Electric Radiant Heat Underlayment: A Potentially Profitable Upgrade in which Everybody Wins
The marketplace for supplemental electric radiant heat systems installed under new finished flooring in new and renovated residences on a room-by-room basis is heating up.
Architects, specifiers, builders and homeowners around the country are taking note and adding them to specifications or wish lists. Today’s systems—featuring film, mats or cables as the delivery system for the heat—can be a very profitable addition to a potential sale at a retailer that benefits customer and seller alike.
While electric radiant under-floor heat systems for supplemental warmth started out as a luxury option in the new housing market and high-end renovations some years ago, the concept has filtered down and these systems are now often installed in homes at a wider range of price points, both in new construction and in remodeling.
Radiant heat systems are popular in kitchens, bathrooms, children’s bedrooms, entryways, family rooms, laundry areas, sunrooms and other spaces where a bit of extra coziness would be appreciated.
The systems, which are controlled locally room by room, would also be a good addition to new spaces at the far end of the heating loop for the primary heating system that might not warm up as much as other rooms. And the concept could be easily promotable to young families with toddlers who play on the floor, and to older folk who would appreciate the extra bit of warmth during three seasons of the year as well as to contractors building adult communities.
Electric radiant floor heating for residential installation uses three main components: Heating elements that are distributed evenly under the finished floor; a GFCI thermostat, typically positioned on the wall in the room in a location convenient for activation and control and that can give an accurate reading of the room temperature, and a sensor in the floor, which monitors the temperature of the floor (not the air in the room), enabling readings closer to desired temperature requirements.
Depending upon the product, heating elements may be installed over a subfloor directly or on top of underlayment—in either case directly under the finished flooring material.
The elements are available as rollout conductive film on a very thin backing; embedded in rollout mats, which may also include underlayment attributes such as acoustic and/or insulating capabilities; as cables ready to be embedded in mortar or laid down directly under the finished flooring; as cables inserted into plastic mesh that is laid down separate from and ahead of the cable, and as wire mesh installed directly under the finished flooring, under a wood subfloor.
With many products, installation is straightforward, performed by the flooring installer, contractor or even a handy homeowner with just the final connection to line power requiring the services of an electrician. Many manufacturers provide detailed instructions and/or YouTube videos that facilitate do-it-yourself installations, which can certainly be a good selling point. The easiest systems come with factory attached lead wires at one end, with the other end ready to be directed to a splice box for connection to the house wiring and to the room thermostat. Mats or films are duct taped together before the finished floor is installed.
Manufacturers usually distinguish products for installation under solid wood, engineered wood, resilient sheet or luxury vinyl and laminate from products designed for installation under tile and stone. When it is for under tile and stone, electric radiant heat systems should include an anti-fracture membrane to preclude lateral cracks from telegraphing through from below. Some radiant heat products feature a peel-and-stick underside that can speed up installation of the system under tile and stone.
A retailer’s sales staff should be versed in the features and benefits of electric radiant heat in-floor systems so the upsell is a natural part of the sales presentation. The following are some selling points you can share with your sales personnel that highlight the features and benefits of electric radiant heat floor systems:
- Odor free and hypoallergenic
- No air ducts and no drafts, no noisy fans or blowers
- No pinging pipes (as might result from hydronic baseboard heating)
- Nothing that can get in the way of furniture placement
- Temperature setting for the heating elements controlled individually by a wall thermostat on a room-by-room basis, rather than whole-house or zone basis
- No moving parts
- Easy installation
- Beyond those, a few other selling points that a salesperson should share with customers include the following:
- Wood floors conduct heat well, making electric radiant heat under these types of floors a smart choice
- Tile floors feel cold under bare feet, making electric radiant heat a good choice for rooms featuring these types of floors, such as bathrooms
- Installing electric radiant heat systems under new hard surface floors provides builders and developers with a perk that comparable housing units may not have
- The supplemental source of heat gives the homeowner an extra bit of cachet and even “bragging rights” on the luxuriousness of the install
Given the cold wave that embraced homeowners around much of the country the past couple of winters, builders and homeowners are likely to be very receptive to the idea of adding an affordable supplemental heat system under new flooring.