows for a quick response system, comparable to radiators, that is perfect for us here in the UK who need a quick and convenient heating system, running at very low water temperatures (35-45°C).
How does electric underfloor heating work?
Electric underfloor Heating involves heating cables or mats that are either embedded in screed or laid beneath the floor finish. When laid beneath the floor finish, electric underfloor heating also offers a quick warm up time. However, the real downside of electric underfloor heating is the running cost.
Electric underfloor heating systems use a lot of electricity. In general, before 2021 Water-based underfloor heating systems were around 60% less to run on average than electric underfloor heating. With electricity rates currently rising the running cost of electric underfloor heating systems is very high.
If you are considering using self-generated electricity to run your electric underfloor heating, it might also be worth considering using the electric to run a heat pump with a modern Rapid Response water based underfloor heating system, which is a more efficient use of the energy generated.
With modern day heat pumps, one unit of energy in to run the heat pump will result in an amplification of the equivalent of 3-4 units of energy in warming water for warm water-based underfloor heating systems.
The differences between electric and water underfloor heating systems today
Electric underfloor heating systems are very easy to install and can be done as a DIY project, all you will need is an electrician to connect the system to your electrics. Generally these systems will either be in the form of heating mats or heating cables. Heating mats utilise ultra-thin electric heating wires that are pre-attached to a conveniently sized mat. This mat can be easily rolled out and adhered to the subfloor. On the other hand, heating cables consist of a flexible electric wire that can be directly installed onto or within the subfloor, allowing for a more customizable and versatile installation process.
Installing a water based underfloor heating system is slightly more involved, but still can be very easy to do as a DIY project, you will need a plumber to commission your system to the boiler or heat source and an electrician for your controls. Installing a modern system like our Wunda Rapid Response involves laying lightweight panels across the floor and then running loops of pipe to and from a manifold.
In our opinion, the installation of electric and wet system are both easy to do, however the electric system might be quicker to install depending on the type purchased.
The cables used in Electric underfloor heating systems are more fragile and delicate than water-based underfloor heating pipe. This can lead to a higher risk of damage on installation or damage over time.
The best Water-based underfloor heating pipe is made of multiple layers, plastic, adhesive and aluminium. This makes a very durable pipe which is difficult to damage on install and will last 50 – 100 years at normal operating temperatures (35-45°C)
The Purchase cost of electric underfloor heating is cheaper in comparison to a water based underfloor heating system. The price will vary depending on your supplier.
A water based underfloor heating system from Wunda can be £40 – 60 per square meter, again this depends on several variables in your design and choice of controls.
The running cost of electric underfloor heating systems are significantly higher than the cost of running water based underfloor heating systems.
Water based underfloor heating systems are on average 60% less to run, if not more, than electric based systems , the savings on running costs could be even higher if you have a heat pump installed.
Is electric underfloor heating cheaper to run than gas central heating?
Electricity is more expensive than gas and electric underfloor heating systems are notoriously energy hungry. So electric underfloor heating will cost more than using a gas radiator. But this is not the case with modern water based systems! After the initial price for material and installation, water underfloor heating will pay off with very cheap bills over time. The heat is more efficiently distributed through the room and it offers better temperature control.
What UFH system is right for me?
Electric underfloor heating is an ideal choice when dealing with limited space or when installing in an existing property. It particularly excels in smaller rooms and offers the flexibility of being installed as either a standalone system or as an add-on to a wet system
On the other hand, wet underfloor heating is more cost-effective to run, making it a more suitable option for larger projects. It is often integrated into new builds during the construction phase, presenting an excellent opportunity to incorporate water systems. While there are low-profile wet systems available that are suitable for retrofitting, it’s important to note that their installation generally requires a little more effort compared to electric systems.
If you are looking for a durable, reliable system with low running costs, we recommend investing in a modern water-based underfloor heating system such as our Rapid Response system.