radiant floors yes, hard floors (???)

lori_inthenw_gwOctober 30, 2011

Designing our final forever retirement home. Fairly convinced we want hydronic heated floors. Understand the heating system will be more efficient if flooring surface is concrete or tile, but concerned about the comfort aspects of such hard surfaces, esp as we get older.

Personally, I am very tempted by cork tiles. This is a small house, so we don't want a lot of flooring changes. Maybe 2 surfaces at most, (no carpet). I know I don't want a hard surface in the kitchen.

Other contenders could be engineered cork or wood. Seems that the R value of those would be about the same as for the thin cork.

So my question is for those who have had to make a similar decision. What was your thought process, where did you end up, and what were the results? (We don't have animals, dont wear outdoor shoes in the house, and are not generally hard on stuff, if you know what I mean.)

Also, although we have a long heating season in the Pacific NW, it is not often extremely cold on this side of the mountains. So I don't even know if the floors would feel perceptibly warm?

Any insights welcome!

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We are at the same point as you except this is a remodel; also on the wet side of the Cascades. We intend to put stone in the (fairly large) entry way and the master bath; otherwise bamboo. I spoke with tech support for one of the highly recommended bamboo flooring suppliers who said their product is fine over radiant heat so long as the surface temperature on a floated floor doesn't exceed 80 degrees F; 85 degrees on nail-down. (That surprised me...I assumed exactly the opposite.)

If I had my druthers the entire first floor would be stone, but my wife, like you, is concerned about a hard surface. Our thought process (so far) is that bamboo (aside from appealing to us aesthetically) is a highly processed grass and may exhibit less movement over radiant heat than hardwood. The bamboo tech support wouldn't confirm or deny that assumption.

So, we are still gathering information and will be happy to share what we discover.

By the way, since this is a remodel we have to use one of the "warm board" type products (track in which PEX tubing runs, fastened between subfloor and flooring). We are most emphatically not running the tubing under the subfloor. I assume since you are building, your hydronic tubing will be laid in gypcrete. Does anyone have comments on the various "warm board" products on the market or any other aspect of the project I have described?

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 12:14AM
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You can always lay rugs or mats on the ceramic tile to soften walking.

They are actually very common in commercial kitchens that are pretty much always concrete or ceramic tile floor.

The small flex that is allowed under a wood floor will cause ceramic tile floors to crack.
The extra stiffness does make long term standing painful for many people, and it rarely gets better with age.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 4:40PM
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We live in AK and have had pex-type hydronic infloor heat in our home for 16+ years. The tubing has gypcrete poured over it to a depth of 1.5". We have tile, vinyl, marble composite, and floating genuine wood plank flooring. We are now in the process of designing our new and last home. I'll tell you my experience from our current home and then what we're planning for the next one.

Vinyl: I know you aren't considering it, but for those who might think about it, we did have bad shrinkage problems in one area where the water in one loop went way to high due to a temporary equipment failure. I won't do vinyl again, anywhere. You should think about the possibility of equipment malfunctions as part of your process; you can't guarantee the ideal temp will be maintained in such an event.

Ceramic tile and marble composite tile: Tile is one of the best types of flooring for heat transfer. It's the one type of flooring where you can feel the heat (in a good way). Our kids tended to use the back entry floor as a drying rack for their snowsuits and gloves; just lay them out on the floor and they're dry in an hour. It is a hard surface and people tend to see it as "cold" even though it's the warmest floor in our home. The downside: All our grout joints have cracked because of floor movement. I don't know whether this is worse in infloor heat, but our back entry is only eight feet across with adjoining hall and bathroom being narrower, 1/4" joints with sanded grout, cracked badly in both areas. The master bath has the composite marble; that room is about 17 feet across with 1/8" joints, unsanded grout, and there is a single grout line that cracked all the way across the room. Apparently that grout line fell in the lowest "bounce" point. Incidentally, these two rooms were installed by different tile guys, so I don't think it was a case of inferior work. I'll do tile again, but I will make sure the floors in those areas are heavily reinforced to prevent movement, and I'll store extra grout for later fixes. I'll almost certainly put a tile product in my kitchen and entry areas.

Hardwood: We have floating 7/8" hardwood planks, clipped together (Junckers brand). We acclimated the flooring as directed before installing it. The manufacturer recommended a felt-type layer under the flooring. Because of the gypcrete having a slight cupping from wall to wall, the floor squeaked at first. My husband took it back up and put down more of the felt lining in some spots that were lower, and that cured the squeaks (although a few spots are still creaky, especially in winter). The biggest problem is the shrinkage between planks. They're tongue-and-groove, but they aren't snap-together and the metal clips aren't enough to hold them taut together. We have a friend who put down wood strips between the tubing runs and nailed down oak tongue-and-groove flooring, having gone through the preliminary step of lengthy acclimation period beforehand. He is also disappointed that there are gaps in his floor also. I will plan on using engineered hardwood flooring but never use plank strips again, even snap-together type. I'd go with a thinner product next time too.

We do have rugs over areas of the wood floor, but rugs are insulating and therefore not to be overdone without sacrificing efficiency.

A friend of ours with infloor heat used a glue-together plastic laminate flooring, and that was very successful. Because of that, I would imagine something with a plywood type backing would perform better than just hardwood strips.

Yet another friend of ours installed a bamboo snap-together flooring from Costco over radiant infloor heat. It failed badly, each plank bowing and cupping. The manufacturer had approved it for floor heat, so they stood behind it and refunded the money. They replaced it with another type of engineered hardwood and it is working well.

