Crank Up The Heat: Choosing Tiles For Underfloor Heating

If you’re already starting to feel the winter blues with shorter days and colder temperatures, we have the perfect remedy for you – underfloor heating. Okay, so you might have been expecting something a little more exciting than that, but by the end of this blog post, we’re pretty confident you’ll be an underfloor heating convert.

That may be a bold statement but, for anyone who’s looking to add a touch of luxury and comfort to their daily lives, tiling with underfloor heating is the way to go. Whether you install tiles with underfloor heating in every room as an alternative heat source to bulky radiators or opt for just one room, we’ll tell you all you need to know – from what it is and why you need it to how to install your underfloor heating under tiles. 

What is underfloor heating?

So, let’s start with the basics: what is underfloor heating? In a nutshell, it’s an independent heating system that sits underneath a floor covering. There are two options available on the market, using either water or electricity to heat the floor. 

The former uses water-filled pipes that are connected to a heating source. This hot water is pumped through the systems, similar to a radiator, conducting heat to the surface above. The latter electrical system uses electrical elements laid into an ultra-thin membrane to pass the heat through the surface above it. 

Both systems can be used with tiled floors and boast excellent heat efficiency. However, the electrical mats are generally the better option if you’re looking for a quick and easy installation over an existing floor. This is because they can easily be laid down, wired in and tiled over without adding additional floor height. The groundwork for installing an electric underfloor heating mat can be done yourself, but you will need to get a professional electrician to connect it and certify it before use.

With water systems, you’ll need to allow for the additional height of the pipes, which makes them better suited for new builds as this can be factored into the overall design. These systems will also need to be professionally installed to ensure plumbing and electrical work is watertight and completely safe. 

How to install tiles with electric underfloor heating

If you’re tempted to install underfloor heating with tiles yourself, we’d recommend going for the electric heating mat option – you can then simply employ an electrician to do the technical wiring up. Here are a few tips on tiling with underfloor heating to get you started: 

  1. Clear the room of all furniture, then measure and map out the entire area where you’ll lay the heating membrane.
  2. Before laying down your heating mat, we’d advise putting an insulation board down first. While you can lay them directly onto concrete, tiles or wooden floors, using insulation boards will improve heat conduction and energy efficiency, as heat will pass directly up into the tile rather than being absorbed by the substrate (or surface below). 
  3. With your insulation boards in place, you can begin rolling out your heating mat. Starting at the point where your thermostat will be positioned. Run the mat in a straight line to the end of the area you want to heat, then begin the next row by cutting the membrane to bring it back to the other end of the room. Only cut the mesh, not the electrical wire here, otherwise the circuit will be broken. You should also ensure the membrane rows are close together to avoid any cold spots. 
  4. With your membrane in position but not permanently fixed down, you now need to install the thermostat probe that will feed temperature readings back to your thermostat. Firstly, make sure you’ve marked out where your thermostat will be mounted on the wall, then run the wire flat along the wall to the floor to give you an accurate idea of how far in the probe will reach. Next, using a stanley knife, channel out a groove in the insulation boards underneath the membrane for the probe wire and probe to sit snugly into. The probe end should be positioned equidistant between two heating elements, not touching them to ensure you get an accurate temperature reading. 
  5. Once your probe is in place, you can then fix it in with a thin self-levelling screed that helps to give an even heat distribution – or you can simply tile directly over it! Once the floor is dried, you can then connect the system to the mains and begin enjoying the wonders of heated floors. 

Choosing the right tiles for underfloor heating

Tiles are the ideal finish for underfloor heating systems for a number of reasons. For one, they’re great conductors of heat, but add in their durability, water resistance, scratch resistance and affordability, and you’re onto a winning combination.  

How do you decide whether ceramic floor tiles or porcelain floor tiles are the best tiles for underfloor heating in your home? On the face of it, both ceramic and porcelain floor tiles are suitable for use with an underfloor heating system. However, there are some subtle differences between the two tile types that could impact your decision:

  • Strength and durability – both ceramic and porcelain tiles are made from clay, heated and glazed, but the clay and manufacturing process isn’t the same. Ceramic tiles are made from darker, less refined clay to give them their distinctive terracotta hues. The clay is pressed and fired at a lower pressure gauge and heat which results in a slightly softer, more porous material. Porcelain tiles use white, refined clay that’s often mixed with other minerals like sand and quartz. This is heated and compressed at higher temperatures and pressures to give them superior water resistance, strength and durability.
  • Practicality – one of the notable differences between ceramic and porcelain is how the finish is applied. With ceramic floor tiles, the finish is typically applied to the top surface of the tile, whereas porcelain floor tiles tend to carry through the depth of the tile. This can mean chips and scratches are more noticeable on ceramic tiles, making porcelain floor tiles the more practical tiles for underfloor heating in high-traffic areas of the home. Similarly, porcelain tiles can offer better water resistance in wet areas like bathrooms, wet rooms and kitchens.
  • Installation – when it comes to installation, the process for laying them is the same. However, ceramic tiles are slightly softer and typically easier to cut. Having said that, with the right equipment like an electric tile cutter, cutting any kind of tile is made easier. 
  • Versatility – both tiles offer exceptional versatility for styling out an underfloor heating system with options galore on designs, sizes and colours, so once you’ve figured out which is going to be the best option in terms of practicality and installation, the world’s your oyster for creating a luxury looking floor.

So, there you have it, your guide to tiling with underfloor heating systems – helping you to make an informed decision when it comes to creating a cosy, stylish home this winter.

If you’re ready to give your home that warm feeling underfoot, then take a look at our expansive selection of ceramic and porcelain floor tiles, as well as our collection of underfloor heating mats to get your project underway today. 

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