Bathroom and kitchen floors, by necessity, are usually covered with tile or laminate. This makes them easier to clean, especially after spills, and reduces damage in the event of an overflowing bathtub or leaking refrigerator. While tile might be the most appropriate choice, however, it is also the coldest. This is why many homeowners opt to install heated floors.
Heated or radiant floors are generally installed under tile, stone, or laminate, though there are also a few systems that work underneath carpet. If you plan to install heated floors in your kitchen or bathroom, it is important to first understand the process.
1. Exposing the Floor
Installing heated floors requires you to first expose the subfloor, which might currently be hidden under carpet, tile, stone, or wood. Keep in mind that the concrete subfloor might cause cracks because it expands and contracts based on changes in temperature. For this reason, homeowners often elect to spread a crack-suppression membrane over the subfloor, which will act as a barrier between the heat and the concrete.
2. Installing the Grid
There are several different solutions for installing heated floors. The wiring grids or mats can seem complicated at first, but they usually come with a thorough instruction manual that will describe the optimal process for installation. You will usually want wires to run in serpentine patterns approximately two inches apart. Make sure, when cutting mats to fit a room, you never slice through any of the wires.
3. Applying the Mortar
A thin, even layer of thin-set mortar is spread over the grid mats to secure them in place and to prepare for the application of the tile, stone, or laminate flooring. Make sure to use the trowel the same way across the entire floor so there are no humps or divots in the surface. It is also important to mix small batches of mortar so it does not harden as you work. Never make more than you can apply in fifteen minutes.
4. Powering the Floor
The most difficult aspect of installing heated floors in your kitchen or bathroom is generating power for the network of cables. Hiring an electrician is the best possible solution because a small mistake can lead to large (and costly) problems. Even if you plan to take the DIY approach for the rest of the job, hire a professional to connect and power everything.
5. Laying the Floor
Once your radiant heat grid is established, powered, and coated with mortar, you can begin to install the floor. This is handled the same way as you would if there were no heat grid. Create a plan for the tiles prior to installing them, ensuring most of the floor is covered by full-size tiles. Leave sufficient space between them for grout. Once finished, you will need to apply grout and sealant.
Purchasing Radiant Flooring
Prices for radiant flooring systems vary widely depending on quality, size, and manufacturer. Hydronic heating is several times more expensive, often running $10,000 or more. Radiant heating, by contrast, costs between $3 and $7 per square foot, rarely exceeding that range. It is also easier to install. In most cases, hydronic floor heating systems are only used in new construction.
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are by far the most popular choice for heated floors. They are good conductors of heat, which means it takes less time to warm the tiles and the effect is more consistent. Ceramic and porcelain tiles also will not warp or crack when exposed to heat, so they require less maintenance and fewer replacements.
If you plan to use carpet in your kitchen or bathroom, which is not the best choice, it should have a thinner pile in order to be effective. Homeowners often install Berber carpet over heated floors because the fibers are not good conductors of heat, and therefore the effects are not as easily felt.
Vinyl and laminate are popular choices for heated floors, though the adhesive used to install them sometimes becomes a problem. Keep in mind that both of these flooring options will sometimes warp and peel, requiring more maintenance. Make sure you confirm with the manufacturer that the flooring is safe for radiant heat.