I didn't mention that we have carpet in a few areas, and that is the most insulating of all the materials (a bad thing for floor heat) even though we used the type of pad that was recommended. I won't be using carpet next time.

As to the question of the floor feeling warm, we don't notice it being particularly warm to our feet except in the tile areas (delightful but hard). When we visit friends without infloor heat, though, the difference in comfort is VERY noticeable. We feel generally colder in their homes and especially our feet feel colder. After having infloor heat, I'd never have anything else.

As an aside, I did talk to a flooring specialist the other day and she said cork floors are usually approved for infloor heat and perform about the same as wood flooring.

I'm sorry this is so long, but maybe some of the info will be helpful. A number of friends have gone with infloor after being in our home, so no matter what type of floor covering you use you will probably enjoy the effect of the heat.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 6:37PM
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We bought a vacation home in Vermont that has hydronic radiant floor heat and wall to wall cherry floors throughout. Heating works fine, and the warm floors are really nice. I do notice some shrinkage in the winter that results in the gaps between boards increasing slightly. As soon as the spring rolls around the floors expand and the gaps go away. I may try a humidifier this year to see if I can minimize this. We love the radiant flooring with wood, but if the expansion/contraction of the gaps will bother you , you may want to reconsider.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Hilltop, thanks for the detailed info on the various options. We have gotten estimates of 10.00-13.00 per SF just for tile installation, so it is looking like we might go with integral color concrete instead. With regard to hardness, I realized I walk an hour or more on sidewalks every day (wearing cushy insoles in my shoes) which I won't be doing after I retire, so my plan is to learn to wear shoes at home! I have some questions on the concrete, but I will start another thread for that.

(We did go on 3 house tours a few weeks ago of houses with heated floors and although the didn't actually feel warm to the touch, they didn't feel the type of cold that you usually expect underfoot with tile and concrete, so they were extremely comfortable.)

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 12:53AM
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Oddly, with radiant heat you don't feel it by touch (of your hand), but you will feel the difference on your bare or stocking feet.

Being in the cold Midwest, I grew up wearing slippers innthe house because the floors were cold in winter so when we installed radiant heat concrete floors, the hardness of the floor was not a factor. I can highly recommend concrete floors with children and pets. These floors are virtually indestructible

We have toyed with the idea of putting another flooring over the concrete because we have wood floors in the old part of the house, but the carefree maintenence of the concrete stops us from doing it.

I will mention too that a friend of ours has tile flooring throughout most of their main level (not radiant) and he has nerve damage in both of his feet. He was saying how the unevenness of the tile bothers him and makes his legs hurt so he always wears shoes at home. Yet he mentioned when he comes to our house and walks around in his socks the concrete doesn't bother him.

Hardness aside, you will not regret radiant floor heat. It is fantastic. your heat will be constant, no hot and cold from the forced air furnace kicking on and off.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 11:32PM
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thanks, hgtvme-- it is great to hear that you like living with the concrete floors. The hydronic heating system is one of our splurge items, so we do want it to be able to work efficiently. Now looking at options for integrated colors, etc.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 1:55PM
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Hilltop55 has written one of the best overall summaries of the different options for floor coverings over radiant heat that I've ever read. Thanks Hilltop55. I wish I had found a summary like this when I was trying to decide what to put on our floor. In the end I decided to play it safe and put in only tile on the main floor and carpet on the stairs and for the upstairs bedrooms.

For our main floor we have about 2000 sqr ft of tile installed over the radiant heat in our home. The installer used a sanded powdered grout. We find that both the grout and the tile has cracked at the door frames. My recommendation when using tile is to make sure the tile is cut at door frames even if you are doing the same tile in each room. We think it cracked because of the way the framing is done between the rooms.

In terms of grout selection we found that when we patch with a premixed grout from Lowes the cracks do not reappear. The brand is Tec Invision and we use the Ready to Use Grout in a tub.

When we patched with the original sanded grout that came in a bag the cracks reappeared.

Another bonus is the grout in the tub is much easier to clean.

One disadvantage of the tile over heated floors is that it is a hard surface and as has been mentioned it is hard on the joints and feet. I pretty much always wear slippers with lots of cushion in the house. I got some Ugg slippers and added Spenco insoles. We also use area carpets in the main living areas and have used runners in the kitchen and the bathroom.

For most of our house we installed the wood look tile. It was an excellent choice and looks wonderful. We also installed some 18x18 light colored stone look tiles. I would like to take those out as the light colored grout is a pain to maintain. I'm currently looking at Kerlite Plus to go over the light colored tile. It is a large format very thin porcelain tile from Italy.

Our upstairs have carpet and vinyl over the radiant heat but that radiant heat system doesn't get used much since the heat rises from the main floor so I don't think the upstairs ever turns on.

The original owners had carpet and vinyl. When we took it out it did not appear to have any damage from the heating system. Our floor does get pretty warm. When I lay on it with my dogs I feel like I'm laying on a warm spa lounger. It feels wonderful! Also walking around bare foot in the winter is the most wonderful sensation.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 9:29PM
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Thanks for the great responses. I think Ideally we will go with Hardwoods.

Does anyone have experience using waxed finish hardwood floors versus the polyeuruthene typical installations? Anyone use Waxed Floors over Radiant? Also I am trying to decide whether or not to install the radiant in the slab when we pour versus in the subfloor.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 4:35PM
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