Heated floors are usually associated with tile, particularly in a bathroom. But electric floor heating can work with almost any type of flooring and has benefits that extend beyond traditionally tiled rooms like the bathroom or the kitchen. Laminate flooring in particular has become a popular choice for homeowners who wish to install a heated flooring solution. In this post, we’ll take a brief look at what electric floor heating is and how well it works with laminate flooring, then we’ll tell you the steps involved in installing an electric floor heating system in your own home.
What is electric floor heating?
Traditional home heating systems rely on forcing heated air throughout a home in order to warm it. Electric floor heating is different—think of it as an electric blanket for your flooring. Wires use electric resistance to heat themselves up and radiate heat upwards into the flooring material. As the floor heats up, it radiates heat to the solid objects in the room. Unlike a furnace or other forced air heating system, each room with electric floor heating installed usually has its own thermostat. This means it’s easier to customize the heating level in a given room. Floor heating can be installed in every room in the house, but is most often installed only in the rooms that would benefit from some extra heating or that are particularly hard to heat with a traditional forced air system.
What are some benefits of electric floor heating?
Rooms with electric floor heating benefit from more than just extra heating. The air in a duct system is a poor conductor of heat. By contrast, the solid objects (which are heated by radiant heating) are much better at conducting heat. This makes electric floor heating a more energy efficient way to heat a home.
In addition to being inefficient, forced air systems blow allergens and contaminants around your home and can negatively impact your health. Because electric floor heat does not rely on blowing air, this is not a problem. This makes electric floor heating an excellent option for those who suffer from allergies.
Will electric radiant heating work with my laminate floor?
Laminate is composed of many layers of synthetic material that are bonded together. In recent years, technology has improved so much that laminate flooring is now affordable, durable, and some laminates are even waterproof. Although you should check with your flooring manufacturer to be sure, most laminate floorings are now strong enough to handle electric floor heating. As long as you buy the correct type of electric floor heating system (discussed below) and confirm compatibility with your manufacturer, laminate flooring is a fine choice for your radiant floor heating installation.
How do I install electric floor heating under laminate flooring?
Laminate flooring is typically installed as a floating system, meaning that it is not fastened to the subfloor in any way. Like flooring, electric floor heating systems come in styles that need adhesive (like thinset or self-leveling compound) and those that don’t. A floating floor system like laminate needs to be paired with an adhesive-less floor heating product. These products usually come in the form of rolled mats that are unrolled onto the floor and carefully cut so that they can be shaped to fit the room they are installed in. Thankfully, this style of floor heating is one of the easiest to install because it does not require thinset or self-leveling compound. This also saves on material and labor costs.
Now, let’s get to the actual installation steps.
Step 1. Prepare the subfloor
If the project is a remodel, then you can begin installation of an electric floor heating system as soon as you have removed the old floor covering. The first step in doing so, whether your installation is for a remodel or new construction, is to clear the subfloor of any debris and thoroughly clean the area. Once any old flooring or construction materials have been cleared from the area and you are confident that any dust, dirt, or sawdust are removed, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2 — Test the heating element
The first thing you must do before you lay down any heating mats is to test the heating element to make sure it is functioning properly. To test the heating element, you’ll need an ohmmeter and be able to see the UL label on the mat to be tested. The test itself is a two-step process.
Using the ohmmeter, measure the resistance of the heating element between the two core wires. Write this number down on the mat’s UL tag as well as in the installation materials that were provided to you. Compare the value to what is listed on the UL tag. Some variance is allowed, but it shouldn’t be more than 15 percent in either direction.
Next, measure the continuity between the core wire and the ground wire. The reading should either be O/L or “Infinity.” If the heating element fails this test, or the previous one, you should not install it. An improperly functioning heating element will cause you problems down the road, or prevent the system from working at all.
Step 3 — Install the underlayment
Now you’ll need to install the underlayment that goes between the subfloor and the heating mats. Underlayment typically comes in square or rectangular pieces of synthetic cork or real cork. As you lay the sheets down, be sure to stagger them so that there are no overlapping seams. If your underlayment has formed a perfect grid shape, then you’ve installed it wrong. Cut pieces of underlayment as needed to ensure that the entire floor is covered. Next, tape all of the pieces of underlayment together, so they are connected to one another. The underlayment should not be fastened to the subfloor itself, however.
Step 4 — Install the floor heating mats
Place the mats so the cold leads will easily reach the thermostat location (the location of the thermostat should be decided well in advance of the actual installation and is typically dictated by where power is available in the wall). You’ll most likely need to cut the mats to fit the room, but be careful not to cut the heating cables that are contained within them. Instead, cut the mat material up to the cable and then bend the mat to start a new row. This installation method is known as “cut-and-turn”.
After you’ve double-checked to ensure the cold leads reach the thermostat, you may have to cut channels in the underlayment for the cold leads to rest in so that they’re the same height as the heating mat. This is important so that you don’t have an uneven surface to install for your floor covering on. Additionally, you’ll need to cut a channel in the underlayment for the floor sensor to go into. This channel should be about 1/2-inch wide and be placed about 6 inches into the mat. It must be equally spaced in between the heating elements. If it is too close to a heating element, the readings will not be accurate and the thermostat will not function properly.
Now tape the mats down to the underlayment so they do not move.
Finally, run another ohm-test like the one you did in step one to ensure that the heating element is still functioning correctly.
Step 5 — Install the laminate flooring
Now you are ready to install the laminate flooring. This should be done exactly as the manufacturer instructs. The heating elements do not affect this process, so install the flooring as if they were not there. Once you have finished installing your laminate flooring, it is time to check the function of the heating element one more time to make sure that the heating elements were not damaged during the installation. Perform a third ohm-test and record the results of the test on your warranty registration card.
Step 6 — Make the electrical connections
You are almost finished with your installation. The final thing you must do is to connect the wires from the heating element to the thermostat. The correct way to connect your thermostat to the mat varies from thermostat to thermostat, so you should follow the instructions that came with your kit when connecting the wires. Working with electricity is dangerous, so it is recommended that you have a professional licensed electrician handle this step for you instead of attempting to do it yourself.