The Best Flooring for Radiant Heat

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Radiant floors heat the home from the bottom up using a series of wires or tubes hidden beneath the floor. Unlike traditional furnaces, radiant heat systems warm objects rather than air, resulting in greater efficiency than a forced-air system. Make the most of your radiant floor by choosing the right floor covering to maximize efficiency and comfort and the life of your floor.

Tile and Stone

  • Porcelain, ceramic and stone tiles all serve as excellent conductors of heat, making them an optimal choice for covering radiant heat systems. Unlike wood, these materials won’t expand or contract as the temperature changes, and are resistant to warping or cracking when properly installed. They absorb and hold heat, releasing it slowly to warm the home efficiently over an extended period. If your home has radiant heat pipes or tubes buried in concrete, consider leaving the concrete exposed rather than covering it with another material. The concrete will conduct heat from the tubes below, and staining, etching or other finish techniques can help create a visually-appealing surface.

Resilient Floors

  • While you can use some resilient floor coverings with radiant heat, others are poor heat conductors and not well-suited for these systems. Vinyl is a good conductor, and less likely to expand and contract when exposed to heat than linoleum, according to the World Floor Covering Association. It’s also less susceptible to the moisture problems that can plague linoleum floors. Rubber floors tend to be too thick for radiant heat, as are cork floors thicker than 3/8 inch.

Wood

  • Many homeowners steer clear of wood flooring when using radiant heat due to concerns about moisture, but it is possible to cover radiant heat systems with wood if you choose the right materials. The WFCA recommends engineered wood over solid hardwood for improved dimensional stability, which means the wood is less likely to warp, twist or crack when exposed to heat or moisture. If you must have real wood, This Old House suggests using thin, quartersawn planks rather than thick or flatsawn wood, and priming the back of the floor with shellac to keep out moisture.

Carpet

  • Carpet is an excellent insulator but a relatively poor conductor of heat, making it a poor choice for most radiant floor applications. By insulating the floor with carpet, especially when you add a thick layer of carpet padding, you defeat the purpose of radiant heat. If you want to use carpet, pick one with a thin pad and a low pile to get the most out of your radiant heat system.

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